Boxing Handsome at the Swindon Festival of Literature

8 May
Matt Holland, Anna Whitwham and Paddy Fitzpatrick

Matt Holland, Anna Whitwham and Paddy Fitzpatrick

For me, this was the most fascinating event of the Festival so far.

A lecturer in Masculinity at Royal Holloway University. A boxing trainer.

One with a refined accent, defined cheekbones and flowing clothes.
The other, dapper in a pork pie hat, glittering wrist watch, Irish.

Both were considered.

While I won’t necessarily watch a boxing match, I’m drawn to trained fighting; the Muhammad Ali ideal of ‘dance like a butterfly, sting like a bee’, the marriage of grace and intelligence with brutality. Blood and brains.

The eye-opener about boxing, as seen by trainer Paddy Fitzpatrick, is the universality of successful boxing – the rules can be applied to anything. I’ve heard the same said about dancing, mindfulness, overcoming anxiety, virtuoso musicianship, performance and success in any walk of life. Politics, especially politics.

Paddy didn’t talk about strength or force. He talked about Composure. A lot. And The Art. And repetition – not practice – doing the same thing over and over. Study your opponent, think during training, so when the boxer steps into the ring he (or she) reacts, adjusts and reacts. Think in the ring and the fight is lost. Don’t think before the fight and you have lost. The winner is the one who distracts his opponent.

“You still feel pain. You still feel nervous. You learn to act differently,” Paddy explains.

A question from the audience about working through a running [sport] block – how do they reset their mind? “Practice how you should react when your brain works against you – the block when you overthink. Don’t do it when you are in the middle of it. Then do it over and over again. Then you will react positively to the block to when it threatens.”

Anna Whitwham’s book – Boxing Handsome – is about a young man; a symbolic young man of all those who grow up in certain parts of London or any part of the UK sinking under deprivation. “It’s a love story about London and about how people get swallowed up by London,” she said. “In the gym, Bobby [the main character] knows who he is.”

But boxing does not save Bobby; he has to work this out for himself. Paddy agrees that boxing does not save; it’s down to the coach. He treats his Swindon gym like a supportive family and those who train there have had eight years of the calming influence of a Bob Marley soundtrack. There is no swearing and everyone talks to each other.

Neither of them are in the business of glamorising violence, but both recognise the beauty in boxing.

Paddy has trained world champion boxers and yet he choose Swindon as his home. Why Swindon instead of LA, asked festival director Matt Holland. “I stopped off [at age 16] to see my uncle and liked it here. In any city you still have a favourite bar, a favourite restaurant, a local community.”

Another audience question asked if he agreed with the money that changes hands in top fights. “I don’t agree with the millions and millions involved in this sport or any other. To have extreme wealth at one end, creates extreme poverty at the other. I’m not a fan of extreme wealth.”

At the end of the hour, a fresh, urgent discussion was curtailed: women and boxing. Anna has a young daughter and would encourage her take up the sport. At first Paddy had a ‘traditional’ view until he trained two women with the same talent as ‘any man’, who went onto win world titles. “Women should be challenged the same way and receive the same accolade,” he concluded.

As a literature festival the evening belonged to the book, but the quiet usurper was Paddy. He may have been nervous – taking to the stage is possibly, in its own way, as scary as putting up your dukes in a ring – but his composure meant we would never know.

Words and picture by Louisa Davison.

Anna Whitwham and Paddy Fitzpatrick were at Swindon Arts Centre as part of the Swindon Festival of Literature 2015.

One Response to “Boxing Handsome at the Swindon Festival of Literature”


  1. Public Intellectual is not a dirty name – Suzannah Lipscomb at Swindon Festival of Literature | Festival Chronicle - 17th May 2015

    […] Marsh, Robert Hewison, Julian Spalding, Jacqueline Rose, Jules Howard – and boxing trainer Paddy Fitzpatrick and Rory […]

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