Switching off the brain? No chance! Children’s Day at Swindon Festival of Literature

10 May

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By the mid-point of the Swindon Festival of Literature, my brain can usually do with a good rest.

The organisers work us Festival-goers hard: getting up up before sunrise on day 1 for the Dawn Chorus, then making us think, and be creative, and think some more for the next six days.

So it’s little wonder that by day 7 I’m ready for a chill out at Lower Shaw Farm – Festival HQ – to see the ducks, perhaps have a swing in the play area, and maybe catch a puppet show.

No such luck. No sooner have we arrived, than Hat Storyteller Tony Hillier has us wearing novelty headgear and writing verse. He calls it wordplay. “Whatever you write is right,” he insists, but it still requires use of the very mind I’d hoped to switch off for the day.

Next up is the puppet show. The Three Billy Pigs – from the quite brilliant Noisy Oyster – mixes the tale of the The Billygoats Gruff with the Three Little Pigs. Even if that takes a bit of unravelling, I decide, it’s still a chance to kick back and enjoy a show aimed at primary school kids.

That is until the plot becomes a tale of nature conservation – the troll is actually trying to stop the pigs’ development on green fields – and sustainable building techniques – turns out the best house is not one made of bricks, but a combination of timber frame and straw bale cladding. And suddenly that brain is whirring again.

Finally, illustrator and storyteller Petr Horaceck delights us by reading a selection of his books: Animal Opposites, Elephant, A New House for Mouse, Puffin Peter, The Mouse Who Ate the Moon, Silly Suzy Goose, and The Fly.

He shows us how he draws some of his favourite characters. He shares with us how important editors are: Suzy Goose would have been a very different book if the editor had not insisted on waking up the lion. And he tells us that even successful illustrators and authors must persevere to see their creations brought to life. The Fly waited 10 years in the wings (if you’ll excuse the pun) before going to print.

Chronicler Milo (8) is absorbed by the presentation, thrusting up his hand in response to every question Petr asks. Chronicler Sydney (2) loves the drawings (wandering right onto the stage to get a better look, although this is easily done when the theatre is a cow shed) before falling asleep in my arms during the stories.

Well, at least someone’s brain has been allowed to power down, I think to myself.

Words and photos by Peter Davison.

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