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Story time with Elli Woollard and the under fives at Swindon LitFest

12 May

Elli Woollard reads The Dragon and the Nibblesome Knight

Squeezed between art history with Philip Hook and civil war history with John Rees on Tuesday, and philosophy with Roman Krznaric that evening, by Thursday morning there was every chance that my stretched brain was going to burst with new information and deep thinking.

So I took the chance to hang out with my intellectual equals – a bunch of under-fives – for story time at the Richard Jefferies Museum with children’s author Elli Woollard. Continue reading

From Carpe Diem to #Yolo – seize the day, urges Litfest philosopher

12 May

Roman Krznaric © Calyx Picture Agency

Carpe Diem is one of the world’s best-known philosophical mottos, according to Roman Krznaric.

It has endured since it was coined by the poet Horace in 23BC, and today is one of the most popular tattoos (Dame Judi Dench, no less, had it inscribed on her wrist for her 81st birthday), been adopted by songwriters (like Metallica’s Carpe Diem, Baby), has inspired inspirational slogans (see Nike’s ‘Just Do It’) and is the defining line in the movie Dead Poets Society.

Google the aphorism, and it throws up 25 million search results. Continue reading

All fun and games at Lit Fest Families Day

7 May

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Today was World Laughter Day. Apparently, wherever you were in the world, you were supposed to laugh when the clock struck noon. The idea was to create a continuous chain of merriment around the globe. My family and I were supposed to do it, but we forgot – we were too busy having fun.

Today was also Children and Families Day at Lower Shaw Farm, at the very uncorporate headquarters of the Swindon Festival of Literature. At or around noon, children and adults piled out of a presentation by author Jack Cooke to climb one of the tallest trees on the farm.

The kids loved it, and – once they’d recovered from the initial shock of seeing their precious moppets clamber from limb to limb up a huge horse chestnut – the adults were having fun too. Continue reading

Read the Daily Mail, Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee urges Swindon Festival of Literature audience

4 May

Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee, once described by The Independent as Queen of the Leftist Journalists, has said everyone should read the Daily Mail.

Toynbee was responding to questions from a Swindon Festival of Literature audience about the effect of government cuts to the public sector, the subject of her new book, Dismembered.

In the face of a system run by emboldened libertarians, she and co-author David Walker, former director of public reporting at the Audit Commission, and Guardian contributor, were asked what we – as ordinary citizens – could do.

“There’s one thing we can do daily, and that’s not buy the Daily Mail,” said Walker, to rapturous applause.

Toynbee, though, was having none of it. “We’re living in a bubble of the likeminded,” she scolded. “Eighty five percent of the press is rightwing – and more rightwing than it used to be.

“You have to understand the forces you are up against. Read the Daily Mail, even if you have to pick it out of a bin.” Continue reading

From cuneiform to graffiti – Swindon Festival of Literature has all writing bases covered

16 Mar

As Swindon Festival of Literature inches towards its quarter century, different methods of written communication – from the oldest to the very recent – will be celebrated this year.

Unveiling the 2017 programme at Swindon Library today (Thursday, March 16) festival director Matt Holland mused on how the way we use writing to communicate our thoughts is changing.

“In a digital world where the currency of topical commentary can be successfully and powerfully compressed into 140 characters – definitely a great method of instant communication – the book is still doing remarkably well,” he said. Continue reading

Andra Simons

14 Oct
Andra Simons

Andra Simons

Andra Simons blew me away.

The last poet to read at Poetry Swindon Festival – poetry was actually banned after him – and it felt a fitting send off.

“I heard him and thought he was special and wanted to share him,” said director, Hilda. This is the job of an artistic director as far as I’m concerned – to have impeccable taste.

Andra is from Bermuda; he yelled, he repeated words into a rhythm, he smeared facepaint all over his poetry film, he mentions LGBT issues, and showed his love for his mom.

Andra’s work could have been a tirade of bitterness. He’s the son of an illegitimate child who was called ‘the bastard’ at school – by the teachers – and it was assumed that neither Andra’s father or his offspring would amount to anything. Continue reading

Dogs and cats

11 Oct

I am Dog.

It is the final day of Poetry Swindon’s festival. For an entire week, I have stood silently in the Tent-Palace of the Delicious Air, watching and listening as poets spin colours from words. Now I leave my china body and send my spirit out across the festival.

Focus…

I am in the Richard Jefferies Museum. Daljit Nagra’s masterclass has begun. There is a fine table covered in sleek green leather. Daljit sits at one end, like a friendly teacher. Like a friendly headmaster.

Some of the students are established poets. Others are relatively new to the poetry world. One, in particular, feels like a pretender. The word “master” is not a term he identifies with.

Focus… Continue reading