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Sunny children’s event features a flood story that predates Noah’s

14 May

So it started like every year my family parking as far away as possible from are actual destination (we might as well have walked to the farm) and as I walk past the sign saying Lower Shaw Farm in big letters and the same philosophical question passes my mind: where is the Higher Shaw Farm? If anyone knows then please inform me in a comment down below (somewhere over the rainbow is not a valid answer!)

Anyway I walk in to see Tony Hillier sitting at the desk asking for tickets. And I suddenly think: “Oh no, will he only let my mum in? Will I have to be a loner standing outside the gate? How will I get the ten pounds for writing up this piece? Goodbye Thanos Battle Lego set, it was nice to think of having you.”

But luckily we were all VIPs so we were allowed in for free and I breathed a sigh of relief! My dream was saved. But this isn’t all about me and my problems: this is an interesting readable post and everyone likes these. If not then you can leave this site immediately and spend the rest of the day not reading this. We’ve gone way off track and most of the passengers in the train have died, so let’s get on with it. Continue reading

Swindon Slam – the real elephant in the room

14 May
Swindon Slam winner Joy-Amy Wigman

Swindon Slam winner Joy-Amy Wigman

“Poems are no longer dangerous enough; risk-averse…” shouts Brenda Reed Brown, Swindon Slam contestant. And, as the evening comes to an end, I must agree she may have a point.

For the 25th anniversary of the Festival of Literature (and the 22nd Swindon Slam) previous winners – normally excluded from entering – were invited back.

That was good news for 2017 winner, Joy-Amy Wigman, who took the 2018 trophy with her poem, Hell Is Empty; a political poem documenting an encounter that Joy had with a Tory MP who advised ‘disability cuts will not affect you’. This statement promoted her pennings and sign off – it will affect you, maybe not, you are a Tory.

Fellow finalist Chris Osman, meanwhile, competed with his poem, Even Daily Mail Readers Die. Continue reading

A Humble Champion – Jo Pavey at Swindon Festival of Literature

8 May

LitFest_18050701_Jo_Pavany_Running_0008If ever anyone was able to brag about their achievements it would be Jo Pavey: World Champion, mother of two children, and author.

Instead she is Jo, an honest down-to-earth individual who admitted to only raising her arms halfway up in 2014 at the 10,000m World Championships, due to her disbelief in having won and her fear of being judged when wearing running gear on the school run.

Jo speaks as freely as she runs, her responses and stories at times emerging at the same pace but absorbing nonetheless. A runner since she was 13 years old, Jo never voiced her desire to pursue athletics professionally. Born into an active but not sporting family she was recommended to an Athletics Club by her PE teacher, with a neighbour assisting with the transport due to her parents caring for younger siblings.

Love, irrespective of discipline and circumstance, never leaves. Jo continued to run throughout her studies in Physiotherapy at Bristol University and a six-month backpacking trip around the world with her future husband, Gavin. Silently continuing her training and pursuing her desire to become a professional athlete, Jo ran through the sights as opposed to walking: ascending volcanoes, passing through fields of kangaroos, and stopping at sports fields in New Zealand for impromptu training sessions. Continue reading

Programme launch defies convention with longevity and…fruit

22 Mar
Lit fest launch biscuits

The launch of the 2018 Swindon Festival of Literature in biscuits. ©Calyx Picture Agency

Fruity magic

Fruity magic ©Calyx Picture Agency

Wearing purple

Mayor Cllr. Maureen Penny wears purple © Calyx Picture Agency

Food has always been big with the Swindon Festival of Literature Festival launch. So alongside the festival’s name spelled in aromatic ginger biscuits and other home-made grub which hungry attendees decended upon, there was some magic with a banana.

Since its launch in 1994, over twenty-five years festival director Matt Holland has grown the festival’s pamphlet of ten events into a programme of fifty authors.

And those events have brought people together for the greater good, and sometimes just with books and no food involved. They built bridges and given the controversial a voice – and what better example than founder of the ill-fated Kids Company charity, Camila Batmanghelidjh (16th May). When she last came to the festival in 2012 she was well respected and loved. This time it’s to answer her critics and the effect of the charity’s demise on children’s services. Continue reading

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