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Wouldn’t politics be better if women were in charge?

16 May
Dan O'Brien and Harriet Harman

Dan O’Brien and Harriet Harman

Wouldn’t politics be better if women were in charge? I mean, not the present woman in charge – she’s awful. Or the one off of the eighties – not least because, in practical terms, that would involve a zombie leading a zombie party. But other women.

Think back to the 2015 general election, and the televised Leaders’ Debate.

David Cameron in an act of hubris didn’t even bother to turn up. (This hinted at the arrogance he’d display once he’d called an EU referendum rather than tackle disquiet in his own party which turned the country’s citizens against each other, and set the UK on a course for economic disaster, before announcing he didn’t want to clear up the giant can of racist worms in shit sauce he’d opened and strolled off to spent time in a £25,000 shed on wheels.)

Nigel Farage was there, because it was television and he’d been invited, and so was Ed Miliband, still in recovery from being hauled over the coals by political heavyweight and mansion tax opposer, Myleene Klass.

But it was the performance of the three female party leaders that gave me a warm glow. The Green Party’s Natalie Bennett, Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood and Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP managed to debate the NHS, the deficit, affordable housing, immigration, and Trident without going red in the face and getting spittle over each other. Continue reading

Pam Ayres – My night with Auntie Pam

15 May
Pam Ayres recites 'But Don't Kiss Me' to Chronicler, Emma Smith 

Pam Ayres recites ‘But Don’t Kiss Me’ to Chronicler, Emma Smith

At the risk of sounding gushing before my evening with Pam – well, mine and the two hundred and nineteen others in the audience – I was prepared.

She was, I had been told, incredibly nice and funny. A fellow Lit Fest author, Gill Sims, referred to her as Auntie Pam even though she had never met her. And, it appeared all of sundry wished to claim her as their Patron.

All I knew was that she was a Patron of the Arts Centre and a funny poet, much loved by my now passed father in law. Therefore, it seemed only fitting that my mother in law and I came to see the poet that her husband had once repeatedly and loudly played from their stereo.

However, I clearly underestimated Pam Ayres’ legacy: she is instilled in both people’s psyche and hearts; a scene I witnessed and experienced first-hand with its fit to bursting, excited audience. Continue reading

Life without poetry… poetry without life

14 May
Hilary Davies

Hilary Davies

An event that starts with Anna Wickham’s words is going to have a head start in my world. I can always rely on festival director Matt Holland for this. Matt walks around with her words in his breast pocket, and in his head.

I married a man of the Croydon class
When I was twenty-two.
And I vex him, and he bores me
Till we don’t know what to do!
It isn’t good form in the Croydon class
To say you love your wife,
So I spend my days with the tradesmen’s books
And pray for the end of life.

From Nervous Prostration

This is the measure of a great festival director who not only last night celebrated his first ever guest of 25 years ago, Sebastian Barker, he also celebrated women and their contribution to arts, war, and life. Continue reading

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