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Who’s Telling Me What? – All the action from the Festival Finale

14 May

Our extraordinary night kicked off with a crescendo. Dancing out from the wings, with high verbal drop-kicks and punchy music, the Tongue Fu Band lit the gig, lit the Swindon Festival of Literature Finale. I hadn’t noticed him last night at the Think Slam, yet Fu frontman Chris Redmond, must have heard my Think Slam three minutes as he threw out at us “There is only here. There is only now” Continue reading

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“H” Reveals All About “M” – Henry Hemming at Central Library

14 May

Henry-Hemming

Since I do not want to have to shoot you all, I cannot tell you what was said by “H” about “M”. Renowned writer Henry Hemming, hereinafter referred to as “H”, uncovered, first Head of MI5, Maxwell Knight, hereinafter referred to as “M”.

Which is a shame as an eager crowd, who were, during the secret talks, checked out themselves as to whether they were good enough liars to be spy material, they will say to a man, and this secret talk was (hand covering this reviewer’s mouth) largely about women spies, the crowd will say “Ummm it was ‘interesting’. Goodness is that the time? Sorry I have to go.” Continue reading

Crowded with letters – writing workshop

13 May

In the Festival Writing Workshop, Alice Jolly shares the elements of a compelling story: detail, viewpoint, structure and editing.

It is an excellent introduction to fiction and memoir writing on the last day of Swindon Festival of Literature. Usually by this point, winter has moved to summer and Lower Shaw Farm is the first to trap the rays. Sun on the Sunday previous baked both kids and adults at the Children and Family Day, but today a chilly wind is on the menu.

No matter. Inside the converted shed, teachers, civil servants, retired people, mums and dad warm up with homemade soup and flapjacks and hone our prose. Some have never written before, some are already published, so it will be a challenge for Alice to teach to that range.

DETAILS are introduced with two poems: Handbag by Ruth Fainlight (‘My mother’s old leather handbag / crowded with letters she carried / all through the war‘) and Death of a Peasant by Welsh poet, R. S. Thomas (‘Lonely as an ewe that is sick to lamb‘). The key is picking ‘one detail which will create a much wider world,’ says Alice. Both poems engage all five senses – it is so easy to linger on the observations of sight and forget the other ways we absorb a scene, a story and make memories. ‘Show not tell’. Make the reader feel the sadness of the character, don’t tell the reader a character is sad. Continue reading

Stephen’s Law

13 May

Stephen Law © Calyx Picture AgencyI worry about the crowd at Stephen Law’s philosophical talk last night on Believing Bullshit: how not to get sucked into an intellectual black hole (also the title of his book).

Stephen is keen to provide ‘immunity to indoctrination’ by encouraging more critical thinking. So he took us through possible ways we could have baseless beliefs.

After, he asked us to discuss which of these created the better belief. Answers included peer pressure, repeated soundbites (‘strong and stable’ times 100), generational belief, bigging up the dominant belief and discrediting other belief (fake news), pleasure (a giant dangling carrot), and fear.

No one suggested science and reason, said Stephen, the best way to filter out falsehood. Continue reading

Think! It’s the Law.

13 May

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The always intriguing Think Slam posed answers and gave questions in its usual, unusual way.

A packed Arts Centre seemed thankful for the thinkful competitors whose bravery in the face of thought never ceased to amaze.

Sara-Jane Arbury introduced the 8th ‘Think Slam’ incarnation and was quick to point out that the Swindon Festival of Literature hosts the only event of its kind in the country.

A chill must have coursed the collective spines of the Think Slammers as philosopher Stephen Law was press-ganged into the role of judge supremo – his latest book is Believing Bullshit: How Not To Get Sucked Into An Intellectual Black Hole.

But bullshitters these thinkers were not, as they presented a typically varied and at times surprising window on their world. Each competitor had a three-minute time slot in which to make their argument in the most effective way possible.

John Yates, a self-identifying Remainer still stunned by BREXIT got proceedings underway with a suggestion that a byproduct of dramatic political change could be the dismantling of our political system. 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