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Festival Finale – Things WILL only get better

21 May

SwindonLitFes_2018_0020_Jacob_Hi_Ho&Darine_Flanagan_previewAt the finale of the Finale of the Swindon Festival of Literature, circus performer Darine carried Jake and the festival into a new era – next year it morphs into Spring Swindon Festival of the arts.

One could be forgiven for feeling reflective. Laura, of musical act the Glow Globes, observed, “Is it a little melancholy tonight because it has been 25 years and things are going to change?”

A film showed us the growth of the festival from a programme of twelve events to over fifty. “Who told us festivals to look forward to this week include the Cannes Festival and Swindon Festival of Literature?” festival director Matt Holland asked in a short audience quiz. The answer was Radio 2. Continue reading

Change the pictures, change the world – Kate Raworth and Doughnut Economics

21 May
Kate Raworth

Kate Raworth

Kate Raworth wanted to change the world. She tried it in a village in Zanzibar. She tried it in the UN, and then at Oxfam.

But her days as an economics student came back to haunt her. How could a ‘social science that studies the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services’ (Wikipedia) be so far removed from ‘real-world economic challenges’? In all her forays into social justice, she banged herself against an economic brick wall. It’s impossible to create lasting change when the system itself is wrong.

Kate decided the main problem was the wrong pictures. Surely money, you may ask? But no, pictures – with a glut of blank spaces for people to fall into. University economics 101 uses a series of very memorable diagrams by a young US professor, Paul Samuelson, drawn after the second world war. These pictures, Kate said, sit at the back of visual cortex and influence our thoughts.

Just as memorable (read: creepy) was his aim for them: he wanted to ‘lick the blank slate of the mind’. You may recognise their simplistic black marks – the ones where a line starts at the bottom corner of the graph and zooms off to the top (GDP and unlimited growth); or a toilet door-style man whose only concern is how much things cost and how much he has to spend; or those hump back hill ones where some people lose out at the start before everyone starts to win; or where horrible waste is made, but don’t worry because prosperity will clean it up.  Continue reading

What the kenning? – Matt Harvey, writing workshop

21 May
Matt Harvey at the Festival Finale

Matt Harvey at the Festival Finale

Kenning, according to Matt Harvey, is a way of describing things and their function through creative language and metaphor.

Make sense? No, me neither at first. But, as he explained further it did, with his sharing of work and examples along the way: blood as battle dew, clouds as God’s pocket fluff, and slugs as soft-horned invisigoths.

It is a process that is taught to children. Books are even written about it: Valerie Blooms’  Things to do with Kids Kennings an example of one Matt explained. And, it was to be an important part of our first task. This was a workshop after all; a fact which I had appeared to have forgotten over a leisurely lunch and a spell in the sunshine in the serene surroundings of Lower Shaw Farm. Continue reading

Swindon Think Slam – prompting thought as opposed to answering questions

21 May
Martin Hawes

Martin Hawes

Will Self shared at his talk on Tuesday his fear that some people attend Literature Festivals in lieu of reading – as if an author event will provide a quick literature fix. And at my first Think Slam, I was conscious of doing just that.

I am not well versed in philosophy. An ex-partner who studied a degree in English and philosophy once joked to friends: “she thought that Plato was a ceramics company.” I didn’t – honestly – but it was a low blow to someone uninitiated to the subject.

Therefore, as a way of introduction, I was grateful to hear that the evenings’ second competitor, George Dowling, would be answering the question What is Philosophy? Continue reading

Dad’s the word at father-themed festival event

20 May
Dr Anna Machin and Rebecca Stott

Dr Anna Machin and Rebecca Stott

My mind was still reeling from the subject of kids – or rather Kids Company and its charismatic founder Camila Batmanghelidjh – when I sat down to listen to two authors talk about fatherhood.

Dr Anna Machin was billed to talk about The Life of Dad: a study of the changing nature of fatherhood, and the physical psychological changes a man goes through when he becomes a dad.

The changing nature of fatherhood, huh? I guess 50 years ago I might have come home from work, hung up my trilby and trenchcoat, pulled on my slippers, and smoked my pipe while my wife put tea on the table. The children – if they weren’t reading books or painting a go-kart – would be playing with tin toys at my feet. Continue reading

Another Girl Another Planet

18 May
Libby Jackson

Libby Jackson

Space travel’s in my blood
There ain’t nothing I can do about it
Another Girl Another Planet – The Only Ones (1978)

The entertainment industry has always been better at putting women into space than the scientific community, and when women have left the earth’s atmosphere – or even got close to the launchpad – their achievements are likely overshadowed by those of their male counterparts.

Star Trek’s Lieutenant Uhura (1966) Jane Fonda’s Barbarella (1968), Ripley from Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986), Sandra Bullock’s Ryan Stone from Gravity (2013) – we know and love them all. But Valentina Tereshkova? Svetlana Savitskaya? Liu Yang? Show of hands… Anyone?

Author Libby Jackson touched down at Swindon Festival of Literature on Thursday to help celebrate some of these unsung women (as an aside, she didn’t have to travel 25 trillion miles to get to the Arts Centre – unbeknownst to those who booked her, she lives in Swindon’s Old Town). Continue reading

Camila Batmanghelidjh treats festival crowd to an unexpected conspiracy thriller

17 May
Camila Batmanghelidjh

Camila Batmanghelidjh

Barely pausing for breath, Kids Company founder Camila Batmanghelidjh took her audience on a roller coaster ride of conspiracy and intrigue when she appeared at Swindon Festival of Literature on Wednesday.

I’ll admit, I was expecting an exploration of what went wrong at Kids Company, and why.

I was fairly sure I wouldn’t be hearing an apology. After all, Camila ends her book Kids – Child protection in Britain: The Truth with the line ‘je ne regrette rien’.

I guessed blame for the failure of the charity might have been laid at the door of civil servants – after all, that’s exactly what she was doing the day after Kids Company folded, on her whistle stop damage limitation tour of any broadcast outlet that would give her airtime.

What I wasn’t expecting was a tale of sinister forces taking down a high-profile charity to damage the credibility of then-prime minister David Cameron. Continue reading