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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

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

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

Let’s make a benign UKIP!

11 May

Catherine Mayer © Calyx Picture Agency

MEN! THIS IS FOR YOU!

After the local elections in May 2017, Catherine Mayer hoped to have time to reflect, space to promote her book on women’s equality (Attack of the 50FT Women) and perhaps write the next one, she told us at Swindon Festival of Literature.

But then in April,  a 50FT woman got in the way. Theresa May called a snap election.

As president of the Women’s Equality Party (WEP), a woman PM should please Catherine. And in a way it does. But not when Mrs May talks about girl’s and boy’s jobs on BBC 1’s flagship magazine programme, The One Show. This kind of thing is why Catherine accidentally began WEP.

In 2015, at London’s WOW Festival, Catherine made a ‘rambling’ speech about 9 million women staying away from that year’s general election ballot box, and the achievements of UKIP. Despite returning just one MP – small fry for the 25 per cent share of vote – UKIP were still instrumental in Britain beginning the process of leaving the EU. Despite herself a Remainer – for the equal rights brought about by the EU – she said ‘UKIP taught us important lessons. Popularity can cause seismic change.’

So, she joked, ‘Let’s be a benign UKIP.’ Continue reading

And now on Radio LitFest…

10 May

Philip Hook and John Rees © Calyx Picture AgencyBeing a regular attendee of the Swindon Festival of Literature can sometimes be like being an avid radio listener. Most of the time, you know what you want to hear – whether that’s the Today programme or Top 40 Singles Chart. But sometimes, something just catches your ear while you’re scrolling along the dial.

And that was what Tuesday night was like for me – tuning in to an unexpected but enjoyable two hours of art, history, and politics. Continue reading

The woman behind the voice

9 May
Charlotte Green

Charlotte Green ©Calyx Picture Agency

There are few  people who could open a presentation by reading the football scores but such is the familiarity of Charlotte Green’s voice one immediately felt you knew the person behind the sound.

Scores of mariners around the British coast relied on her clear diction, comforting delivery  and calm style to keep them company in the wee small hours or during a force ten through Finisterre.

Such was her affinity with the forecast that her BBC colleagues called her the ‘Fisherman’s Friend’.

She has such a voice so distinctive, that people recognise her speaking even before they recognise who she is.

Charlotte mentioned one rather elderly lady who, on being introduced to her for the first time said, ‘Don’t you sound awfully like yourself?’ Continue reading

Ideas changed my life – Francesca Martinez

9 May

Looking at Francesca Martinez’s book, Swindon Festival of Literature director Matt Holland said, ‘Let’s talk about the end.’ Francesca laughed – ‘Don’t give away the end!’ Then turned to the audience, ‘It’s alright – I don’t die!’ Matt grinned – ‘I really like you.’ And she replied, ’I really like you too, but I’ve got a boyfriend.’

This is the tone for Francesca’s event. She made her name firstly in BBC school-based drama, Grange Hill, back in the 1990s, before embarking on a career as a comedian and then as a social commentator and campaigner. Her appearance at the Festival is belly-laugh funny but also profound.

But (*whispers*) there’s something I have to tell you. She’s disabled!!!

Of course, I’m not mocking her. I’m too afraid of a hilarious (for everyone else) putdown (and also, FYI, not a dick). I’m emulating her teenage self before she had a life-changing conversation with Hot Dylan – Francesca was so desperate to be normal that she would make friends then share that she was disabled, like they wouldn’t have noticed she was ‘wobbly’. Continue reading