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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

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

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

We need to talk about the Donald

9 May

The cat fancying bright orange elephant in the room didn’t take long to be exposed as Lionel Shriver drew parallels between the disappointing present and the dystopian future she imagines in her latest novel The Mandibles.

‘Since Donald Trump became president the dystopian novel has become popular for some reason’ said the American with a wicked glint in her eye.

Dystopian novels, she argues, are not about the future but about what people are afraid of in the present.

Her case is compelling, Shriver is a writer at the top of her game, peppering her talk with sardonic sideswipes and dark humour in conjuring the background to the genesis of The Mandibles.

Fake news and a Mexican border wall both feature in the novel which was written in those halcyon days before Trump had even entered the running for The White House.

Shriver has seen the future and it’s not a pretty sight. Continue reading

Mental memory writing with Terry Waite

8 May
Terry Waite © Calyx Picture Agency

Terry Waite © Calyx Picture Agency

Terry Waite was taken hostage in 1987 in Beirut, Lebanon.  He had been working as a hostage negotiator, and had been promised by the captors of two hostages – one very sick, and the other one about to die – that he would be allowed to see them.  Taking a huge risk to his own life and freedom, he went to Beirut to see the prisoners, whereupon he was captured and held – primarily in solitary confinement – for almost five years.

Amazingly, he has not suffered from any post-traumatic stress disorders, and this seems to be in large part because of the power that words and language have given him throughout and since his ordeal.  Continue reading