Literature lovers of Swindon beware – the book-readers of Birmingham are after your Festival tickets, writes Pete Davison.
The town’s 23rd annual Festival of Literature taking place from 2 to 14 May was launched in the courtyard of Swindon Library yesterday on Thursday 17 March – the day that tickets went on sale.
Festival organiser Matt Holland revealed that the box office had received ticket enquiries at 8.30am that morning – some from as far afield as the Midlands and Home Counties. “Don’t be beaten by people from Birmingham and Basingstoke in getting tickets,” was his dire warning.
The launch itself was a celebration of Swindon’s vibrant arts scene. In a break from tradition, the brochure’s front cover is a painting – the winning entry in a competition organised by Swindon Open Studios.
Tim Carroll’s Woman Reading graces the brochure, posters and postcards, the latter produced in the hope that Swindonians will revive the pre-digital tradition of writing to friends, buying a stamp and using Royal Mail to urge them to come to the Festival.
Over 100 Festival supporters were treated to verse by community poet Tony Hillier, and entertained by top classical guitarist Richard Durrant, whose book – The 26 Bus to Paraguay – charts his journey from Brighton housing estate to South America… via Swindon. He’ll be talking about it on 9 May.
Richard, pictured, also led the assembly, in Pied Piper style, to the children’s section of the library, where an Artswords project, curated by community artists Gordon and Toni Dickinson of No Added Sugar, alongside poet Hilda Sheehan, was unveiled. The Butterfly Wall was created by Swindon people, young and old, who over the course of three days decorated 600 butterflies with paints and verse.
Swindon Festival of Literature runs from May 2 to 14, and features dozens of international, national, and local authors, entertainers, historians, philosophers, and politicians.
Highlights of this year’s programme include former Lib Dem business secretary in the coalition government until May 2015 Vince Cable (on 3 May) and former Labour mayor of London, Ken Livingstone (10 May).
Mr Cable’s book, billed as a carefully-considered perspective on how the economy should be managed over the next decade, is called After the Storm. Perhaps Ken Livingstone, whose new book is called Being Red, will question whether the storm is actually over, when so many citizens are still getting wet.
Austrian academic, ethical economist and contemporary dancer Christian Felber – author of Change Everything – will certainly have a view – or maybe a dance – about it.
Felber has designed what has been described as an ‘economy for the common good’ which is attracting the attention of leaders from the worlds of business and politics. In a festival rarity, Felber is getting a double bill to himself on 11 May.
As well as the Paraguay and Austrian connection, the festival includes two events in conjunction with Swindon Ocotal Link to mark the 25th anniversary of the town’s partnership with Ocotal in Nicaragua. There will be stories, music, poet, dance workshops and good food in the company of the Mayor of Ocotal and a visit by the Ambassador of Nicaragua.
By contrast actor Brian Blessed will be bringing Absolute Pandemonium – both his book and sense of being – to the Arts Centre on 12 May, after Festival organisers convinced his agent Swindon ‘could handle him’. Rows A to W are suitable for the hard of hearing.
Another shouty performer – Dom Joly, he of the over-sized mobile phone – is being sponsored by Swindon Link magazine – and will be walking his audience through Here Comes the Clown: a Stumble Through Show Business (5 May). Immediately preceding him is fellow TV comedian and songstress Isy Suttie who will discuss her book, The Actual One, which charts her very real struggle to remain a twenty-something forever.
As always, Festival-goers will be encouraged to think, rather than simply sit back and be entertained. Author and cultural historian A N Wilson (4 May) will discuss The Bible as a philosophical work of literature for a secular age, while later that day philosopher Roger Scruton will be asking the big questions – who are we, and why are we here? – as explored in his latest work The Soul of the World.
The festival will also pay tribute to Kaye Franklin, a long-time supporter of the Festival and a ‘force for good’ in Swindon, who died last year. In the first Kaye Franklin Memorial Lecture (3 May), Festival director Matt Holland will ask ‘why do we read, write, and listen to stories?’
This not an exhaustive list, and doesn’t even touch on the Dawn Chorus, the Swindon Slam poetry competition, the Think Slam philosophy throwdown, the children and families day, the Swindon Affair, and the eclectic Festival Finale with music, poetry and watering cans. To get ready for the town’s annual bonanza of literature, fun and imaginative thinking, immerse yourself in the full festival programme which can be found at www.swindonfestivalofliterature.co.uk
Pete will be writing a daily blog throughout the festival in May. Contact him via: www.secretagentmarketing.com
All pictures by Richard Wintle of Calyx, festival director Matt Holland launching the 23rd festival at Swindon Central Library. Matt, with the leader of Swindon Council Cllr David Renard and Lord Joel Joffe