Stranger than fiction: Swindon is the talk of the town amongst storytellers

By Claire Dukes - 7 July 2019

Arts and CultureHeritage

Whether it's fact or fiction, Swindon is a hot topic amongst the literary world as local authors put pen to paper to talk about their town.

Swindon in 50 Buildings by Angela Atkinson

Everything from the town's rich history to photographic archives, and influential characters to current social issues, has inspired a series of local authors to put pen to paper to celebrate Swindon's past, present and future.

Despite the books individual narratives, each author can concur that "there's something for everyone" to be intrigued by in these four explorative stories.

Swindon in 50 Buildings by Angela Atkinson

From the author of Secret Swindon comes a second instalment of discovering the town's gems, but this time focusing on its buildings.

From the mundane to the grand, and from council estates to cafes, local blogger Angela Atkinson hopes to offer a different perspective on Swindon's heritage and current culture. She says, "What I’ve taken from it is to try and tell aspects of Swindon’s story in a selection of its buildings. It’s been difficult to choose. You can expect some obvious suspects, but hopefully some surprises. I’ve tried to represent as many areas of Swindon as I reasonably can."

Due for release in August Angela hopes the book will be insightful for those who don't think of the town as a place of creativity and culture. She adds,  "A lot of people from outside of Swindon moving into the town won’t be aware of the heritage and historical value within a lot of the town’s buildings. I know people who don’t think that Swindon has a cultural offering at all - which we do!"

Book launch event: The Baker's Cafe on Sat 3 August, 12pm.

The Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick

Since moving from Bradford to Swindon in the 1990s, Nicola Cornick has never looked back – aside from when she’s been unearthing "fascinating stories and colourful characters" from Swindon's pastime. It was with this in mind that Nicola was inspired to write The Woman in the Lake.

“My books tend to focus on those real-life characters in history, particularly women, who don’t often feature in the history books but still have a story to tell,” says Nicola. “In the case of Swindon I wanted to write about Lady Diana St John who was a professional artist at a time when it was very unusual for aristocratic women to work. She lived at Lydiard Park and drew a lot of inspiration for her work from Swindon and her story inspired the character of Isabella.

"I’m hoping to surprise people with a different perspective on Swindon’s past and how it influences our present and future.

"I hope readers both from Swindon and elsewhere will enjoy the way that the book draws on Swindon history and celebrates the town and its past, as well as finding the story gripping and entertaining!”

Hidden Stories by Root Experience

Hidden Stories is not about Swindon itself, but it aims to support the people living here.

This "playfully illustrated graphic novel" from arts charity Root Experience is telling the stories of people living with conditions that you can't see from the outside - conditions such as anxiety, autism, diabetes and chronic fatigue syndrome. This book wants to give a voice to those people.

Dr Helen Johnson, senior lecturer in social science at Brighton University, wrote the book’s foreword. She said: "I have seen first-hand, the power of the arts to connect with people, to transform the ways in which those who live with a wide range of invisible conditions understand their experiences, helping them to cope when they are struggling and empowering them to speak out. These are voices that need to be heard; stories that come from a few, but speak to so very many different people’s lives."

Root Experience has published Hidden Stories to "to hear and understand those voices" and donate to local community projects in Swindon and across the South West.

Swindon Photographers & Postcard Publishers by Darryl Moody & Paul A. Williams

Photographers snapping Swindon have been captured in a new encyclopaedia - some of which date back as early as the 1850s.

The book has been brought to life by Swindon Borough Council’s Local Studies Librarian, Darryl Moody, and local historian Paul A. Williams. The book offers an insight into the people behind the lens of some iconic imagery of the town.

Darryl said: “The ability to identify and accurately date photographs is crucial in local history and genealogical research.

"As our research progressed it was fascinating to see the explosion of popularity in photography during the Victorian period – and the unusual set of characters who went into the photography business.

"As we dug further, many unusual stories came to light. Who would have guessed that Victorian photographers once had to dive out of the way of charging cattle before they crashed into the windows of McIlroy’s department store!”

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