Sign up to our newsletter

Follow us…

Swindon Festival of Literature, Director’s Blog

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Twenty-fourth Festival is over!

Can a good thing keep getting better?

So far, the Swindon Festival of Literature has.

This year’s Festival, from 1st to 13th May 2017, was remarkable, moving, thought-provoking, entertaining, inspiring, memorable, and meaningful.

We - audience, authors, and workers - had a very good fortnight.

The largely simple formula on which the Festival is based, probably as timeless and universal as recorded human history, of men and women talking and listening to one another, hearing one another’s stories, exploring new ideas, being moved, to think, cry, and laugh, has worked, continues to work, and seems to matter more and more as years go by…
Though deep into a highly-technological twenty-first century, it seems that we are still, in one key sense at least, no different to cave men and women, sitting round a fire, scratching our heads, and wondering about the meaning of life.

A brief blog like this can barely capture or record the full Festival experience, of shared events, memorable moments, marvellous meetings of minds, delightful disagreements, connections made, shared laugher, understanding, and the magic of it all. (The Festival Chronicle is more comprehensive. See )

But, since words and ideas are at the heart of the Festival, especially words and ideas from authors, here, by way of memories of the Swindon Festival of Literature 2017, are a few of them.

Solo explorer Benedict Allen said ‘My windows into other worlds are not mountains, oceans, deserts or forests but PEOPLE’.

Solo traveller Hilary Bradt pointed out that travelling alone means you can look at an amazing view without someone beside you saying ‘Look at that amazing view!’

Bearded hurricane on the history of writing, on cuneiform script, Dr Irving Finkel, reminded us that ‘the people who invented writing, on clay tablets, were not poets or philosophers, they were taxmen!’ and then added ‘Writing is more important than putting man on the moon!’

Food blogger Milly Millbank said ‘I’m just going to waffle on a bit’ and did, but with great charm, explaining that she had found a food stylist who said ‘to be healthy, you don’t have to eat food that looks like frogspawn’. Discuss!

Terry Waite, once chained in solitary confinement in Beirut for almost 5 years, said that one of the worst situations for human beings is ‘when law and order breaks down, and all hell breaks loose’.

Oliver James reckoned that ‘schools are warehousing for children…’

At the signing table, a young man asked mathematician Marcus du Sautoy, ‘Do you believe in life after love?’

Scientist Brian Clegg said, ‘We can see 45 billion light years in each direction’ and ‘In the brain, relativity rules’.

Polly Morland reckoned that ‘the possibility to make changes in your life is the very definition of freedom’

Clover Stroud, speaking about her wild side, movingly, said, ‘I’d written about a celebrity’s bottom but I had not written about my mother.’

Catherine Mayer pointed out that ‘there are good people in every political party, and dreadful ones too!’

Ingrid Seward said, ‘The Queen is quite a feminist!’ and quoted Groucho Marx: ‘Anyone can get old. You just have to live long enough.’

On arriving in the UK, from China, Xiaolu Guo said, ‘I was shocked to see how backward Britain was’; and when asked to recite a poem in Chinese, said, ‘That’s a stupid cliché!’

Roman Krznaric claimed that ‘We hate losing about twice as much as we like winning!’

Laurence Rees said that ‘The way people avoid taking responsibility for what they don’t like is to blame a minority.’

Stephen Law said that ‘Holding views that conflict with those around you is very uncomfortable.’

Vanessa Kissule said, ‘Because we do not have a common language, I cannot speak to my own grandmother.’

Chris Redmond said, ‘I like nature, all that big green stuff.’

And the undersigned said, ‘Thank you, authors, performers, audience, helpers, and all.

The next Swindon Festival of Literature is due to take place 7th – 19th May 2018. Till then, keep well, keep reading, keep watching, keep asking questions; and if you have any good Literature-related ideas, suggestions, requests, or want to help in any way, please get in touch, with us, at the Swindon Festival of Literature!’

Matt Holland

Friday, 17 March 2017

Twenty-fourth Festival programme is launched!

Last week, the last proofs were read and a single duckling emerged from an egg.

On Tuesday night, five of us opened cardboard boxes, newly-delivered from Acorn Press.

Out of them came the sweet smell of new print. Soon, there were stacks of blue fire-emblazoned programmes on the former calf-shed Centre tables; and we, Kate from Swindon, Rachel form Liddington, Denisa from Slovakia, Lucas from Germany, and Caitlin from the USA, and the undersigned got busy stuffing them into hundreds of envelopes.

We also drank wine, nibbled at nibbles, chatted, laughed, listened to the music of the Glow Globes and the radio commentary of Swindon Town losing a football match to Sheffield United.

And on Thursday 16th March, in good spirits but under under grey skies in Swindon’s Central Library Courtyard, with 150 Festival followers and appropriate fanfare – which included the ringing of the LSF bell, a fabulous home-made spread from Elena’s Festa Rustica, a brilliant story-dance, told by Bafana, made musical by Fergie, and made moving by three dancers from the Wilkes Academy, plus some words about books, life, and Swindon – the programme was launched.

Here is how the Secret Agent Festival Chronicler described the launch.

Talking of launches, the next one, of the Festival proper, takes place at 5.30am outdoors in Lawn Woods on Bank Holiday Monday 1st May.

Hope to see you there!


Monday, 21 March 2016

Sunshine, butterflies, and a pensive woman in red

As Swindon’s Town Hall clock struck 12 at midday on Thursday 17th March in the Central Library’s Courtyard, the twenty-third Swindon Festival of Literature programme was unveiled!
Never was the sky so blue. We were blessed with sunshine, and the warmest day of the year so far, for our customary outdoor launch.

Festival followers mingled with dignitaries, dogs, and Swindon artists. Focaccia and Lower Shaw Farm apple juice was on one set of tables, while piles of programmes were on the others.

The painting, by Tim Carroll, of the Pensive Woman in Red, reproduced by designer Jane Stephens on programme cover, banner, and postcards, was everywhere, catching the eye and inviting us to read, think, and connect.

Swindon Open Studios spokeswoman Jane Milner-Barry spoke warmly about the happy collaboration between artists and the Festival; and concert guitarist Richard Durrant transported us with a musical trail for his Festival appearance on 9th May with a magical rendition of Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios by Paraguayan composer Agostin Barrios.
Proceedings concluded with a short walk into the heart of Swindon’s prize-winning Central Library for the unveiling of Gordon Dickinson’s beautiful Butterfly Wall.

Next step for us all is to mark diaries and get tickets, before they all go, for a succession of fascinating talks, discussions, competitions, and performances from 2nd to 14th May.

Look forward to seeing you then!


Sunday, 29 March 2015


Thursday 19th March was a decidedly chilly but dry day.

In the morning, Martin and crew set up this year’s banners in the Central Library courtyard; Andrea and her team put out the tasty spread; and I put on my gloves.

At midday, as the Town Hall clock struck twelve, the programme for this year’s Swindon Festival was unveiled. Yay!

To help us celebrate, Rachel told a story about why Truth and Story go hand in hand; Jacob and Ilaria showed that good feelings come when the body is in motion; and Teresa Page, the Mayor of Swindon, proved that spontaneity in speech is no bad thing.

We had a good time. If you want to, can you can watch it here.

We expect to have an ever better time from 4th to 16th May, day after day after day.

Hope you will join us.


Wednesday, 18 March 2015

About to Launch Festival Number Twenty-Two!

Today, on a spring-like Tuesday afternoon, the Acorn Press van pulled into the farmyard and, hot off the press, disgorged its load of fifty boxes of Festival programmes and posters.

Opening a box was like opening a present, and what a present it was. Wow!

The cover has worked. It’s striking, unusual, and celebrates Swindon and its Central Library.

And the contents are celebratory too: a celebration of ideas. Terrific!

Tonight, six helpers, stuffing envelopes in the woodstove-warmed ex-cowshed, agreed.

We all love the programme, from the outside and the inside, and hope that you will too.

At midday on Thursday 19th March, launch time, Festival followers can see if they do.

It’s been a good Tuesday. And Swindon Town won, away.

Looking forward to meeting in May!

Matt Holland

PS. And now, a cartload of programmes is on its way to the local post office, from where they will be winging their way to you!

Sunday, 7 September 2014

‘With another 12 days to look forward to, we cannot relax ours’ {ie. our grip}

Thus read the last line of the last blog about the first day of the twenty-first Swindon Festival of Literature.

And there have been no blog entries since (but, in their stead, a fantastic series of Festival Chronicles), because that grip was not loosened throughout the thirteen days of the Festival; and only slightly since.

You see, the director’s lot is not really a relaxed-grip lot. It’s more a firm-grip lot. While the Festival’s on, it’s focus, concentrate, focus, on authors, events, audience, time-keeping, and innumerable practical matters of consequence; and once it’s finished, there is the mountain of paperwork to contend with, bills to pay, figures to get to accountant, evaluations to be done, and reports to be written, leaving little time for the non-statutory fun of writing this blog.

So, if you have missed it, apologies. If you have not, there’s little more to say.

But, even though the Festival is a series of live events, best in the moments when it is most live, if you are someone who likes seeing past events as captured by film-makers, here is a selection.

First, the Swindon Festival of Literature in 2007, as filmed by friend of the Festival Matt Green of Funkton Films. Many thanks Matt.

Next, to mark the Festival’s twenty-first anniversary this year, Flicky Harrison, another friend of the Festival, offered the services of Flick’s Video Productions to film parts of this year’s Festival. Here are her productions: a 6-minute short:

And a 15-minute longer version Enjoy! And many thanks Flicky.

And many thanks too to all of this year’s authors, performers, venues, sponsors, helpers, and audiences, who all played a part in the Festival’s success. Terrific!

As we move into September, we move into gear to plan for next year.

If you are an author, performer, publisher, potential sponsor, or Festival follower with a brilliant idea, suggestion, or request, please get in touch. We welcome good ideas!

And a date for your diary: 4th – 16th May 2015 for the next Swindon Festival of Literature.

Till then, keep reading and/or writing, and keep well.

Matt Holland

Photo credits: Richard Wintle – Calyx Multimedia

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Daisy dew, dawn delight, a walk, a run, and a lot of fun

On Festival Eve, the night before the morning after, 27 helpers, performers, and serious supporters sat down to supper at Lower Shaw Farm, and wolfed down their lemon cake pudding in order to gather round the woodstove to discuss plans for dawn.

Who will wake whom at 3am? Who will put up the flags and who will get the chairs from the old creaky-doored church? And who will guide the red tractor-bearing trailer on a route that avoids one-in-three Kingshill? And what will we do on that high ridge by the stone plinths?

Well, suffice to say that, next day, or night, by 3.53 the whole crew was on site in Lawn Woods, even before the early birds had stirred.

You can guess who broke the pre-dawn silence. The red tractor, off its trailer and freed from its ratchet-tight shackles, burst into diesel-driven life and chugged its way up to the stone plinths and neatly parked itself stage left under the tree, bold and bright for all to see. In fact, with the morning sun shining on her poppy-red bum, sorry, rear mud guard, ‘she’ was fetching, feted, and fabulous; but had to wait till the sun had fully risen for ‘her’ turn to perform.

As dawn threatened to break but there was still enough darkness to hide a secret indulgence, I delighted in a daisy-dew face wash, head-down in the grass, freshening up in the morning dew.

Soon, streaming through the shadows under the trees, the crowds came, called form their beds by something more timeless, mysterious, and meaningful than an old tractor.

Dawn was about to break, the sun was rising, as it has since our time began, as it has since our time began,…

And the rest, as they say is now history: newly-back from Nicaragua Jake, on watering can; newly made granddad Danny, on pipes; Tom, Jake, and Fergie making fire and music move us; the Swindon Scratch Choir raising their voices for us and to the rising sun, which rose, obediently, as they sang; Suitcase Pete making words, hoola hoops, and chirpy teenager all work for him and us; Rachel Rose telling one memorable and spell-binding story; Andria Walton as Rainbow Fairie playing tin whistle to transport us to tin whistle land; Alison ‘Poetry Pod’ Brumfitt reciting poems about the here and now; Tony Hillier and Music Alive bringing the maypole to life; and the smell of hot coffee and bacon butties doing what only such things can do.

It was a great morning. See what others say at Festival Chronicle and Swindon Advertiser.

The afternoon wasn’t bad either. In spring sunshine, we ran 5k round Lydiard park, with Alexandra Heminsley, Bruce Tulloh, and scores of others who know the benefits of the body in motion; and then had a very good chat about running and writing and thinking about it.

The walkers meanwhile were walking, and talking, and listening to Rachel Rose Reid tell stories.

We ended the day listening to Patrick Barkham, the Brian Cox of badgers, say things like this. If you don’t want a badger to snap your leg in its vice-like jaws, put a stick down your wellie and when it hears that snap, it will think it’s broken your bone and therefore relax its grip.

With another 12 days to look forward to, we cannot relax ours.

Photo credits: Richard Wintle – Calyx Multimedia