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Friday, 22 March 2013

Programme launch, Festival lift off

At midday yesterday, Thursday 21st March, the beginning of spring, when days triumphs over nights, in the space that was, for many years, Swindon’s Reference Library, the 40-page full-colour programme of the twentieth Swindon Festival of Literature was launched.

What fun it was!

It drew a crowd of 80-plus, dignitaries mixing with Festival followers, standing room only. And all appeared to enjoy the LSF bites to eat, the surprise presentations, the impromptu head-to-head Think Slam competition between Sara-Jane Arbury and the Festival Director, the musical rendition of W B Yeats’ Song of Wandering Angus by Kelly McKosker and Linda Lee, the words of congratulation and farewell from resigning Council Leader Rod Bluh, and the assorted piecemeal intros and perorations by the undersigned.

But most of all, the programme, a lovely little booklet if ever there was one.

Lasses of the launch were announced, for being helpful, directly or indirectly, to the Festival, to Literature development in Swindon; for having ideas; for often having to do things alone but doing so in a way that helps, supports, and involves other people; for actually getting on and doing things, instead of moaning; for asking questions that lead to good ideas; and for doing all they do without making a fuss or big deal about it. There were three people who qualified on these grounds. It so happens they were all women: Jill Sharp, for Life Writing workshops and work with BlueGate Poets; Fran Bevan, for research and writing about Swindon’s heritage and history; and Barbara Thompson, for her work at the helm of Swindon Film Society and Swindon Film Festival both of which are full of crossovers with Literature.

For me, after feeding the hens and stoking up the farm stoves, the day had started with the funeral of John Reynolds (1928 – 2013) racket-stringer extraordinaire, for the stars at Wimbledon, Wiltshire players, and the undersigned too, and a musician and artist to boot. His daughter Jane told us delightful stories about him, with irony, love, and beautiful respect. John was another one of those good people, who was skilled and reliable and simply got on on with things, sans fuss or bother. Doesn’t George Eliot mention the value of such ‘ordinary’ but wonderful people towards the end of Middlemarch?

By early afternoon, the launch was over and box offices at venues round town were buzzing.

The day ended with the usual and necessary Swindon LitFest debrief that included nourishment in the shape of Spanish tortilla and wine, participants in the shape of Festival workers, extra friends in the shape of far-travelled siblings, plus plenty of good cheer round the Dairy table at Lower Shaw Farm.

It was a wonderful day and we are already looking forward to May, even as the snow falls.

Matt Holland

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Hardly huffing and puffing, we loved stuffing…

Festival friends and Director Matt Holland busy stuffing envelopes

It’s Festival programme launch eve and excitement mounts.

This year, we are getting ready for the twentieth Swindon Festival of Literature, which will run from 6th to 18th May.

As a festival organiser, I receive many email and telephone offers from keen companies claiming to be able to improve our design, printing, marketing, and mail outs. For the most part, I resist them because the service we already get from local designers, printers, and marketing folk is just fine, in fact, excellent.

For example, our mail out system may be old-fashioned but it’s very hands on and we love it.

This is what happened this year. An invitation went out to Festival friends and helpers to let them know that there would be an envelope-stuffing evening, with good company, a drop to drink, and home-made pizza, in the cosy old calf-shed at Lower Shaw Farm.

On the appointed day, I lit the woodstove, and Spanish wwoofer Louis helped me carry over boxes of programmes, lists of labels, and mail bags to spread out on the tables. Meanwhile, down in the kitchen, Australian proof-reader Kelly and Swindon all-rounder Jessica were busy rolling out the dough for their pizza specials.

One by one, friends and helpers arrived, had a drink, sat down, and got stuffing. Programmes were flying into envelopes!

Before it was half time in the League One match between Yeovil and Swindon, which was on the radio, half the envelopes were stuffed with the beautiful new 40-page full colour Festival programme. (If you’d like one, ring or email and we’ll happily send. Tel 01793 771080. Email

By the time Swindon had won 2-0, all envelopes were stuffed, stamped, and boxed up ready for delivery to the post office. Also, the trays of pizza were almost empty and international friendships had been made. Louis was calling Swindon Michael ‘El Poeta’ and Kelly and Kauser were laughing out loud about links they’d found.

It’s evenings like this that enable me to resist the slicker twenty-first century mail out operations on offer.

When you see the programme, in booklet or on website, I hope you will not be able to resist coming to the twentieth Swindon Festival of Literature. It’s full of good things.

Looking forward to May.


Matt Holland