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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

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Two weeks to go and one tractor has come

Hope it did not rain on your Easter parade or party.

It certainly did on the slopes of Avebury, down which we have a tradition of rolling eggs on Easter Sunday. The result was a lot of slipping, sliding, and laughter.

We hope it won’t be this wet at dawn in two week’s time, for the start of the Festival, outdoors at 5.30am on 5th May on that high ridge overlooking Swindon.

Here, at Lower Shaw Farm, the Festival’s HQ, we have bought a tractor. But not any old new tractor. Oh no.

It’s a red tractor, a running tractor, a beautiful old 1952 Nuffield Universal diesel tractor.

This weekend, it came to live, work, and play at LSF.

We already have plans for its participation in the Festival.

You see, we hope it will please the eye, fire the imagination, and inspire writers and readers the way that famous imagistic wheelbarrow poem does.

This one.

The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

- See more at: The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams

The red tractor has already been out doing its stuff. On Sunday, it led an Easter Bonnet Parade up Old Shaw Lane and, not surprisingly, turned a few heads.

If you want to meet it, come to the very start of the Festival, the Dawn Chorus: love at first light on the first Bank Holiday Monday in May.

It might well be a happy red tractor day.

Matt Holland

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Festival Launch 2014

On Tuesday this week, in Lower Shaw Farm’s ex-calf-shed Centre, Festival helpers Barbara, Maria, Nuria, Kate, Steve, Kauser, and Johanne, with Jess making pizza for all of us, stuffed programmes into envelopes.

Yesterday, in two wheelbarrows, Maria and I wheeled them the 242 yards down to Shaw Village post office, where I stood in a queue with mothers and little ones in pushchairs. The LitFest programmes felt like our babies.

The post van-driving woman laughed, at the wheelbarrows only, I hope, and said, ‘I ain’t never seen anything like this? Are they all stamped? You know you could have got them franked?’ I replied, ‘We like working together, with our hands, sending out nice things to nice people. Also, we like wheelbarrows, bicycles, and things that roll and go round, and make you feel you are rolling with them, happily, rather than being steam-rollered by something bigger than yourself, unhappily.’ She smiled, slightly shook her head, and gave a look of puzzled approval.

Today, in the outdoor windy courtyard of Swindon’s prize-winning Central Library and before a crowd of scores of loyal, hardy, and fabulous Festival followers, we launched them onto the world.

If you’d like one, write to

Surprise guest at the launch, and who said nice words and poems, was Director of the Cheltenham Festival of Poetry Anna Saunders. Thanks to the ingenuity of our clever photographer, Richard Wintle, she now has the Swindon Festival of Literature in her eyes.

It’s been a great day. Looking forward to May!

Now it’s dark, and the day’s ending. Better go shut up the hens, put wood on the fire, and eat fish.

Matt Holland

Photo credits: Richard Wintle – Calyx Multimedia

PS. And this is what some outlets of local media made of the launch.

Swindon Advertiser - Mature approach to reading celebration
Total Swindon - Swindon Festival of Literature Launch 2014
SwindonWeb - Swindon Festival Of Literature 2014