TUESDAY 5th MAY
ALICE JOLLY – with A Saint in Swindon.
From 7pm ~ 5th May
A unique collaboration between reading groups in Swindon, a prize-winning author, and a sprightly publishing company has produced a brilliant book.
Work on it began in June 2019, at Lower Shaw Farm, when author Alice Jolly met members of Swindon reading groups. Notebook and pen in hand, Alice sat silently, listened, and let the readers talk. Enthusiastically, they told her about the kind of books they like, what they hoped to see in a story, and even offered ideas of their own. Dutifully, Alice made notes, thanked the readers, and went on her way.
Three months later Alice sent us a draft, explaining that the short story had become a longer one. We were not about to complain because the newly-written story was unputdownable! In fact, we were so happy that it was quickly decided the story should be shared with a wider audience.
A publisher must be found!
We succeeded dear reader and found fabulous Fairlight Books, who, in double quick time but with rightful rigour, published A Saint in Swindon!
It is launched today and is a very good read for anyone who likes a well-written story, full of the stuff of life, including reading, thinking, and books!
Alice Jolly is a novelist and playwright. Her most recent novel Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile was published in 2018. It was runner up for the Rathbones Folio Prize. In 2015, Alice published a memoir called Dead Babies and Seaside Towns, which won the Pen Ackerley Prize.
Artswords is a Literature Development project in Swindon and is linked to the town's Libraries Service.
Fairlight Books, who like to publish good literary fiction, are based in Oxford.
FRIDAY 8th MAY
DAWN CHORUS – created by dawn sky and dewdrops, birdsong and beauty, minstrels and musicians, storytellers and circus skills, poets and performers, and celebrated by you!
From 10.00am ~ 8th May ~ FREE
As the sun rises over sleeping Swindon, join the early-birds, the keenest and coolest Festival followers, high on a ridge in Lawn Woods, for this all-age, all-weather outdoor event that marks the start of the second Swindon Spring Festival.
Marvel at an array of amazing acts: pipers, singers, storytellers, jugglers, poets, musicians, and outdoor entertainers! Make new friends, meet old ones, swig a hot cup of coffee or tea, bite an egg or bacon butty, watch the sun rise, frolic round the maypole, and celebrate life and Literature!
THE ART OF THE TREE – an exhibition by The Arborealists.
Originally planned to be an exhibition at the Richard Jefferies Museum, many of the artists have now made digital versions of their work available for an online version of the show.
This exhibition features work by the internationally acclaimed group of artists, The Arborealists. Formed in 2013, this unique group of trained, professional artists excites the senses with an inspiring array of different views, interpretations and portraits of trees, in all their glory and in every medium.
Wherever they have exhibited, from the Royal West of England Academy to Mottisfont Abbey, the group's work has been met with critical and popular success. Now it is Swindon's chance to enjoy these beautiful images.
PATRICK CURRY – on Enchantment.
From 12.30pm ~ 8th May
What is enchantment and why does it matter? What is its role in life today and the crises we face, especially the ecological one? Can enchantment be a way of life?
In his latest book Enchantment, Editor of The Ecological Citizen, university lecturer, and author of numerous books, Dr Patrick Curry, originally from Canada, asserts that awe and wonder go hand in hand with enchantment. Attempts to undermine or dismiss enchantment as a delusion are not only misguided but dangerous, potentially leading to disengagement with our world that could have disastrous consequences for the future of our lives on Earth.
ROB HOPKINS – on unleashing the power of imagination to create the future we want!
From 7pm ~ 8th May
Notwithstanding the common consensus that globally, things are pretty awful, there is plenty of evidence that actually, they can change, rapidly, dramatically, and unexpectedly—for the better! Yes, we do have the capability to effect dramatic change, thanks to human imagination, and the ability to ask what if? And if there was ever a time when we needed that ability, it is now.
Co-Founder of Transition Towns Network, broadcaster, author, TED talker, and activist, Rob Hopkins has been voted one of the top 100 environmentalists and is the author of From What Is to What If.
SATURDAY 9th MAY
VASSOS ALEXANDER – on the highs and lows of running, that bit further . . .
in conversation with Emma Sperring, and with YOU!
Presented in association with Swindon’s Lydiard parkrun and Seven Fields parkrun
From 10.30am ~ 9th May
Why do more and more people run? What keeps us running, that bit further? Where does the feel good factor come from when we challenge ourselves, running? And what about the new-found confidence and joy of living that goes with it? Any other questions?
Sports reporter, radio presenter, and best-selling author of Don’t Stop Me Now and Running Up that Hill Vassos Alexander has answers to a number of these questions, and will happily tackle a few more today.
KATHY O’SHAUGNESSY – on being In Love with George Eliot.
From 6.30pm ~ 9th May
Who was the real George Eliot? What was her true identity? Why did she shock people so? And then, why did the world fall in love with her?
Was she really a wise and great writer, sent to guide people through an increasingly secular and rudderless century, icon to her progressive feminist peers — with whom she was often at odds? Born two hundred years ago, who was the real George Eliot?
Editor, reviewer, and short story writer Kathy O’Shaugnessy is the author of In Love with George Eliot, which tells the compelling story of a writer who is reckoned to be England’s greatest woman novelist.
SUNDAY 10th MAY
CHILDREN AND FAMILIES DAY – for all ages, children, and families, together!
Presented in association with Lower Shaw Farm Children’s Project
From 12pm ~ 10th May
12pm ~ Games Galore with Darine Flanagan - running round games, staying still games, and lots of bits in between. Watching is allowed but joining in is even better!
1pm ~ Rhyme Time show with wacky Word Wizard Sara-Jane Arbury and her helper goon Steve Rooney. They’ll take you on a jolly jaunt to the wonderful world of rhyme. Enjoy zany names, crazy games, and lots of words that sound the same. If you are young or old, shy or bold, this family show is a ton of fun! P.S. Sara-J and Steve will supply peas and honey but not plenty of money.
2pm ~ John Row, Storyteller, at Swindon Spring Festival 2020. In normal times Swindon Spring Festival Family Day is held at Lower Shaw Farm but these are not normal times so they have collaborated with the World Storytelling Cafe to have a live storytelling set from John Row international storyteller and poet and curator of the World Storytelling Cafe at 2.00 p.m. Sunday May 10.
John who lives in Swindon has toured the world as a storyteller and runs the storytelling areas at several major festivals including Glastonbury and Cambridge Folk Festival. During the lock down he has linked up with hoteliers Michael and Lucie Wood who has several Rhiads in Marrakech, one of which John stayed while recovering from a stroke to help develop the World Storytelling Cafe website.
Mike and Lucie are devotees of storytelling and are starting a story centre in Marrakech to help preserve the tradition. Finding his hotels closed in the lock down he has kept on his staff and used the to develop a website that could help support storytellers by having a tips hat beneath their stories. Since the last week of March, John, isolated in his Swindon flat has collected storytellers from six continents and has put on two forty five minute performances a day. All these are archived on the site and John's stories can be found at on the World Storytelling Cafe website.
3pm ~ Tea for Three - performed by members of the Farmyard Circus
JONATHAN DAVIDSON - on how poetry is made and experienced – in conversation with you!
From 6.30pm ~ 10th May
What is your stepping off point into poetry? Do you want to experience poems as truly lived art-forms? Would you like to explore a little more?
Having spent a lifetime seeking ways to release poetry into the wild, by making poetry-theatre performances for the stage and radio, by publishing poetry books and pamphlets, by working with poets in India, Ukraine, the Baltic States, and Central America, and by curating festivals, Jonathan Davidson has had a go.
Now, in his latest book, A Commonplace: Bricks, Apples & Other People’s Poems, he takes this quest a step further.
MICHAEL SCHMIDT – on Gilgamesh, the oldest known long poem.
From 8pm ~ 10th May
Reckoned to have profound influence on poets today, Gilgamesh is special. It is both the newest classic in the canon of world literature and the most ancient long poem known to exist.
Lost for centuries to the sands of the Middle East but found again in the 1850s, it tells the story of a great king, his heroism, and his eventual defeat. It is a story of monsters, gods, and cataclysms; and of intimate friendship and love.
Poet, translator, novelist, literary historian, anthologist, editor, and publisher, Michael Schmidt is author of Gilgamesh: The Life of a Poem.
MONDAY 11th MAY
RACHEL CLARKE – with a love letter to life!
Owing to the volume of work at her hospital, Dr Rachel Clarke is now unable to present a virtual online event on Monday at 12.30. She sends apologies and best wishes to Festival followers.
Most of us live thinking we have all the time in the world.
But there is a point when we may know that time is running out.
At that moment, a life that may already be wonderful becomes extra-precious.
When everything you have been and done and meant to the world is being taken from you, then human connections are the main medicine.
Former TV journalist who retrained as a medic, Dr Rachel Clarke, is the author of best-selling Your Life in My Hands. Her latest book is Dear Life – a doctor’s story of love and loss.
JIM AL-KHALILI - on The World According to Physics.
From 6.30pm ~ 11th May
Are we approaching the end of physics? Is the next step a theory of everything? Are physicists stuck in a rut waiting for the next Einstein to come along? Any other questions?
There is still much that we do not understand, from the origin of space and the meaning of time to what is really lurking behind the quantum curtain.
In his latest book, author, broadcaster, and TV presenter Jim Al-Khalili does not shy away from problems in physics while pointing out that science, and physics in particular, offers us the only way we currently know to uncover the deepest truth about the nature of reality.
TUESDAY 12th MAY
GUY ROBERTSON – with good news on ageing!
From 12.30pm ~ 12th May
When does ageing, or what’s commonly called ‘getting older’ begin? At 30, 40, 50, 60 . . . or even after more years? Or is it any age marked by when the jokes begin? Can getting older really be a positive experience? Apparently, yes, it can!
The good news is, you can make a difference to your own ageing process. Research shows that how we think about getting older can have a significant impact on our health and wellbeing in later life.
The traditional approach tends to be passive, fatalistic and rather downbeat. A new positive approach is very different. It understands that our thinking, the workings of our mind, can have a significant impact on our physical and emotional wellbeing.
Life coach, erstwhile journal editor, and author of a major scoping study of Transitions in Later Life, Guy Robertson has worked in numerous roles in the field of ageing for over a quarter of a century and is a passionate proponent of the need to develop more positive approaches to ageing. His new book is The Ten Steps of Positive Ageing.
HELEN TAYLOR – on why women read fiction.
Presented in association with Swindon Mum’s the Word Writing Group
From 6.30pm ~ 12th May
Women readers are key to the future of fiction, the glue for a literate society. Women treasure the chance to read alone, but have also gregariously shared reading experiences and memories with others. For many, reading novels and short stories enables them to escape and to spread their wings both intellectually and emotionally.
Why are women the main buyers and readers of fiction, members of book clubs, and attendees at literary festivals? How have evolving attitudes towards sexual relations changed female readers’ relationships with romantic and erotic fiction? Why do certain works of fiction by Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë resonate with British women readers?
These are just some of the questions Helen Taylor, Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Exeter, seeks to answer in her new book Why Women Read Fiction.
CLARE HUNTER – on the world through the eye of a needle.
From 8pm ~ 12th May
What is the language of sewing? How do we hear and see it? What can it tell us, about ourselves, our forebears, and the patterns of life?
For millennia, women and marginalised communities either unable or forbidden to write or speak out for themselves, have used sewing to document their thoughts and experiences and even to transmit subversive messages.
Award-winning textile artist and writer, Clare Hunter, says this. ‘Sewing is a way to mark our existence on cloth: patterning our place in the world, voicing our identity, sharing something of ourselves with others and leaving the indelible evidence of our presence in stitches held fast by our touch.’ Her new book Threads of Life is a blend of history and memoir, a book about the need we all have to tell our human stories.
From political propaganda in medieval France to secret treason in Tudor England, and from a POW camp in Singapore to a family attic in Scotland, all life is in its pages. .
WEDNESDAY 13th MAY
FOR SAMA – film, (96mins) feature documentary by award-winning filmmakers Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts.
Presented in association with Swindon City of Sanctuary
From 8pm ~ 13th May
Set in Syria, For Sama tells the story of Waad al-Kateab’s life through five years of the uprising in Aleppo. She falls in love, gets married, and gives birth to Sama, all while cataclysmic conflict happens around her, and her camera captures stories of loss, laughter, and survival as Waad wrestles with an impossible choice – whether or not to flee the city to save her daughter’s life, when leaving means abandoning the struggle for freedom for which she has already sacrificed so much.
For Sama is a gripping, insightful, and moving love letter from a young mother to her daughter.
Note from the filmmaker: Waad al-Kateab says ‘I have created Action For Sama to turn the reaction to my film into positive action for people living in opposition-controlled areas of Syria. I want to spread awareness of the suffering of those living under bombardment. I want to support the heroism of Syrian civil society. If you do too, please visit ’
THURSDAY 14th MAY
MIKE PITTS – on Digging Up Britain.
From 12.30pm ~ 14th May
Britain has a very long saga of prehistory, which is often forgotten.
But in the last decade, astounding archaeological discoveries have shed new light on those who have gone before us, people who lived on these islands between a thousand and a million years ago, radically altering the way we think about our history.
Broadcaster, television presenter, and award-winning author and archaeologist, Mike Pitts presents exciting and surprising discoveries, from the more recent and familiar to the most remote and bizarre, in his latest book Digging Up Britain.
GUY SHRUBSOLE – on Who Owns England?
From 6.30pm ~ 14th May
How did the biggest landowners get to be in possession of millions of acres of England?
Behind this simple question may lie one of the oldest and best-kept secrets. For centuries, owners have covered up: by constructing walls, burying surveys, and more recently, even sheltering behind offshore companies. But with the dawn of digital mapping and the Freedom of Information Act, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for the big landowners to hide.
Finding his way through tightly-guarded country estates, ecologically ravaged grouse moors, and empty Mayfair mansions, writer Guy Shrubsole has uncovered a wealth of new information about the people who claim ownership of swathes of England. From secret military islands to tunnels deep beneath London, the author has unearthed truths concealed since the Domesday Book about who really thinks they own the ‘green and pleasant land’.
DAWOOD ALI McCALLUM – on Mrs A’s Indian Gentlemen.
From 7pm ~ 14th May
How, in 1943, might railway engineer Imtiaz ‘Billy’ Khan, logistics supremo Vincent Rosario, and maths prodigy Akaash Ray find themselves in Swindon, lodging with the well-intentioned Mrs A, hilariously navigating bland food, faulty toilet cisterns, secret assignments, and a mutual distrust of one another?
Answers may come in tonight’s talk but certainly in the book by local author Dawood Ali McCallum, who, for more than 40 years, has travelled extensively in India. In this talk, he will reflect on just how much work, life and attitudes have changed in Swindon since the days in which Mrs A’s Indian Gentlemen is set: a book about Swindon, dedicated to the people of Swindon, written by a Swindonian, and published in…India!
FRIDAY 15th MAY
SONIA CONTERA – on how Nano Comes to Life.
From 12.30pm ~ 15th May
What is nanoscale?
What do you know about the infinitesimal realm of proteins and DNA where physics and cellular and molecular biology meet?
Did you know that nanotechnologies are allowing us to manipulate the very building blocks of life and are poised to revolutionise medicine, to give us control over our own biology, our own health, and our own lives?
One of today’s leading nanopioneers, Sonia Contera, a professor in Biological Physics at the University of Oxford, has some answers.
LISTENING TO TREES – a poetry workshop with Dawn Gorman.
Dawn has created a 'taster' workshop especially for our virtual Festival, which you can enjoy along with a virtual version of the Arborealists' wonderful tree pictures:
From 2pm ~ 15th May
Give yourself space to slow down and tune in to the wisdom and beauty of trees in this friendly, relaxed poetry writing workshop for all.
We’ll use as prompts work in the exhibition The Art of the Tree by the artist group The Arborealists, on display at the museum during the Swindon Spring Festival (see page 5). And perhaps the ancient mulberry tree will provide inspiration for us, as it did for nature writer Richard Jefferies, who has been called ‘the first and truest conservationist’.
The workshop is led by award-winning poet, arts practitioner and journalist Dawn Gorman. As well as being extensively published, Dawn's poems have been performed on radio, and read all around the world, from London to Bath, and New York to Swindon!
PETER LOVATT – on the secret to being stronger, smarter, and happier . . . through dance!
From 7.30pm ~ 15th May
Are we born to dance? Can dance work wonders for us? Can it change the way we feel, think, and behave? Can it boost our self esteem and improve our health? Is dance crucial for a vital life and good relationships?
Any other questions?
Dancer, psychologist, and inspirational speaker, Dr Peter Lovatt is the author of The Dance Cure which delves deliciously into the key delights of dance and why it is a gift to body and soul.
With a cha cha here and a wiggle there, Dr Lovatt will share with us the reasons why dance is such a powerful tool for our brains and our bodies, and present a unique set of steps, combos, and dance routines to help us dance ourselves happy.
SATURDAY 16th MAY
ART ON TOUR – the story of Swindon’s Modern Art Collection with Katie Ackrill
From 11am ~ 16th May
People are often surprised to hear that Swindon owns one of the best collections of Modern British Art in the UK, with artworks by both nationally known and local artists. This vibrant talk for the Swindon Spring Festival will tell the story of Swindon’s art collection, through 12 fascinating artworks. Katie will reveal stories interwoven with these pieces, and reveal how they came to be in Swindon This talk will be available, free of charge, via Swindon Museum and Art Gallery’s YouTube Channel, and Swindon Spring Festival’s YouTube Channel.
Wiltshire-based exhibitions coordinator Katie Ackrill works out of the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery.
CAROLINE BORN – on a memorable journey on the hippie trail.
From 12.30pm ~ 16th May
In 1973 two young women, with the minimum of possessions and, at least figuratively speaking, flowers in their hair, set out on a journey through Greece and the Middle East, where the journey itself was the goal, a way of life on the road.
Their adventures and life-changing encounters were recorded in a little red diary, which has now become a book, a free spirited and beautifully illustrated memoir, The Heron in Isfahan.
Movement teacher, performer, and artist Caroline Born re-encounters her teenage self, whose adventures inspired her to write a book.
SUNDAY 17th MAY
FESTIVAL FINALE – circus theatre, music, poems, and pleasure, in a virtual cabaret setting.
From 7.30pm ~ 17th May
Tjawangwa Dema, former chair of the Writers Association of Botswana, author of two books of poems, most recently The Careless Seamstress, which won the Sillerman First Book Prize, has given readings in more than twenty countries worldwide, including Brazil, India, South Africa, and the USA.
Steve Rooney, whose familiar and friendly face masks an inner sense of irony, from whence he delivers astute observations from the hard shoulder of life’s motorway, has performed to big baying crowds at Latitude and to seven people on the outskirts of Derby. By way of virtual Finale bonus, Steve is joined by ever-upbeat ageless word-wizard and poet Sara-Jane Arbury.
Darine Flanagan and Ben Walker perform Me, You, or Us? – a verbal, physical, and musical exploration, through movement, voice, and partner acrobatics, that addresses the pros and cons of whether it’s better to work alone or with others, and the benefits, difficulties, and beauties of both.
Hannah Ballard and Karen Wynne aka, Sole Rebel Tap, with piano, guitar, voice, and tap, will take us on journeys through movement and music. Their rhythm, songs, and dance tell terrific stories in unexpected ways!
Jacob Hi-Ho and Ben Walker bring the curtain down with Cosmopocalypse, a sci-fi circus performance with numerous nods to a dystopian post-apocalyptic rope-walking revival. Wow!
And then, the Festival ends as it began, with the mournful sound of the watering can.
Includes the last three acts.