GREY skies loomed overhead but that didn’t stop a large crowd of book lovers from attending the launch of the 24th annual Swindon Festival of Literature.

Around 150 people gathered in the Central Library’s courtyard to celebrate the official reveal of this year’s events programme. 

After guests treated themselves to free food from Festa Rustica, the launch kicked off with a passionate speech from organiser Matt Holland followed by the performance of a story with music set in Australia by Bafana Matea.

The festival has been held in Swindon for almost a quarter of a century. Matt marvelled at the longevity and local support the festival has had.

He said: “It’s really been embraced by the people of Swindon. I’m so grateful that so many of them love something which shows that life is for learning”

The festival will open on May 1, with a traditional Dawn Chorus and close with its fiftieth event of the fortnight, a grand finale at the town hall on May 13.

Notable names attending this year include award-winning author Lionel Shriver, novelist and presenter Mark Lawson, former Radio 4 newsreader Charlotte Green, Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee and writer-explorer Benedict Allen.

Other events range from a hip-hop panel at The Tuppeny pub to an academic talk at the Arts Centre by a British Museum curator about the oldest form of writing.

A family-focused fun day at Lower Shaw Farm will have tree climbing, puppet-making, campfire storytelling and a puppet show.

Matt urged festival-goers to book tickets as soon as possible and joked that people from Birmingham to Basingstoke always try to befriend him around May because they can’t get tickets to events.

He said: “I try very hard to have a programme which truly has something for everyone. I defy anyone to look at this year’s programme and not find something that appeals to them.

“I urge everyone, even people who are doubtful about whether literature is for them, to take a chance with the Swindon Festival of Literature.

"Give these programmes to your friends, give them to your enemies.”

Swindon Borough Councillor Garry Perkins briefly spoke about his love of the festival and promoted the new Switch On To Swindon initiative.

He said: “This is one of the golden moments of Swindon’s year. Swindon businesses will work together to raise the bar of expectation and attract the best to Swindon throughout the year, not just for a fortnight.”

To book tickets call 01793 524481 or visit