EXCITEMENT is mounting as staff and students anticipate this year’s celebration of all things bookish in the Swindon Youth Festival of Literature 2018.

A line-up of brilliant authors including Young Bond author Steve Cole, creator of the Dark Lord series Jamie Thomson, Helen Dennis, author of the Secret Breakers books, and Sarah Mussi, who wrote Breakdown, Seige and Bomb, will be visiting Swindon’s secondary schools from November 12 to 16.

Primary schools will welcome Dave Cousins, Stan Cullimore, Mark Lowery and Ali Sparkes, and this year’s headline act at the Wyvern Theatre will be Jonathan Meres, author of the popular World of Norm books. Swindon's own Steve Antony will be judging the illustration contest.

The Swindon Youth Festival of Literature is in its 11th year, but it is year one at the helm for Dorcan Academy librarian Kate Murphy. She is taking over from Fiona Hardcastle, who established the festival and has recently stepped down from her role. While Kate, who was previously assistant librarian at Highworth Warneford School, is heading the team she said it was very much a collaboration.

“The festival is organised by the school librarians and there’s not much like it in the country,” she said. “It’s a team effort, and the team is amazing. I am the coordinator so I get all the authors in place, but librarians are all the organisers in their own schools.”

Eleven secondary schools take part in the literature festival, and this year a twelfth school - the newly opened Great Western Academy - will also be involved. The festival is funded by the Swindon Association of Secondary Heads, with sponsorship from WHSmith’s, Brown’s Books for Students and vehicle hire company Arval.

“The festival began when Fiona started organising a few events, with schools sharing authors, and it has grown from there,” Kate said.

“All the librarians say which authors they would like to visit, in an ideal world. We start emailing and phoning to see who’s available. We get suggestions from agents, and authors contact us themselves, then we start putting it together. It’s like a big author jigsaw puzzle.”

The festival has welcomed plenty of famous authors over the years, including Michael Rosen, Charlie Higson, and Simon Mayo, author of Itch. Now authors are asking to be involved, Kate said.

“The festival is starting to get a name, and we have authors asking if they can come back. It’s really exciting and shows we must be doing something right. And it’s not just about the authors – we find the students really enjoy it.”

Sarah Mussi is one of the returning authors: “She has done the festival a few times for us. The schools ask for her to come back.”

Each of the primary schools is invited to an author event at a secondary school, which may be the first opportunity for youngsters in year five to see what their future school is like, and a very positive experience. The Jonathan Meers event will be in the Wyvern on November 15, with an audience of year 7 pupils travelling to the theatre to see the literature festival’s headline act.

“We have one big event like this every year. They are all free events for pupils, and for some it may be the first time they have visited a theatre. It’s a very positive thing,” Kate said.

This year festival poet Ash Dickinson is making a return.

“He’s amazing,” Kate said. “He will do a whistle stop tour of the secondary schools, and he has them writing Haiku and all sorts of things by the end of it.”

Joffre White will preside over this year’s festival quiz. The author of the Frog series of novels will oversee the inter-school contest, with teams of six pupils from each school competing for the shield. Two pupils from each of years seven, eight and nine make up each team and test their knowledge of books and writers. The winners will receive book tokens too, provided as prizes by Bower & Bailey Solicitors.

This year for the first time the festival is running three creative competitions for two age groups – years seven and eight, and years nine to 11.

The first is a creative writing competition, with a picture provided to inspire a 500-word story. The second is an illustration competition. Pupils can use any artistic medium in two-dimensions to illustrate a selected passage from Carnegie-winning book Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean. The third competition is for poetry, on the topic of change, which will be judged by Ash Dickinson.

Each school will also nominate a student who has contributed to the running of their Learning Resource Centre for the Library Ambassadors Award.

“The festival is all about inclusion,” Kate said. “While the quiz team members need to be enthusiasts who know a bit about books, everything else is open to all.”

The school events include a mixture of talks and writing workshops. Last year, 39 primary schools were involved, amounting to 2476 students. With the twelve secondary schools, more than 5000 students are involved in one event or another.

“The creativity that comes out of it is incredible. In a single week, pupils see that working authors are not just names on a page but real people, who make a living from writing. They are very inspirational.”

Kate said it was a love of reading and the response of pupils that inspired them.

“That’s the reason we keep doing it. Pupils get such a buzz when they’re coming back from the Wyvern on the bus, when they’ve met an author and got their book signed. We get lots of good feedback, and at this time of year, lots of questions about who’s coming to the festival. Everybody involved is really positive.”

Towards the end of November, a collaborative event brings together all the competition winners, along with Swindon’s mayor, sponsors and organisers to read winning stories and poems, display the best illustrations and award the prizes.

Plans are already afoot for next year’s festival, including the possibility of working with the Mike Pringle and the Richard Jefferies Museum on a mix of poetry and film.

For more information, visit swindonyfl.co.uk.