Marlborough LitFest takes special care to involve the children of the town and surrounding villages. They believe in a variation of a famous claim: give me a child that likes reading, and I will give you the adult who’s still reading when they are old and grey.
Marlborough LitFest 2017 was no exception with a great variety of events and happenings for younger readers – of all ages.
Francesca Simon, whose most successful and irrepressible creation, Horrid Henry, has delighted children since he first appeared in 1994, has now written a novel, The Monstrous Child, which would appeal to “anyone over the age of 11 with a taste for the mythological, the gothic or the macabre”.
She came to talk to a full Town Hall on Sunday afternoon about the heroine of this new book, Hel, and about her passion for children’s literacy.
Matt Dickinson, a film-maker and writer who is best known for his novels and his documentary work for television. He was one of the climbers caught in the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster.
Inspired and humbled by his own survival, Matt has now written a fictional trilogy for teenagers, The Everest Files. He talked about the books to a packed Theatre-on-the-Hill at St John’s Academy on Thursday afternoon – this was The Big School Read.
Despite a rogue fire-alarm in the middle of the event, the young pre-teen and teenage audience was captivated by his story-telling and by his experiences. As one Year 8 boy put it, possibly to the horror of his committed teachers: “He was really interesting. It was the best bit of the whole week.”
On Friday morning, Jason Beresford gave an outlandish and very funny talk to Year 5 children from six local primary schools, and then again to the Year 6 children from those schools in the afternoon.
The children loved the hilarious and silly anecdotes about his character, the Panteater, who is ‘allergic to ants but addicted to pants’. And about the four young protagonists who feature in his novels, which are aimed at older primary school children. Four children were called up at each session to act out the parts of these characters, to the great amusement of their watching friends and teachers.
Amongst all of these bigger events were storytelling sessions in the White Horse Bookshop for younger children.
It was only right that there was a highly imaginative and fantastical launch to LitFest – setting the tone for the children’s events which followed.
Children from local primary schools had been invited to take part in two competitions. During the summer holidays and the first week of the new term, they were given the challenge of writing a short ‘flash fiction’ story of no more than 350 words.
Accompanying this writing competition, they also could enter an art contest – to create, draw or paint a ‘wild thing’. Both competitions were inspired by Maurice Sendak’s iconic masterpiece for children Where the Wild Things Are.
There were more than 400 entries, and they were ALL amazing – Helen Sheehan and I know as we were doing the shortlisting – see photo above. Feathers, Hama beads and sparkles adorned terrifying-looking wild things, baring their sharp teeth, their hairy, webbed fists clawing the air. And the stories, too, were a marvelous mixture of format and style.
Some were very funny, others were scary and all of them were full of lively descriptions and amusing characters. It was a real challenge to pick the best pieces of work, but someone had to do it, and the winning stories and creations were displayed in the Town Hall over the LitFest weekend and were admired by many.
At the strike of eleven on Thursday morning, jumping out of the alleyways, shops, banks and coffee houses which line the High Street, 240 wildly-dressed seven and eight year olds from eight primary schools in Marlborough and the surrounding villages performed a moving and dramatic dance in unison – a Flash Mob Dance. It was led by the similarly wild-costumed choreographer, Rachel Haines, a Year 4 teacher from Marlborough St Mary’s Primary School.
Surprised shoppers, passersby and day trippers were stopped in their tracks as the children, dressed as Wild Things, growled and snarled, stomped and pirouetted their way through five minutes of soaring music, a beautiful piece called Dangerous by German rock violinist David Garrett, which emanated from the Town Hall, floating down the High Street over the crowds which gathered to watch.
It was an imaginative, fun and fantastical launch, which set the tone for the children’s events which followed.
The weekend was a fantastic celebration of literature, and a heartening tribute to the fact that, in spite of the seemingly all pervasive take-over bid that technology is making in all our lives, the love of books, of reading, learning and story-telling, is as alive as ever amongst children and adults alike in and around Marlborough.
FOOTNOTE: Barnes Coaches generously helped with the collection of Wild Things from the area’s village schools. And Sean Moir provided the fabulous sound system. Marlborough.news thanks to Ben Phillips for his photographs.