Feast of books sorely missed

24th March 2006 at 00:00
Every October for the past 10 years, the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea has been taken over by thousands of children attending the Wordplay festival - a celebration of books for young readers.

They have filled the centre with their loud enthusiasm for reading, drawing and all things to do with books. Each day would start quietly but then, as children were bussed in from local schools, the centre would swell until almost every space was filled. Yet still, in some corner or underneath a table, you would see a child in an island of silence, immersed in a book they could not wait to start reading.

Swansea Wordplay is the only literature festival devoted solely to children's books. Over the past 10 years a whole generation of children have had the chance to meet their favourite authors and discover new ones.

They have seen characters like Alex Rider (Anthony Horowitz) and Artemis Fowl (Eoin Colfer) grow up and have been there at the birth of new classics in children's literature. Workshops and talks have been led by the leading lights in children's books and the children themselves have had the chance to write their own stories with the likes of Vivian French and Chris Fisher.

Outreach events stretched the festival to Pontardawe and the Rhondda, and the reputation of the festival drew in schools from as far afield as Pembroke Dock.

The teacher's evenings became so popular there was always a scramble for tickets. These evenings allowed the grown-ups to meet Alan Alberg, Lauren Child, Simon James, Anthony Brown and Wendy Cooling.

The audiences' age range was from babes-in-arms to grandparents. Students at Swansea institute and Carmarthen college benefited from meeting with working illustrators and authors.

For the authors and illustrators taking part, Wordplay was a joy, a chance to share ideas with the children, find out what worked and what fell flat beneath the feet of the best critics you can have, and a chance to get together with colleagues and make new friends. Many collaborations have grown from these weeks in October.

But the festival will not happen this year because funding has been withdrawn. This October, Wordplay will be much missed by authors, illustrators, publishers and all those involved, and I hope that Swansea will miss us too.

Jackie Morris is a children's author and illustrator based in Pembrokeshire.

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