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Yesterday was the second day of the Play on Words Literature Festival and the second Open Mic at Forest Arts Centre in New Milton, an evening of spoken word hosted by Holly Spillar.

Holly brings a welcoming energy to this Open Mic, matched by a warm, encouraging crowd of around 20 people. A mixed audience of old and new faces gathered to listen, as Holly asked people to choose a random number from the sign up sheet, determining who would perform first.

A wide range of material was presented by the performers. Poetry about women's football and men dancing with women who were not their wives, fiction and non-fiction prose around tick infestations and rain incantations, alongside poetry written by other people, read aloud by audience members and enthusiastically cheered on.

Over ten people shared their work, yet time flew, leaving enough room for additional contributions. Damian O’Vitch, one of the features for this Friday’s Tongue Fu event, recited three poems by heart.

The local residents enjoyed having an open mic so close to their homes, and were delighted to see young people taking part in the event. Next month’s open mic will be on December 5th, I wonder what our performers will bring to the mic next?

Carla Hall - Breakthrough Apprentice

Creatures of all kinds gathered at Ballard Lake yesterday for a family-friendly, interactive walk, written and illustrated by local creator, Charlotte Moore. This launch also marked the first day of the Play on Words Literature Festival in New Milton.

As people gathered around Ballard Lake, Lois from Story Quest, the quest leader, introduced the story: Dotty Duck had planned a surprise party for Terry Toad, but forgot to invite all of their forest friends. Could we help Cyril the Squirrel deliver the invitations in time?

After some quick quacking of reassurance to Dotty Duck, a group of around 25 adults and children followed Lois on an adventure trail, across a magical troll bridge and into the realm of the Fairy Queen, answering questions and solving puzzles in the printed Story Quest book.

While the first group went on the Story Quest, other families took part in art activities led by Charlotte and New Milton Youth Trust. There were also stalls from Culture in Common, Hampshire Library Service and Friends of Ballard Water Meadow.

The story quest lasted about an hour and was also attended by Councillor Steve Clarke representing the Milton Ward for New Forest District Council and Sarah Connacher, a local resident and driving force behind the Play on Words Festival. Also present were a pair of cows, recently introduced to Ballard Water Meadow to graze on the pasture.

Steve and Sarah were thrilled to see such good turnout from the local community, on a day when even the weather was on its best behaviour. The children taking part seemed to be having a wonderful time as well as making the most of the puddles with their wellington boots.

Story Quest is delivered in partnership with the National Literacy Trust, Culture in Common and the New Milton Youth Trust. Booklets are available to collect from the New Milton Town Hall, New Milton Library and Forest Arts Centre, and downloadable from the Culture in Common website.

Carla Hall - Breakthrough Apprentice.

Play on Words Literature Festival (24 Oct – 6 Nov) will soon be here and, as Festival Director, it gives me great pleasure to build on the work previous festival organisers, Sarah Connacher and Helen Clarke and offer a range of appetisers ahead of a main festival offer in 2024.

Whether you’re just starting out or a more seasoned hand, Play on Words has something for you, from ‘Historical Facts and Inspiring Places’ aimed at helping young people to engage with creative writing and local history, through to author talks and a book fair featuring genres including poetry, literary fiction, and writing for young adults.

There’s a Story Quest happening at Ballard Water Meadow that the whole family can enjoy as an interactive adventure, and a heritage walk for writers and non-writers for those looking to learn more about New Milton over the course of an active hour.

If you’d rather sit back and listen while others share stories, poems and spoken word, Tongue Fu features improvising jazz musicians making music for your ears, while Play on Words Open Mic lets your work take centre stage, or offers a free seat for attentive listeners looking for some literary-based community connection.

With panel talks on funding routes for writers, a writers’ day focused on Writing for Children, a regular writers’ meet-up with the New Forest Writers’ Group, and an informative hour with local historian, Nick Saunders, chatting about writers who have lived or based their work in the New Forest and surrounding areas, there really is something for everyone, so why not get involved and let the magic of words open up new worlds for you.

We look forward to welcoming you,

Matthew West

(on behalf of ArtfulScribe, the Play on Words team, and project partners.)

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