Thursday 2 October 2014

Words, Woodbines and Milk Wood, by Sally Jack

Words, Woodbines and Milk Wood

By Sally Jack

There have been many references to 1914 this year, with words such as war, destruction, slaughter, and suffering unfortunately mentioned all too frequently.

It is right we mark the centenary of World War I and consider the effect these events had on our ancestors’ lives. However, it is also nice to be involved in something a little more joyous associated with that particular year. On the opening day of Leicester’s unique Everybody’s Reading festival,  the Sied Ysgrifennu ar Daith (Dylan Thomas Writing Shed) rolled into town and opened its doors to the life of one of the UK’s most inventive writers, Dylan Thomas. This replica of his writing shed is on tour around the country, marking another centenary as 1914 was also the year of Thomas’ birth.

Muted egg-shell and chocolate tones on the outer walls invite you in to a bright space packed with detail, a snapshot of the life of this well-loved writer from Wales and the place where Thomas wrote perhaps his most famous work, Under Milk Wood. Toffees on the table, empty bottles, books everywhere and an ashtray full of Woodbines tell their own stories. Copies of Dylan’s notes in his neat hand layer his desk, pictures and writing are tacked on the walls; I loved seeing his lists of words, looking for rhymes and rhythms as he brainstormed the letter ‘b’ in this instance. Pictures of friends are stuck haphazardly around his desk: W H Auden, Edith Sitwell, Louis MacNeice. Not bad as networking circles go. I asked about the significance of some of the pictures - famous paintings of crowd scenes, photos of locals in different countries. “He loved people,” I was told.

Dylan Thomas was also a lover of language and to celebrate the centenary of his birth, we are all invited to contribute a made up word to the Dictionary for Dylan. Visit to take part in this brilliant idea.

It was then on to the official launch of the fifth Everybody’s Reading festival at The Guildhall.  Teachers, librarians, writers and performers gathered, all with a common purpose: to get everybody reading, whatever it takes. Cuts to library services and the appeal of computer games are just some of the barriers to getting children reading so it was inspiring to hear compelling arguments by Leicester-based writers and performers such as Bali Rai, Carol Leeming and Jess Green enthusing about their love of reading, their points made in speech, song and performance poetry. However, two of Leicestershire and Everybody's Reading's greatest advocates could not attend - writers Sue Townsend and Graham Joyce both sadly died earlier this year; their words have given pleasure and escape to millions throughout the world.

With wine coiffed and nibbles nibbled we return to Dylan Thomas and a screening of the 1972 film of Under Milk Wood. Thomas finished writing his play for voices just a few months before his death in November 1953 and before its first radio broadcast in January 1954. Following a day in the life of small, Welsh village Llaregyb, it is alive with lilting and lusty language and big, bawdy characters. Pleasure is had from listening to the vivid dialogue or reading and re-reading the words on the page and I can't resist how Thomas puts words together: 'bridesmaided by glow-worms', 'Samson-syrup-gold-maned' or the imagery of 'the town ripples like a lake in the waking haze'.

And so, awash with these wonderful words, another Everybody's Reading festival has begun. I am grateful for my ability to read and the emotional journeys books have taken me over the years. There are many imaginative events going on throughout the county this week encouraging everyone to read and enjoy the magic of books. As Everybody’s Reading’s patron Sue Townsend wrote in The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year: “Books need to be read. The pages need to be turned.”

About the reviewer
Sally is a writer and editor based in Leicester and currently reviews for the British Theatre Guide.  She is also Media Manager of Off the Fence Theatre Company and Upstairs at the Western, Leicester's first pub theatre. Follow Sally's blog at

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