Roma Tearne’s The Swimmer: A True Story

Film Showing and Discussion

Friday 18th November at 7pm

Blackwell’s Bookshop is proud to present a unique event: the showing of a moving film made by an accomplished writer and artist . . .

Blackwell’s former writer in residence, Roma Tearne, will be back at the bookshop for the showing and discussion of her short film The Swimmer: A True Story created with composer and sound artist, Paul Whitty.

The acclaimed writer and artist has written four novels, been long-listed for the Orange Prize and short-listed for the Costa Book Awards First Novel Prize. Roma’s week at Blackwell’s last year was an artistic fusion of serious literary investigation, democracy in action and performance art, so we are excited to welcome her back and to promise an entirely unique experience for our customers…

Roma based the film on an idea from The Swimmer, the novel that placed her in the running for the Orange Prize. Along with Paul Whitty, a sonic artist and composer, she created a combination of vivid colours and sounds, the editing of which has resulted in thirty minutes of moving footage. It must be made explicit that this is not a film of the novel but more of a companion to it. Roma herself describes it as ‘a parallel text, another way of seeing, a space between the events that lie within the novel; a different reality, if you like.’ In the film, linear story telling is replaced by fragmented sets of idea, feeling and metaphor. The overall result is a sensory kaleidoscope of sharp, vibrant sound (you’ll wonder just how much sound can provoke thoughts) and striking vision.

The film mixes footage of real Sri Lankan refugees with new footage shot in Suffolk. Nprofessional actors were chosen for their spontaneity and authenticity. A Jaffna Tamil dancer from Ipswich also performs, her presence on Aldeburgh’s shingle beach a striking visual metaphor for East meeting West. Incredibly, the film was shot on an iPhone and the production budget was tiny, although when watching you may forget due to the quality of both the cinematography and the content.

The beach and the other areas in which filming took place have been photographed and are collated in the film’s accompanying catalogue which also contains an audio element consisting of a CD of the sounds of Suffolk. The bleak beauty of the East coast in winter is spectacularly captured across the various media – the entire project, a celebration of Suffolk. In addition to maintaining the sense of place generated in the novel, the film also suitably addresses the characters, using an interview format to profile Ria, a middle aged woman, accustomed to her solitude who falls in love with an illegal immigrant from Sri Lanka. Similarly, the sounds of the film are derived from the text but have been created specifically for the film. Essentially, the film remains true to the spirit of the book.

Earlier in the day there will be a symposium hosted by the Sonic Art Research Unit at Oxford Brookes entitled Writing Sound and exploring the way that writers evoke soundscapes in novels, poems, diaries, travelogues and other types of writing.

Roma’s blog contains further information about the process of making the film and its debut showing at the Venice Biennale.

The film lasts for half an hour and will be followed by a Q & A with Roma Tearne and Paul Whitty.

Tickets cost £3 and can be obtained by telephoning or visiting the Customer Service Department, Second Floor, Blackwell’s Bookshop, Oxford. Telephone 01865 333623.

Alternatively, please email:


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