In 2003, the Small Wonder Short Story Festival was launched at The Charleston Farmhouse, East Sussex. Its aim was to celebrate everything about the short story, a form that was struggling at the time for recognition. Since then, the Small Wonder Festival has gained international status, and Charleston is preparing to celebrate its tenth anniversary in style.
This year’s Small Wonder International Short Story Festival has been extended over five nights, and the programme of events has been filled with highly acclaimed and exceptional short story writers. The Festival kicks off in the Charleston barn at 6 pm on Wednesday 25th September, with an event that applauds one of the short story’s champion publishers: Granta. Naomi Alderman and Evie Wyld will discuss their writing and what it’s like to be named as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists in 2013. This event will be closely followed by ‘The Lowland’, which will see Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri make a rare UK appearance to talk about her short story collections and new novel. On Thursday the 26th, pull up a chair for The Word Factory Salon and hear from three of our most distinguished writers, David Constantine, Jim Crace and Jane Rogers.
The big names continue as Saturday’s lunchtime slot sees Helen Dunmore and Susie Boyt present their new, specially commissioned Asham Anthology stories. While later that afternoon, we will be introduced to Lionel Shriver and Lavinia Greenlaw, authors who are both on the shortlist for this year’s BBC National Short Story Award.
On Sunday, Brian Kimberling and Alison Moore will talk about their stirring debut short story collections; Joanna Trollope, Sarah Hall and David Vann will address the pleasures and pitfalls of the form; later, Alison MacLeod will explore and celebrate the works of exemplary short story writer Katherine Mansfield.
The Department of English and Creative Writing at the University of Chichester is supporting two special events this year, both of which celebrate the form in all its diversity. On Saturday at 2 pm, renowned authors A.S. Byatt and Adam Foulds will discuss the new anthology Multiples. An ‘ingenious international literary relay race’, this collection of short stories is written like a version of Chinese whispers, as authors translate a story from one language to another, to another, to another, transforming the story as it is passed along. In this event, Byatt and Foulds will look at the relationship between a ‘translation’ and a ‘version’ and their own experience of being translated in Multiples. Laura Barber, the Editorial Director of Granta and Portobello Books, will lead the discussion.
Then, on Sunday at 4 pm, join Man Booker Prize shortlisted author Deborah Levy (Black Vodka) and psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz (The Examined Life) on stage for ‘Stories We Tell Ourselves’. Hephzibah Anderson, author and book columnist for Bloomberg News, will lead a discussion on ways of telling stories, and how characters can be caught between openness and concealment.
Small Wonder offers tremendous ‘in conversation’ short story events and readings, but that isn’t all. The entertainment continues over the weekend with an array of activities, including the Small Wonder Short Story Slam on Friday evening at 8 pm, daytime writing workshops on Friday and Saturday, a Scrabble Championship, and a trail of short stories around the beautiful Charleston grounds.
In the first half of the twentieth century, Charleston was the home and country meeting place of the Bloomsbury Group, a collection of writers, artists and philosophers, including Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. During Small Wonder, the grounds become an idyllic backdrop where readers, writers and short story enthusiasts can meet, chat and peruse the Festival bookshop, managed by the wonderful independent bookshop City Books of Brighton.
At Thresholds, as you know, we thrive on the short story, so it’s fitting that we will be at Small Wonder, representing the University of Chichester. Do come along and say ‘hello’. We’ll be there all day Saturday and Sunday.
Other festival highlights include:
Untold Stories – Nadifa Mohamed and Diriye Osman will discuss what it was like to be a Somali child, in a country ravaged by civil war, and what it means to be gay in Somali culture, on Thursday at 6pm.
The Creative Future – from 6 pm on Friday, award-winning poet and playwright Lemn Sissay and acclaimed writer Ros Barber will launch the first Creative Future Literary Awards, recognising talented, marginalised writers who find it difficult to access the literary world.
The Charleston and Chichester Award for a Lifetime’s Excellence in Short Fiction – the inaugural award winner will be announced at a public award event at 11am on Sunday. The Award has been established by The Charleston Trust, in conjunction with the University of Chichester, to recognise long-standing creativity and achievement in the writing of short stories. A limited number of free tickets are available. Simply email firstname.lastname@example.org
Three-Minute Stories – the festival draws to a close with Bob Stanley, of band Saint Etienne, on Sunday evening at 8 pm. Stanley promises to share his top tracks and reveal the stories behind the three-minute singles that provided a soundtrack to decades of pop culture.
Photograph of Charleston by Tony Tree © Courtesy of The Charleston Trust