SMALL WONDER FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS 2017
by LOREE WESTRON
The Small Wonder Festival has long been a high point of the THRESHOLDS calendar, bringing some of the best known writers together from around the world to celebrate the power of the short story in the fabled setting of Charleston House.
The artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant first moved to Charleston during the First World War and members of their London cohort of writers, artists and intellectuals – the Bloomsbury Set – soon followed. Some, including Bell’s sister Virginia Woolf, acquired their own property in the nearby village of Firle, while others became frequent and often extended guests at Charleston. With such free-spirited (and free-loving) company, the respectable sixteenth century farmhouse would never be the same again. It quickly became a hive of artistic activity and during the decades which followed, it came to reflect the wildly creative and experimental tastes of its occupants.
Today, with its colourful history, and its significance within our literary heritage, Charleston House is the ideal location for writers and readers to come together and share their passion for words. For a few glorious days each year, as the evenings draw in and the autumnal chill descends upon the South Downs, Charleston honours its literary connections as it plays host to the Small Wonder Festival.
Spread across five days, this year’s festival kicks off at 6 p.m. on WEDNESDAY, 27th SEPTEMBER with Let Me Count the Ways, a discussion about love and its many permutations. Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, whose story ‘How Much the Heart Can Hold’ provides the title for a new anthology, will be joined by Gwendoline Riley, author of First Love, shortlisted for the 2017 Baileys Prize. The organisers promise the discussion will not be ‘all violets and roses’ so there are bound to be a few surprises. David Constantine and Kit de Waal, two of the authors whose stories are included in Protest: Stories of Resistance, follow. They will discuss the way their stories were inspired by real events and by the courage of ordinary citizens. Cathy Galvin from the Word Factory will chair the discussion.
Highlights for THURSDAY, 28th SEPTEMBER include an all-day workshop on Writing for Radio with BBC radio producer Liz Allard and THRESHOLDS’ director, the prize-winning novelist and short story writer Alison MacLeod. Later that evening in Strange Offsprings, Alison will join Mark Haddon in celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of Hogarth Press. The authors will also discuss two of their own recent stories which were inspired by Charleston House and members of the Bloomsbury Set.
FRIDAY, 29th SEPTEMBER sees Salena Godden, Nikesh Shukla and Afua Hirsch exploring immigration, identity and the stories we tell ourselves, in Stories of Britishness. In the evening, American folk singer and political activist Peggy Seeger offers a musical interlude as she discusses her life, music and recent memoir, First Time Ever. With her will be the author and music critic Dorian Lynskey.
At midday on SATURDAY, 30th SEPTEMBER, Neel Mukherjee and Marina Warner join together to tell the stories of refugees who have been caught up in the uncertainty of indefinite detention, in Refugee Tales: Speaking Volumes. In the afternoon, Di Spiers, Joanna Trollope and Jon McGregor will offer insight into judging the BBC National Short Story Award, and writers who have been shortlisted for this year’s Award will join them on stage to read extracts from their work.
SUNDAY, 1st OCTOBER offers another full day of discussions and readings beginning with Hitting the Ground Running, featuring Jessie Greengrass and Julianne Pachico, authors of two debut story collections. Jessie’s publisher Mark Richards from John Murray and Julianne’s agent Clare Alexander will join them in conversation, with a Q&A to follow. An author at the other end of her career is the focus in the afternoon when Penelope Lively, recipient of this year’s Charleston-Bede’s Award for a Lifetime Excellence in Short Fiction, will be in conversation with BBC Radio’s Editor of Books, Di Speirs.
With twenty events and more than fifty writers taking part in this year’s Small Wonder Festival, it is clear that Charleston House continues to be one of the south coast’s leading centres for creativity. Why not come along and join us? You won’t be sorry.