Charleston’s Small Wonder short story festival gets a new home

Layla Al Ammar. Picture by Dana Zubaid
Layla Al Ammar. Picture by Dana Zubaid

Small Wonder, the UK’s only festival dedicated to short stories, is at Charleston from September 28-30.

Now in its 15th year, this will be the first major event in the newly restored 18th century hay barn, which will become the focus for a year-round programme of activities at Charleston.

Small Wonder features a mix of home-grown and international authors, poets and artists, who will examine the contemporary relevance of those who lived and worked at Charleston over 100 years ago.

The theme of transformation is reflected in the festival’s new setting, which includes not only the restored barn but a brand new suite of galleries.

This year’s line-up features Kate Mosse, Juno Dawson, Ben Okri, Lionel Shriver, Tom Rachman, Daljit Nagra, Kate Clanchy, Sarah Churchwell, Louise Doughty, Imogen Hermes Gowar and A.L Kennedy. Highlights include recent works that resonate with dualities and transitions by short story writers Sarah Hall, Eley Williams and Lucy Wood plus playwright, director and author Neil Bartlett.

AS Byatt is named as the recipient of The Charleston-Bedes Award for a Lifetime’s Excellence in Short Fiction Award. Previous recipients of the award include William Trevor, Edna O’Brien, Jane Gardam, Ali Smith and Penelope Lively.

Olivia Laing and performance artist La JohnJoseph will read from a specially commissioned composition to mark the 90th anniversary of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. This will be followed by a conversation with artist Sarah Wood, about how the gender-defiant novel still crackles with radical possibilities nearly a century on.

Some 70 years since the arrival of Empire Windrush, author and historian of Caribbean Studies Colin Grant presents a session looking at writing from the perspective of migration. Grant is joined by poets Daljit Nagra and Kate Clanchy.

On festival Saturday, Booker Prize winning novelist Ben Okri explores the power of poetry as a vehicle of protest and will read from and discuss the impact of his compilation of Poetry for the Many.

On Sunday the focus shifts – author and former journalist Tom Rachman’s latest short story collection provides an early literary look at Trump-era America. He is joined by author and journalist Lionel Shriver who will be discussing her first collection of short stories – Property, which examines both senses of the word: real estate and material belongings.

Chiming with the anniversary of the first steps towards women’s suffrage, the festival celebrates a diverse troupe of women’s voices. Imogen Hermes Gowar presents her gender-charged parable of Georgian London, AL Kennedy performs a dramatic female voiced monologue in partnership with champion of women’s writing – MsLexia – and the centenary of Muriel Spark’s birth is commemorated, along with Sylvia Plath’s second volume of letters.

Kicking off the festival, author Kate Mosse discusses the new anthology, I am Heathcliff, her curation of 16 short stories examining the romance and pain of the infamous literary anti-hero. Mosse is joined by contributors Juno Dawson (activist and author of seven novels including Clean) and Louise Doughty (Black Water and Apple Tree Yard).

The BBC National Short Story Award returns to Small Wonder and for the fourth year running, Charleston and the British Council are welcoming an international writer to soak up the inspiration and respond to Small Wonder. This year Layla AlAmmar from Kuwait, whose debut novel The Pact We Made will be published in March 2019, will be joining events and responding to the festival in writing

Small Wonder Fringe

There will be a wide programme of workshops and events supporting new generations of writers.

Activities for 2018 include creative writing workshops with BBC National Short Story Award winner KJ Orr, BBC Producer Liz Allard on Writing for audio, and novelist Benjamin Markovits leading a creative workshop focused on structure. The Small Wonder SLAM and Reading Group returns for 2018. New for this year are the Courtyard Readings – a chance for writers to read their own short fiction aloud.

Tickets are on sale now. To download the full programme and for ticket information visit www.charleston.org.uk/festival or call 01323 815150. There is a shuttle bus between Lewes railway station and Charleston during the festival.

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