SOME of the country’s most illustrious authors will appear alongside newer names “who push at the frontiers of fiction” at the country’s only multi-day festival dedicated to short stories.
Prize-winning novelist Penelope Lively, Mark Haddon, the author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, novelists Marina Warner and Joanna Trollope, and Irish author Anne Enright will all form part of the 2017 Small Wonder Short Story Festival at Charleston, the Sussex home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant at the heart of the artistic Bloomsbury Group.
Identity, immigration and protest form the theme of the annual celebration of short stories in all their different shapes and guises. As Charleston’s artistic director Diana Reich explains, “We tell ourselves stories to make sense of complicated times, so it’s no surprise that we have sessions revolving around the plight of refugees, what it means to be British in contemporary society and the art of protest.”
Award-winning authors Marina Warner and Neel Mukherjee retell personal stories of refugees and asylum-seekers who are indefinitely detailed in a session titled Refugee Tales: Speaking Volumes.
Among the festival highlights are Penelope Lively, who won the Booker Prize for Moon Tiger in 1987, receiving the Charleston-Bede’s Award for a Lifetime’s Excellence in Fiction. Awarded to writers who have a strong track record in publishing short stories of outstanding qualities, it is only the fifth time the award has been made and Ms Lively, whose latest collection is called The Purple Swamp Hen & Other Stories, joins a small but elite group of recipients that also includes Ali Smith, William Trevor, Edna O’Brien and Jane Gardam. The author will be in conversation with Di Speirs, BBC Radio’s Editor of Books.
Mark Haddon and Alison MacLeod, Professor of Contemporary Fiction at the University of Chichester, will present new stories inspired by Bloomsbury. Mark Haddon’s St Bride’s Bay is a tribute to Virginia Woolf, while a second story is the first piece Virginia Woolf wrote for the Hogarth Press, The Mark on the Wall.
Alison MacLeod’s short story, which is included in her new collection, All the beloved ghosts, imagines Angelica Garnett, daughter of Vanessa
Bell and child of Charleston, overcome by the past as she re-visits the house in its current incarnation.
The festival will also host the BBC National Short Story Award and author Joanna Trollope, who published her 20th novel this year, and Jon McGregor will discuss judging the award with Di Speirs, and Man Booker Prize winner Anne Enright is one of the judges of The Sunday Times EFG International Short Story Award, the world’s richest prize for a single story.
The programme also includes a discussion on stories about being British today with writer, broadcaster and barrister Afua Hirsch and authors Nikesh Shukla and Salena Godden, authors Tessa Hadley and David Szalay on female and male versions of domestic fictions while folk legend Peggy Seeger will share the songs of her life.
Guest author Olive Senior, the prize-winning Jamaican writer, joins Trinidadian poet Anthony Joseph and Bahamian writer Helen Klonaris, the 2017 British Council International Writer in Residence at Small Wonder, for a special event celebrating writing coming out of the Caribbean today.
The festival closes with actress Eve Best, who played Vanessa Bell in the TV series Life in Squares, reading from Sylvia Plath’s newly published letters.
“This year’s variety of short stories confirms that although the texts may be compressed, the short form contains multitudes in terms of topic, tone and style,” says Ms Reich. “They all provide glimpses into the human condition and leave echoes in the mind, despite, even because of, their brevity and restraint.”
The Small Wonder Short Story Festival is at Charleston, Firle, between Wednesday September 27 and Sunday October 1.
Phone 01323 811626 or visit charleston.org.uk.
Main picture: Salena Godden
Below: Anthony Joseph/Picture: Mirabel White
Bottom: Charleston, home of the Bloomsbury Group/Picture: Penelope Fewster