Charleston set to celebrate the best short stories

Ben Okri
Ben Okri

There are just two weeks to go before the UK’s only festival dedicated to the short story opens at Charleston near Lewes.

This year’s Small Wonder, which runs from September 28 to 30, will take place in the newly renovated Hay Barn just across the courtyard from the famous house where Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell once lived.

Some of the biggest names in publishing will be appearing over the three day festival – including Ben Okri, A.S. Byatt (winner of this year’s Award for a Lifetime’s Excellence in Short Fiction), Alan Taylor (on his friendship with Muriel Spark), Lionel Shriver, Al Kennedy, Kate Mosse, Louise Doughty and Kate Clanchy.

One of the big festival highlights pays tribute to Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, the gender-defiant novel which still crackles with radical possibilities nearly a century on. Writer Olivia Laing and performance artist La Johnjoseph will read Laing’s specially commissioned composition, The Something-Nothings, a passionate dialogue with Woolf’s seductive, identity-shifting text. This will be followed by a conversation with artist Sarah Wood, who has collaborated with Laing to create an installation – An Artist’s Bed – which can be seen in the Hay Barn until September 23. Laing’s new book Crudo is currently making waves.

Sarah Wood works with film and text and La Johnjoseph works in film and live performance.

The BBC National Short Story Award is previewed with Sarah Hall and K. J. Orr, both previous winners and judges, discussing writing and critiquing with Di Speirs, BBC Books Editor.

Celebrated actress Miranda Richardson will read extracts from the second volume of Sylvia Plath’s letters and Sarah Churchwell, Professional Fellow in American Literature, will put the letters into context.

There will be two writing workshops, including one on writing for radio with Brighton author and Professor of Contemporary Fiction at the University of Chichester, Alison Macleod.

New writers will have the chance to take to the stage with the Small Wonder Slam and courtyard readings, plus a chance to study the works of some of those appearing at the festival.

For the full programme and tickets visit Charleston.org.uk/smallwonder. Box office is 01323 815150 (Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm). There is a shuttle bus to and from Lewes railway station.