It’s the last weekend in September and that means one thing to us at Thresholds: The Small Wonder International Short Story Festival.
This festival brings the short story to life for an extended weekend each year. It’s held in a writer’s idyll, Charleston Farm, East Sussex – a remote location in the southeast of England that was once home to Bloomsbury group artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, and was frequented by Virginia Woolf. It is reached by a bumpy track, winding through fields and, during the festival, cows bellow as short story writers gather on stage to discuss the art and craft of their form. This is one date in the diary that should not be missed by any short story enthusiast; it begins today, Wednesday 23rd, and runs until Sunday evening.
In previous years, the stage in the barn has played host to Margaret Atwood, Jhumpa Lahiri, David Vann, Michèle Roberts, Deborah Levy, Adam Marek, Michel Faber, Joseph O’Connor, Ali Smith, Robert Coover, Yiyun Li, to name a few. The big names continue every year, and this year’s jamboree is no exception.
SMALL WONDER FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS
The Great American Short Story – Thursday 24th, 6pm
Sarah Churchwell and Vendela Vida consider whether the great American short story rivals the great American novel.
BBC Radio 4 Bookclub – Friday 25th, 1.30-3pm
Presented by James Naughtie, who will be joined by one of the UK’s leading writers, Tessa Hadley, to discuss her most recent collection of short stories, Married Love. A unique chance to witness one of Radio 4’s most popular arts programmes.
The Moth StorySLAM – Friday 25th, 7.30-10pm
An exciting short story open-mic competition. Prepare a five-minute story with the title ‘Brief’, about something fleeting. Storyteller hopefuls put their names in a hat; names are picked and the storytellers take the stage. Ten featured stories are scored by judges.
The Caine Prize for African Writing – Saturday 26th, 12pm
The Caine Prize, launched in 2000, highlights the richness and diversity of African writing, focusing on the short story. Leila Aboulela, who won the first Caine Prize, talks with Henrietta Rose-Innes, who won in 2008. Chaired by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, distinguished editor, critic and Board Member of the Caine Prize.
Tales of the Unexpected – Saturday 26th, 2pm
Salley Vickers, whose recent sorties are inspired by real places and friends, where glimpses of the supernatural are never far away, talks with Kate Clanchy, whose new collection is about love and loss. Chaired by Alex Clark, literary critic and broadcaster.
10th BBC National Short Story Award – Saturday 26th, 4pm
The BBC National Short Story Prize with Book Trust’s 10th anniversary celebrations, featuring previous winner Sarah Hall, award-winning short fiction writer and novelist Tash Aw and this year’s shortlisted authors Mark Haddon and Frances Leviston. Chaired by Di Speirs, originator of the Award.
The Music of Time – Sunday 27th, 12pm
*The Charleston-Chichester Award
for a Lifetime’s Excellence in Short Fiction*
Jane Gardam is this year’s recipient of the only award to recognise long-standing creativity and achievement in the short story genre. An acclaimed novelist, she excels in the short story form. Jane Gardam will read from her stories and will be in conversation with Di Speirs.
Magic Moments – Sunday 27th, 2pm
Fairy tales thread through classical to contemporary writing. Marina Warner is the acknowledged expert in the form. Here, she speaks with Heather O’Neill, a Canadian writer whose story collection, Daydreams of Angels, is an imaginative re-telling of fairy tales, set in more modern times. Chaired by Nicolette Jones.
If you are going to these events, or others from the tremendous programme on the Small Wonder website, make sure you visit James Haigh from the University of Chichester, who will be at a dedicated table in the barn where all the main events are held. He will be there to talk about the Thresholds site, as well as the English and Creative Writing department – perfect for any questions you might have about an MA or PhD on the short form – so do drop by to say ‘hello’.
Plus, rather excitingly, we will be recording our latest podcast series of Short Story Masterclasses at Small Wonder over the weekend. Look out for Jac Cattaneo’s wonderful interviews with three top-billed authors on Thresholds in the autumn.