Charleston Festival 2018: Full programme revealed

Highlights include:

Charleston’s heritage is one of artistic innovation and pioneering thinking, an ethos mirrored in this year’s Festival programme. Responding to the current social and political climate, it looks in particular at the achievements and legacies of remarkable women past and present.

In uncertain times there remains much to be celebrated, including 100 years since women first received the vote. Lyndall Gordon discusses her group biography Outsiders, which links five female novelists (Shelley, Brontë, Eliot, Schreiner and Woolf), while Jane Robinson and Helen Pankhurst, great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, mark #Vote100.

The paths of feminist writers old and new meet at this year’s Festival, which includes a personal tribute to Virginia Woolf’s Orlando from contemporary author Jeanette Winterson. Vita Sackville-West and Woolf’s decade-long love affair is explored by the former’s granddaughter, Juliet Nicolson, and actress Gemma Arterton who plays Vita in upcoming film Vita and Virginia. They are joined by the film’s director Chanya Button. Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s The Famous Women Dinner Service is adapted by writer Ali Smith, who transforms it from decorative ceramics into a work of creative prose.

The centenary of the Representation of the People Act isn’t the only anniversary marked at Charleston Festival 2018, the work of Mary Shelley is also celebrated with biographer Fiona Sampson, cultural historian Christopher Frayling and chemist Kathryn Harkup, two hundred years after the publication of Frankenstein. In the 50th year of The Man Booker Prize the Festival hosts a special debate between three former judges, granting rare insight into the mechanics of judging the UK’s premier literary award.

Making sense of today’s world is also high on the agenda: authors Amanda Craig and Meg Wolitzer dissect current gender and power dynamics, and Misha Glenny and Luke Harding attempt to navigate the realms of corruption, nationalism-fuelled violence and fraud. Playwright Michael Frayn and political commentator John Crace discuss farce and political satire in a time when the relevance of each cannot be overstated, while themes of inequality and prejudice are tackled by Kamila Shamsie, author of Homefire, and Neel Mukherjee, author of A State of Freedom.

This year’s Charleston-EFG John Maynard Keynes Prize winner Sir David Attenborough, recognised for his outstanding contribution to society, will deliver an illustrated talk addressing the divisive question of whether or not some animals can be described as artists.

Founded by Bloomsbury group artists Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, art remains a key focus for Charleston.  In this year’s Festival, V&A Director Tristram Hunt will be in conversation with RIBA Stirling Prize-winning architect Amanda Levete on the stories behind the historic institution’s new Exhibition Road Quarter. Also featuring is Turner Prize winner Lubaina Himid, who will discuss her ‘wilderness years’ and what she still hopes to achieve, while classical music and art collide in a conversation between leading arts broadcaster Clemency Burton-Hill, and James Hamilton, whose biography of Thomas Gainsborough has made waves in the art world.

Nathaniel Hepburn, Director and Chief Executive of The Charleston Trust, comments:

“The Charleston Festival is always a highlight of the cultural calendar and this year proves to be no exception. The 2018 programme is challenging, entertaining, innovative, radical and rigorous. I am very much looking forward to attending the talks at this, my first Festival since joining Charleston and meeting our festival-goers both loyal devotees and those attending for their first time.”

Diana Reich, Artistic Director of Charleston Festival, comments:

“Charleston was always associated with political and social engagement as well as animated conversation.  Therefore it is no surprise that this year’s Festival includes many events in which the state of the nation and the world is refracted through the prism of fiction, non-fiction, debate and humour. “

Tickets are on general sale from 19 February. The full Festival programme can be viewed at from 6 February



For further information, please contact:

Truda Spruyt or James Douglas at Four Colman Getty

020 3697 4248 /

020 3697 4267 /

Sir David Attenborough – 2018 winner of Charleston-EFG John Maynard Keynes Prize

The naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough has today, Tuesday 6 February, been announced as the winner of the fourth Charleston-EFG John Maynard Keynes Prize. In the spirit of John Maynard Keynes’ work, life and legacy, this global prize recognises Attenborough’s outstanding contribution to society.

From the 1960s as Controller of BBC2 television Sir David Attenborough has brought both nature and the arts to millions. His latest series, Blue Planet II was a cultural event in 2017, achieving the highest viewing figures of any programme that year. Through his broadcasting Attenborough continues to play a vital role in raising awareness of the human impact on the planet, warning against the consequences of climate change and pollution for the natural world and the species that inhabit it.

Attenborough will deliver the annual Charleston-EFG John Maynard Keynes Lecture at Charleston Festival on Monday 21 May. With a nod to the artistic heritage of Charleston, Beauty and the Beasts sees him make use of new video evidence to answer the divisive question of whether some animals can justifiably be described as artists.

Dame Liz Forgan, chair of the advisory panel, comments: “The Keynes Prize recognises outstanding individuals who have used their genius in the service of humanity. 

“David Attenborough’s exceptional gift of communication has made it easy for us all to share his deep understanding of the natural world. He has been our trusted guide and teacher in the air, under the sea, in desert, tundra and jungle with humour, colour, imagination and good science. If our grandchildren inherit a sustainable planet he will deserve their gratitude.”

The winner, Sir David Attenborough, comments: “I am greatly honoured that the Charleston Festival has awarded me its Charleston-EFG John Maynard Keynes Prize. Please give my grateful thanks to those who made the decision.”

Anthony Cooke-Yarborough, CEO EFG Private Bank, comments: “We are delighted that Sir David Attenborough has been chosen as the recipient of the Charleston EFG John Maynard Keynes Prize. Throughout a long and illustrious career, Sir David has followed and shared his passion for the planet. He continues to bring a huge amount of can-do energy to his role. The breadth of his expertise and the depth of his influence are very much in the spirit of Keynes’s life and legacy.”

Following his win, Attenborough will receive a sum of £10,000 with the suggestion that he might use it to commission a work of art in any form; Maynard Keynes was a patron of the arts and founder of the Arts Council. Sir David will also give the annual Charleston-EFG Keynes Lecture at the Charleston Festival on Monday 21 May. The full programme for the 2018 Festival is now available at: Other luminaries in the Festival programme include Ali Smith, Alan Hollinghurst, Lubaina Himid, Jeanette Winterson, A C Grayling, Kamila Shamsie and Robert Webb.

The advisory panel comprises Dame Liz Forgan, former Chair of the Scott Trust and of Arts Council England; Simon Keynes, great-nephew of John Maynard Keynes; Professor Michael Proctor, Provost of King’s College, Cambridge; Lord Robert Skidelsky, Emeritus Professor of Political Economy, politician and award-winning biographer of Keynes; Helen Park-Weir, Head of Marketing UK at EFG International.

Keynes wrote The Economic Consequences of the Peace whilst staying at Charleston and subsequently moved to Tilton, just a stroll across a field away. Keynes embodies the radical and interdisciplinary nature of the Charleston milieu. His The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money was recently voted the most influential academic book that has shaped our times.




For further information, please contact

Truda Spruyt or James Douglas at Four Colman Getty on:

020 3697 4248 /

020 3697 4267 /  



Alistair Burtenshaw, Director of Charleston to join Watts Gallery as Director

 Wednesday 19th April 2017

Alistair Burtenshaw, Director of Charleston to join Watts Gallery as Director

Alistair Burtenshaw, Director of The Charleston Trust which runs Charleston, and its renowned programme of festivals, creative workshops, events and prizes will step down as Director on 3rd September to take up his new role at Watts Gallery Trust.

Alistair Burtenshaw said:

“It has been a privilege to lead The Charleston Trust during such a momentous period in its history. I am delighted that recent years have seen increased national and international interest in the art and ideas of the Bloomsbury Group, whose values continue to speak to us so vividly.  That my time at Charleston has included vital restoration of the house, two new international prizes, greatly increased artistic programming, expanded learning and community engagement work, the cataloguing, digitising, conservation and interpretation of 8,000 works on paper, a new international literary festival with our partners in Charleston, South Carolina and a desperately needed new access road and car park is a source of pleasure.  That Charleston’s centenary year in 2016 saw a new centenary garden, construction of our new galleries and collection and research studio and the restoration of our grade II listed barns as a 200-seat performance space and expanded café, due for completion later this year, gives me great faith in Charleston’s ability to remain a source of creative inspiration for generations to come. None of this could have been achieved with out the superb team of staff, trustees, volunteers and supporters, whom I thank wholeheartedly”.


Chair of the Trustees, Michael Farthing said:

“Alistair Burtenshaw has been an outstanding Director of Charleston. His vision and leadership have helped Charleston to thrive artistically, engage new audiences and play an increasing role in our national cultural discourse.  Alistair leaves Charleston, recently named number 13 in Britain’s Top 25 Small Museums by The Times, in great shape for the opening of our beautifully conceived new galleries and historic barns in early 2018.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank Alistair for his superb work over the last four years and wish him every success at The Watts Gallery. The Trustees will recruit a new Director over the summer and believe there is an exciting opportunity for Alistair’s successor to continue his work and lead Charleston as it prepares to open its expanded new facilities in the coming months”.






Formerly Director of The London Book Fair and Chair of Booktrust, Alistair has led the Charleston Trust’s £9.3 million Centenary Project to renovate the Grade II listed barns at Charleston and construct new galleries by architect Jamie Fobert since becoming Director in March 2013. During this time Alistair has overseen the Heritage Lottery Fund-backed scheme which includes a project to catalogue, conserve, digitise and interpret the 8,000 works on paper that make up the Angelica Garnett Gift; developed the reach of its artistic programmes and strengthened and increased its learning and community engagement work. Alistair has also led a significant development in the Trust’s renowned Charleston Festival and Small Wonder international short story festival, as well as being instrumental in the foundation of the new Charleston-to-Charleston Literary Festival in Charleston South Carolina, its Charleston-EFG John Maynard Keynes Prize, most recently awarded to Professor Stephen Hawking, and Charleston Lifetime’s Excellence Award in Short Fiction, awarded in 2016 to Ali Smith as well as a new British Council International Writer in Residence programme. During his time as Director, Charleston has loaned works to an extensive range of high profile exhibitions in the UK and overseas, including ‘Vanessa Bell 1879-1961’ at Dulwich Picture Gallery, ‘Sussex Modernism” at Two Temple Place and ‘Queer British Art’ at Tate Britain, all currently on in London. Alistair is also Chair of the Trustees of Arvon, the UK’s leading creative writing charity.

About Charleston

Located in the glorious South Downs in East Sussex, Charleston was, from 1916, the home of Bloomsbury group artists Vanessa Bell (sister of Virginia Woolf) and Duncan Grant. Pioneers of early 20thcentury British art, Bell and Grant created a hub of artistic and intellectual activity. Home also to art critic Clive Bell, frequent guests included John Maynard Keynes, Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry, Lytton Strachey, T.S. Eliot and E.M. Forster. Charleston is now open to the public and provides the stunning setting for the Charleston Festival and the international short story festival Small Wonder.

About Charleston’s Festivals

Charleston has always been a place of dissent and debate, as well as creativity and conviviality. The Festival, now in its 28th year, has always tried to reflect these values. The Charleston Festival 2017 will take place at Charleston, near Lewes in Sussex, between 19th and 29th May 2017.  In 2015, The Charleston Trust launched the Charleston-EFG John Maynard Keynes Prizes, presented annually at the Charleston Festival to honour recipients whose work is in the spirit of Keynes’ life and legacy. Previous recipients include Professor Amartya Sen and Sir Tim Berners-Lee. This year’s recipient is Professor Stephen Hawking. The full festival programme can be viewed at:

Charleston also runs a dedicated short story festival, Small Wonder, each September, which launched a new award to mark its 10th Anniversary in 2013: The Charleston-Chichester Award for a Lifetime’s Excellence in Short Fiction. The recipients have been William Trevor, Edna O’Brien, Jane Gardam and Ali Smith. Small Wonder 2017 runs from 27th September to 1st October:

In January 2017, The Charleston Trust and Charleston Library Society in Charleston, South Carolina, launched a new literary festival, Charleston-to-Charleston with events with screenwriters and novelists Julian Fellowes and William Nicholson. The festival takes place on 3rd to 5th November 2017 in Charleston, South Carolina.

Ali Smith wins Charleston Small Wonder Short Fiction Award

Ali Smith named as recipient of the Charleston Small Wonder Lifetime’s Excellence in Short Fiction Award 2016

Author, Ali Smith CBE FRSL, has been announced as the 2016 recipient of the Lifetime’s Excellence in Short Fiction Award, as part of the annual Small Wonder Short Story Festival which runs at Charleston in Sussex from 28 September to 2 October. The award recognises Ali’s prolific and outstanding contribution to the short fiction genre.

Awarded a CBE in 2015 for her distinguished and innovative contribution to literature, Ali Smith is a previous winner of the Bailey’s, Costa, Whitbread and Goldsmiths Prizes, amongst others, and has been shortlisted for multiple literary awards including the Man Booker Prize and the Folio Prize. The acclaimed Scottish writer’s numerous novels and short story collections include How to be Both, The Accidental, Hotel World and Free Love and Other Stories. Born in Inverness, Ali Smith now lives in Cambridge. She writes regularly for The Guardian, The Scotsman and The Times Literary Supplement, and was described, by Patrick Flanery, author and professor of creative writing, as being ‘among Virginia Woolf’s most gifted inheritors’ which makes this Charleston prize particularly apt.

Nestled in the South Downs near Lewes, Charleston is the former home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, and the Sussex home of the Bloomsbury group (including Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, E.M. Forster, Roger Fry and Clive Bell). Charleston’s Small Wonder Festival (28 September to 2 October) continues the Bloomsbury ethos of fostering creativity and ideas by celebrating the short story genre and other short forms of writing which were fostered by the Hogarth Press, founded by Leonard and Virginia Woolf.

Diana Reich, artistic director of Small Wonder, said she was delighted that Ali’s contribution to the short story had been recognised. “She is one of our most innovative and imaginative authors, writing in the experimental tradition of Virginia Woolf,” said Diana. “Ali is one of the publishing world’s most original authors, equally at home with short fiction and the novel.”

Now in its fourth year, the Charleston Small Wonder Lifetime’s Excellence in Short Fiction is awarded to writers with a strong track record in publishing short stories of outstanding quality. Previous recipients are William Trevor, Edna O’Brien and Jane Gardam. This year’s prize will be awarded to Ali Smith on 28 September, the opening day of the Small Wonder Festival. On hearing the news about her award, Ali Smith said, “I am over the moon to find myself and my stories on such a list.”

The full Small Wonder Festival programme has also been revealed today and includes a stellar line-up including Eimear McBride, Lionel Shriver, Kevin Barry, Lisa McInerney, Kei Miller and Petina Gappah.

Held in the beautiful grounds of Charleston, the themes of fluidity and mutability weave through this year’s programme, with events looking at the refugee experience, the alpha and omega of sex and death, and changing fashions within the short stories. Small Wonder will also feature interactive and participatory sessions such as Literary Death Match and a Story Slam. The anniversaries of Roald Dahl and Charlotte Brontë are also celebrated and there is an imaginative rendezvous between Hercule Poirot and Jules Maigret.

In addition to the Charleston Small Wonder Lifetime’s Excellence in Short Fiction Award, the festival also hosts the BBC National Short Story Award. The festival finale sees Juliet Stevenson reading Poems that Make Grown Women Cry.

Tickets for Small Wonder will go on general sale on Tuesday 19 July. See the full Small Wonder programme at:


Notes to Editors:

For further information, speaker and festival images please contact:
Jacqui Graham
T: 020 8450 2924 | M: 07973 884 290  | E:

About Charleston
Located in the glorious South Downs in East Sussex, Charleston was, from 1916, the home of Bloomsbury group artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. Pioneers of early 20th century British art, Bell and Grant created a hub of artistic and intellectual activity. Home also to art critic Clive Bell, frequent guests included John Maynard Keynes, Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry, Lytton Strachey, T.S. Eliot and E.M. Forster. Charleston is now open to the public and provides the stunning setting for the Festival.

About Small Wonder
Supported by the Arts Council, Small Wonder is Charleston’s annual short story festival. This year’s festival runs from 28 September until 2 October at Charleston, Firle, near Lewes. It is packed with lively readings, discussions, workshops and performances by innovative national and international writers. Our generous sponsors and Associate Partners include EFG International, Hurstpierpoint College, Rathfinny wine estate and the University of Sussex.

About the Charleston Small Wonder Lifetime’s Excellence in Short Fiction Award
Now in its fourth year, the prize will be awarded to Ali Smith on 28 September. Previous recipients are William Trevor, Edna O’Brien and Jane Gardam. The prize is awarded to writers with a strong track record in publishing short stories of outstanding quality. The judging panel comprises: Cortina Butler: Director of Literature, British Council, Alison MacLeod: Professor of Contemporary Fiction, University of Chichester and award-winning novelist and writer of short stories, Patrick Cotter: Administrator of the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award, Cathy Galvin: Co-founder of the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award and founder of the Word Factory, Ra Page: CEO of Comma Press (which specialises in publishing short stories), Diana Reich: Artistic Director Charleston Festival and Small Wonder Short Story Festival, Di Speirs: Editor, Books, BBC Radio and originator of the BBC National Short Story Award.

Small Wonder Festival booking information
In person:
Brighton Dome, 29 New Road, Brighton, BN1 1UG
By phone: 01273 709709

Behind The Wall – June 2015

The garden has looked as well this Spring as I can remember it. The last eight years of steady renovation of the soil and planting now means that only a small percentage of the planted areas still need to be upgraded. The dreaded ground elder now holds sway in only a few isolated pockets, It is hard not to be reminded of Jimi Hendrix’s song Purple Haze, on entering the Walled Garden, as Foxgloves, Sweet Rocket, Siberian Iris and wild Aquilegia, among others dominate the colour spectrum.


There now approaches the different transition form the Spring to Summer Garden, out with the tulips, wall flowers, Forget-me-nots and Honesty, to be replaced by Zinnias, Dahlias, Nicotania and Cosmos. In the meantime, if the conditions are right, the many climbing and shrub roses, will put on a fine show until the end of June.

Behind The Wall – July 2015

I am often asked by visitors to the garden during the months of July and August whether I like Hollyhocks. Like is not nearly a strong enough word.  The Hollyhock is far and away the most important plant to the fabric of the garden, especially the walled garden at Charleston. By accident and design, a wonderful community of tones and colours have emerged during the last thirty years.

Where such a varied community have come from remains somewhat a mystery, but can it be a complete coincidence that an equally varied collection of single flowered Hollyhocks also line the long pathway as one approaches Berwick church? There is hardly a single one of the many letters that Vanessa Bell wrote in which she describes the summer garden, where the Hollyhock is not mentioned, and it appears often in her paintings of the garden.

Pink and white Alcea. Hollyhocks

It reigns supreme at the moment, carrying its varied colours high above ones head, providing a strong element of elevated structure, complementing other more rounded elements. Then we come to its importance to bees, especially the bumble bee. All the Hollyhocks in the garden are of the single flowered variety, making themselves far more accessible for bees to access the abundant pollen. I have noticed that with the wind battering the garden in recent days, it has not been unusual to see the odd bumble bee clinging to the centre of  the large open flowers as the tall stems flail about. Food and sanctuary. No other plant in the summer garden offers such an agreeable haven.

Behind The Wall – August 2015

AL Kennedy has recently challenged the notion that April is the cruellest month by putting forward August for this accolade. Expectations are set impossibly high, but often those 31 days let us down in so many ways. From the garden’s point of view, we went from the early days of August, where prayers were offered up for a decent shower, just for a brief respite from the tedious business of pointing a hose pipe at a wilting plant, to the end of the month when similar prayers were being chanted for the deluge to stop.

Growth and flowers held in check by the sècheresse were unleashed by the rainfall, and flowering annuals such as Cosmos, Zinnia, tobacco plants and nasturtiums have grown with gay abandon. For example, on the seed packet for the Cosmos plants, an ultimate height of 36 inches can be expected; in reality my arms begin to ache when reaching up to dead-head these ferny giants.

2015. 05. Charleston festival 2013. garden conversation._-2


As often happens with nature, all is not as it seems. Today, enjoying the sight and perfume of the towering tobacco plants, my attention was drawn down to their base. Here amid the warm and humid air, the first signs of decay are taking hold, a reminder that before long the unequal quest to hold back the inevitable will be lost.

Lessons in the Orchard by Carol Ann Duffy


An apple’s soft thump on the grass, somewhen
in this place. What was it? Beauty of Bath.
What was it? Yellow, vermillion, round, big, splendid;
already escaping the edge of itself,
like the mantra of bees,
like the notes of rosemary, tarragon, thyme.
Poppies scumble their colour onto the air,
now and there, here, then and again.

the heart’s impulse to cherish; thus,
a woman petalling paint onto a plate –
cornflower blue –
as the years pressed out her own violet ghost;
that slow brush of vanishing cloud on the sky.

And the dragonfly’s talent for turquoise.
And the goldfish art of the pond.
And the open windows calling the garden in.

This bowl, life, that we fill and fill.


Written to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Charleston festival.

Charleston’s Iconic Painted Surfaces – Saved!

Three months ago we set out to raise £25,000, money that would help restore some of Charleston’s wonderful painted interiors. Thanks to generosity of all of our donors we achieved 130% of our target, an incredible £32,554.

In conjunction with the Art Fund and their #arthappens crowd funding platform, several levels of donation ranging from £5 to £995 were available. In return, supporters will receive rewards which range from postcard sets with Charleston’s iconic design motifs to mounted fragments of wallpaper from the Library to an exclusive patterned scarf and tote bag designed by Cressida Bell. Vanessa Bell’s granddaughter.

The key restoration work can now be carried out by March 2016 and will include the paintwork around the window in the Spare Room, the wallpaper in the Library and the Vanessa Bell painted doors in the House Kitchen.  The additional money will all go to ensuring that the restoration, decorations and collection are kept in the best possible condition by the installation of a new state-of-the-art climate control and monitoring system.

Alistair Burtenshaw, Director of The Charleston Trust said

“The Art Fund were tremendously supportive, and we are delighted that the Charleston campaign was their most successful to date, with the largest number of donors and largest percentage of target exceeded to date on the Art Happens platform.  Proving that Charleston and its appeal is as relevant as ever.”

Nigel Newton, Chairman of The Charleston Trust said

“This crowd funding campaign in conjunction with the Art Fund was a new initiative to find new supporters for Charleston. We are thrilled that the campaign exceeded its target. I am particularly grateful to Margaret Atwood for pointing us in the direction of crowdfunding in a conversation we had following her event at the Small Wonder Short Story Festival at Charleston a year ago. We hope to continue to inspire visitors to Charleston with its fine art for generations to come, particularly in our centenary year of 2016 when this restoration work will be completed.”

Carolyn Young, Director of Marketing, the Art Fund, said

Charleston were fantastic to work with on this project and we are over the moon that they not only smashed their target so impressively, but also were able to raise extra funds towards further protecting the building’s extraordinary painted surfaces.  The demand and interest in the project is testament to how crowdfunding can be an excellent fundraising tool for museums, and a huge thank you must go to Charleston’s supporters, and other art-loving members of the public who all so generously supported this campaign.”

Fashion label Burberry credits Charleston as the inspiration behind its autumn/winter 2014 collection, the Bloomsbury Girls, and this summer, BBC2 broadcast a three-part series, Life in Squares. Filmed partly at Charleston, Life in Squares tells the story of Vanessa Bell and her sister, the writer Virginia Woolf, and has brought record numbers of visitors to Charleston this summer.

The Charleston Trust would also like to thank the broadcaster Jon Snow who helped Charleston and the Art Fund launch the crowd funding campaign in July to help restore these key painted surfaces in the House – the only complete Bloomsbury interior in the world – which are in desperate need of restoration and conservation.

Charleston continues to be a hub of creativity and artistic inspiration for the thousands of visitors and contributors each year.  The House and Gardens are open to the public until 1 November 2015 and re-open to the public on the 23 March 2016 for its centenary year, when the restored decorated interiors will be on full display.

For more details on the project, rewards and the restoration project updates this winter – visit:

Question and Answer with Barbara Jenkins

Question and Answer with Barbara Jenkins, our Small Wonder International Writer in Residence 2015.

In anticipation of her residency she told us about coming to writing later in life and the hottest Caribbean books around now…

  • Can you tell me when and why you started writing?

‘Writing’ as opposed to say, writing personal letters to put in the post and setting unusual exam papers for my geography students, came late, very late – in my late sixties. Two friends, teachers of English literature, wanted to start writing fiction and memoir and felt a third person would round out the group. I agreed to join out of curiosity and idleness. We met at one another’s homes every week for a few months and shared little stories we’d written. I loved the experience of writing, the challenge of a deadline, the novel experience of having to recall and make sense of things that had happened to me, in words, not just in unexamined feelings. I guess it was the confessional nature of the experience and the catharsis it brought that I valued at the time. The group disbanded when one member went back home to London, but by then I was completely smitten with writing. I submitted a short story to the Commonwealth Short Story Competition in 2009 and it was shortlisted; two more won the Caribbean Region Prize in 2010 and 2011. In 2010, I enrolled at The University of the West Indies for the MFA graduating in 2012. All of which is fine and could have remained low key and marginal if it were not for the biggest stimulus to making me feel I could be a writer. This came with the Bocas Lit Fest, Trinidad and Tobago’s literary festival, now five years old, as old as I am as a writer. Through Bocas I met well-known Caribbean and diasporean writers as well as writers from the many heritages that Trinidad claims. My publisher, Jeremy Poynting of Peepal Tree Press, first heard me read at the Bocas New Writers Showcase. Through Bocas Lit Fest I am able to attend workshops, hear talks, be introduced to new books, all of which make the world of writing and writers real, present and relevant.

  • What do you find is the most creative environment in which to write?

I’m tempted to say, ‘Peace and Quiet’, and I have written loads when in rustic settings away from internet and phone, but I’ve also squandered time in many such places, producing little of worth while in, for example, Balandra on the north coast of Trinidad, The Hurst in Shropshire and Bon Accord in Tobago, all totally conducive to worry-free creativity, yet there I could and did as easily slip into torpor and indolence as write. For me, I think it’s the environment in my own head that matters most. When my head is receptive, anything can be the spark to fire up a story – a person passing by, an event, a news item, a casually overheard phrase. I can write anywhere then. But all that said, once the first draft is done, I do need to be in a place where there is no ordinary domestic life to distract me if I want to hone the story. No noise but the ambient sounds of nature, preferably breaking waves, bird song, whistling frogs, creaking bamboo.

  • Which Trinidadian / Caribbean authors would you recommend to curious readers?

Such a rich treasure trove to mine, it’s hard to choose just a few. Plus there’s the difficulty of identifying a writer as Caribbean. Is that to do with birthplace, usual residence or heritage? VS Naipaul, Trinidad born and raised there to young manhood does not consider himself a Trinidadian/Caribbean writer; Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Cartagena, Colombia, refers to himself as a Caribbean person. Where also to place Edwidge Danticat (Haiti/USA), Jamaica Kincaid (Antigua/USA), Olive Senior and Lorna Goodison (Jamaica/Canada) Austin Clarke (Barbados/Canada) Lawrence Scott (Trinidad/UK), Junot Diaz (Dominican Republic/USA) and Caryl Phillips (St Kitts/ UK/ USA)? All writers of internationally acclaimed literary work straddling the Caribbean, the UK and North America; all writers living and working outside the Caribbean.

Does the curious reader want literary works that reveal the history, sociology, politics, the geography of a place through memorable characters and events? Then Earl Lovelace (Trinidad and Tobago). Salt and Is Just a Movie are two of his titles. Leave out the geography and go for all the rest plus racing contemporary plot and sharp characterisation and read Marlon James (Jamaica). His latest, A Brief History of Seven Killings, is the hottest Caribbean book around now. There’s Oonya Kempadoo (Guyana/Tobago/Grenada) All Decent Animals and Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw (Trinidad and Tobago) Mrs B, and so many other writers.

Short stories? This year Peepal Tree Press published beautifully crafted and totally contemporary debut collections by two Trinidadian women – Rhoda Bharath, The Ten Days Executive and other stories and Sharon Millar, The Whale House and other stories. Read both, they’re different.

As for poetry, such an excess of richness. Derek Walcott. Any collection by the Nobel laureate will transport the reader to another plane. Try the epic, Omerosor White Egrets. Then there are the Jamaicans: Kei Miller, The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, Tanya Shirley, The Merchant of Feathers and Edward Baugh, Black Sand; the St Lucians: Vladimir Lucien, Sounding Ground and Kendel Hippolyte, Night Vision; the Trinidadians, Nicholas Laughlin, The Strange Years of my Life and Andre Bagoo, Burn – those are just the ones on my bookshelf and all were published in the last couple years.

  • What are your hopes for your time as International Writer in Residence at Small Wonder?

It’s the first time I’ll be at a festival dedicated solely to the short story, my absolute favourite form. I’m devoted to Alice Munro’s work above all, but I’ll just as happily read and reread Chekov in translation or Carver or Welty. So it’s a thrill to know I’ll be completely immersed in short stories and short story writers for a long weekend. If I’m not too overawed, I’m gonna have me the time of my life. Then there’s Charleston House and its ghosts to investigate. I’m particularly interested in Vanessa Bell’s daughter, Angelica Garnett, and her bittersweet relationship with the house and its history.

  • Stories on a shelf: ghost story, love story, adventure story, real life story. Which do you choose?

That’s ticklish. Actually I wouldn’t choose any strictly genre novel. Speculative fiction, romance, adventure, don’t appeal to me. If by ‘real life’ you mean memoir, not auto/biography, then that’s what I’d choose. I loved Michael Ondaatje’s amusingly revealing Running in the Family.

About Small Wonder:

Small Wonder is a festival dedicated to short stories that takes places in Charleston, located in the South Downs in East Sussex. From 1916 Charleston it was the home of Bloomsbury group artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, whose long-term guests included Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry, Lytton Strachey, T.S. Eliot and E.M. Forster.

This opportunity for an International Writer in Residence has been made possiblethrough a partnership between The Charleston Trust and the British Council, and is also supported by Bocas Litfest, Trinidad. As writer in residence, Barbara will attend all the events at Small Wonder and then produce a piece of work arising from the festival.

Restoration work in the Walled Garden – Spring 2015

Restoration to key items in Charleston’s Walled Garden funded by the Pebble Trust.

We have taken advantage of the closed winter season to carry out some important and much-needed restoration work in the Walled Garden, which is one of the main attractions at Charleston. These projects have very generously been funded by the Pebble Trust.

The Pebble Trust very generously awarded a grant of £2,000 towards the conservation and restoration of some of the key items in the Walled Garden, including the Quentin Bell Pond, the Piazza and a life-sized bust by David Garnett. This generous grant directly addressed the water ingress of the Quentin Bell Pond and its central core mosaic back plate, which included re-grouting and re-sealing the water system. The mosaic Piazza required re-pointing of fissures and cracks and careful cleaning of surface dirt and biological growth. The David Garnett bust needed delicate attention with de-ionised water and soft bristles to clean its surface. The work was carried out by Ben Bosence, building conservator, with whom Charleston has worked with before.

2015.03. Charleston winter garden work. photo- p.fewster-3 2015.03. Charleston winter garden work. photo- p.fewster-7David Garnett bust 2 Piazza detail4

Piazza 1 David Garnett bust 4 2015.03. Charleston winter garden work. photo- p.fewster-12Quentin Bell fountain Quetin Bell pond 2


Photos (c) Penny Fewster and Grace Towner on behalf of Charleston Trust, 2015



Amartya Sen announced as winner of Charleston-EFG John Maynard Keynes Prize 2015

Indian economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has tonight, Monday 9 February, been announced the winner of the inaugural Charleston-EFG John Maynard Keynes Prize. In the spirit of John Maynard Keynes’ work, life and legacy, this new global prize recognises Sen’s outstanding contribution to society.

Regarded as one of the world’s foremost thinkers in the field of famine, poverty, social choice and welfare economics, Amartya Sen’s ground-breaking work has not only been academically influential, but has also had a profound impact on the formation of development policy worldwide. Currently a Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University, Sen has been a Professor at the London School of Economics and until 2004 was Master of Trinity College, Cambridge.   His books have been translated into more than thirty languages.

Sat 23 May 7.30pm Thumb    JMK Logo cmyk

Dame Liz Forgan, chair of the advisory panel, comments:

“The aim of this prize is to honour individuals from around the world who continue to embody Keynes’ extraordinary attributes.  The remarkable Amartya Sen couldn’t be a more worthy winner in this inaugural year.  Philosopher, economist, teacher, moralist, his tireless commitment to the cause of ending inequality and deprivation by bringing a penetrating intelligence to bear on their causes is truly exceptional.  On behalf of my fellow judges I would like to congratulate Professor Sen on his outstanding achievements.”

The winner, Amartya Sen, comments:

I feel deeply honoured by the news of this award. The world in which we live today has been made much more secure by the economic wisdom that Keynes brought to us during the dark days of the Great Depression. When that wisdom is partly or wholly ignored in the making of economic policy, large numbers of people are made to suffer unnecessarily. I am afraid we have seen several depressing examples of that in the recent years, especially in Europe, with a huge human toll. Keynes was a great path finder, and it would have distressed – if not surprised – him to see how well-identified paths can be comprehensively neglected by policy making that draws more on ideology than on well-reflected reasoning.”

The Prize was announced by Dame Liz Forgan during a reception at the Royal Academy on Monday 9 February. Following his win, Sen will receive a sum of £7,500 to commission a work of art and will also give the annual Charleston-EFG Keynes Lecture at the Charleston Festival on 23 May 2015.

This year’s lecture is titled ‘The Economic Consequences of Austerity’ and the full programme for the 2015 Festival is now available.

This year’s advisory panel, who will continue to serve the Prize for a further two years, comprised Dame Liz Forgan, Chair of the Scott Trust and former Chair of Arts Council England; Keith Gapp, Head of Strategy and Marketing at EFG International; Simon Keynes, great-nephew of John Maynard Keynes; Nigel Newton, Chief Executive of Bloomsbury Publishing and Chairman of the Charleston Trust; Professor Michael Proctor, Provost of King’s College, Cambridge; and Lord Robert Skidelsky, Emeritus Professor of Political Economy, politician and award-winning biographer of Keynes.

The impulse to celebrate and commemorate the work and legacy of John Maynard Keynes initially came from Keith Gapp, Head of Strategy and Marketing, EFG International, who studied Economics at King’s College, Cambridge, which was closely associated with Keynes from his student days into his adult life. This desire coincided with the aspirations of the Charleston Trust, which was seeking a way to pay tribute to Keynes, one of the most influential members of the Bloomsbury Group and to launch a new initiative to coincide with the 25th Anniversary of its annual Festival last year.

Keynes wrote The Economic Consequences of the Peace whilst staying at Charleston and subsequently moved to Tilton, just a stroll across a field away. He embodies the radical, interdisciplinary nature of the Charleston milieu. The Charleston-EFG John Maynard Keynes Prize was jointly conceived by Keith Gapp and the Charleston Trust. EFG has a long standing relationship with Charleston and sponsors its two literary festivals as well as many other projects across the globe.



Winter Conservation – Part 2

As soon as the House closes to the public each year, a team of volunteers and specialists start on the conservation programme taking them through the winter.

Once the pictures, ceramics and painted furniture are cleaned and stored, the team move onto the textiles.  The edges of the curtains for instance suffer from light exposure.

Charleston. winter conservation. clive bell's bedroom curtains. photo p.fewster.small 90. 11-14

The curtains in Clive Bell’s bedroom (above) are being carefully stitched with very fine netting to make them stronger and safer. They are then laid over the bed covered in acid free tissue to rest for the winter.

Even the fabrics around lampshades need repairing and careful cleaning.  Despite our best efforts, the nature of the outside of the building creeps in during the summer, with a number of insects ready to find a warm place to breed.  The Collection is inspected annually and any interlopers dealt with!

Charleston. winter conservation. dining room lampshade. photo p.fewster.small 90. 11-14-2

Rugs and carpets are also carefully vacuumed through protective gauze and repaired where necessary. They are then layered with acid free tissue, rolled top side out on large acid free tissue covered tubes (which opens the weave allowing more dust to escape) and finally covered in a dustsheet.

Bedspreads, French cotton squares and cushions are also carefully cleaned and mended where needed, then covered in acid free tissue paper and stored for the winter.

Charleston conservation. intern Alice. 11- 2014. photo  p.fewster-2

The hours that the team spend over the winter soon adds up, some 450 hours a year are donated by our volunteers maintaining the contents in a suitable condition.

This winter there will also be additional work done on the repair of Clive Bell’s study – the ceiling of which needs attention – we’ll keep you informed of the progress of this over the coming weeks.

For the inside track on what it was like to join this team of volunteers – see our Curatorial interns blog from the Charleston Attic.

Don’t forget that nearly all of this work is done by our specialist teams and volunteers, who dust, clean and mend.  Please support the Charleston Annual Fund in anyway you can which helps us continue this work and maintain many of the smaller items in the House which can be tricky to get individual funding to support – Find out how you can donate here

Part 1 of this series can be viewed here

Winter Conservation 2014 – Part 1

As soon as the House closes to the public each year, a team of volunteers and specialists start ‘putting the House to bed’ for the winter.

As part of this process, the team closely examine the House and the Collection for wear and tear which has been caused over the year, and assess which items need urgent conservation and restoration. Although the house is presented in the era of the 1950’s, many of the items in the house are much older but even the ‘recent’ additions to the House are now decades old.

putting the house to bed, Garden room. Dec 2012. photo p.fewster. 72dpi

The team start by cleaning and covering everything by hand in the house.  This includes,

  • Pictures – all the pictures are firstly checked, the frames cleaned using pony hair brushes and then covered with acid free tissue paper, that is pinned to still allow air flow but prevents the dust from touching the paintings.  Remember, Charleston is on a working farm, in the chalky airs of the South Downs.

putting the house to bed.M.K's room 3. Nov. 2012. photo p.fewster. 72dpi

  • Ceramics – are all cleaned, wrapped in acid free tissue paper, some are stored away, and some remain in position in the house with their tissue hats making them look very quirky in their own right undercover!

putting the house to bed. studio. 03.11. photo p.fewster. 72dpi

  • Painted Furniture – is again dusted with pony hair brushes, covered with a layer of acid free tissue paper and then dustsheeted and pinned – making sure the covers are neat and to size – our rooms look just as beautiful covered as uncovered. No just throwing over the dustsheets like you see in films of grand houses being put to bed!

putting the house to bed, the spare room. Dec 2012. photo p.fewster. 72dpi

Then the team move onto textiles – which we’ll explore in Part 2 – coming soon…..

For the inside track on what it was like to join this team of volunteers – see our Curatorial interns blog from the Charleston Attic.

Don’t forget that nearly all of this work is done by our specialist teams and volunteers, who dust, clean and mend.  Please support the Charleston Annual Fund in anyway you can which helps us continue this work and maintain many of the smaller items in the House which can be tricky to get individual funding to support – Find out how you can donate here