The line-up for the 15th Small Wonder Festival, the UK’s only festival dedicated to short stories, is announced today. Running from 28 – 30 September in the bucolic landscape of Charleston in Sussex, the festival features a mix of home-grown and international authors, poets and artists. Small Wonder is a part of Charleston’s burgeoning programme of exhibitions, events and festivals. The ideas and radicalism of the artists, writers and intellectuals of the Bloomsbury group will be at the heart of Charleston’s new line-up, which will interrogate the contemporary relevance of those who lived and worked at Charleston over 100 years ago.

This year’s Small Wonder hinges on the idea of transformation. Reflecting this theme, the Festival will be housed in Charleston’s newly restored 18th century Hay Barn, opposite a brand new suite of galleries. Highlights include recent works which resonate with dualities and transitions by short story writers Sarah Hall, Eley Williams and Lucy Wood, plus playwright, director and author Neil Bartlett.

In the year we celebrate the 90th anniversary of the publication of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando: A biography, writer Olivia Laing (author of Crudo) and performance artist La JohnJoseph will read Laing’s Small Wonder commissioned composition, The Something-Nothings, a passionate dialogue with Woolf’s seductive, shape-shifting text. This will be followed by a conversation, together with artist Sarah Wood, about how the gender-defiant novel still crackles with radical possibilities nearly a century on.

Charleston is giving audiences a sneak peek of The Something-Nothings. From 8 – 23 September Olivia Laing and Sarah Wood’s collaborative installation ‘An Artist’s Bed’ will be on display in the Hay Barn. The installation, based on Duncan Grant’s bed in the farmhouse, encourages immersive interaction. Visitors can lie back and enjoy whisperings of The Something-Nothings recited by poets and performers. Above them, projected from the ceiling will be a film created by Sarah Wood.

Olivia Laing

Seventy 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 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 ‘Rise Like Lions: Poetry for the Many’

Ben Okri Small Wonder 2018

Ben Okri

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. 

Lionel Shriver

Chiming with the unique Charleston history and the anniversary of the first steps towards women’s suffrage, we celebrate 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. We commemorate our glorious female forebears, Muriel Spark in her 100th year and Sylvia Plath as the second volume of her Letters hits the press. 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 current bestseller Clean) and Louise Doughty (Black Water and number-one bestseller Apple Tree Yard).

I am Heathcliff panel – Juno Dawson, Kate Mosse and Louise Doughty


The BBC National Short Story Award, the UK’s most prestigious short story award, returns to Small Wonder with exclusive readings from previous winners and some of this year’s shortlisted authors plus insights from former judges into how prize juries really make their decisions.

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. Layla AlAmmar said: “I’m thrilled and honoured to have been chosen as the 2018 British Council International Writer in Residence at Small Wonder. The world will never stop needing stories, and Small Wonder consistently brings together some of the most scintillating storytellers of our time. I’m eager to share and learn with my fellow writers and readers.”

The Charleston-Bede’s Award for a Lifetime’s Excellence in Short Fiction.

Charleston is delighted to announce the distinguished author AS Byatt as recipient of the 2018 Charleston-Bede’s Award for a Lifetime’s Excellence in Short Fiction. Now in its sixth year, the award celebrates writers with a strong track record in publishing short stories of outstanding quality, previous recipients being William Trevor, Edna O’Brien, Jane Gardam, Ali Smith and Penelope Lively. On hearing the news, AS Byatt said, “I am very happy to be about to receive the Charleston-Bede’s Award for Short Stories. I have always had a great admiration for the Small Wonder Short Story Festival and it is wonderful to be honoured by it. Thank you all very much.”

Diana Reich, artist director of Small Wonder said: As Small Wonder celebrates its 15th birthday, we rejoice in the fact that the short story form is receiving far greater recognition from writers, publishers and readers than when the festival was launched. In order to draw attention to the long-standing creativity of the form, we launched what is now the Charleston-Bede’s Award for a Lifetime’s Excellence in Short Fiction to mark Small Wonder’s 10th anniversary. We are delighted that this year’s recipient is the internationally renowned author Dame Antonia Byatt, whose short stories exemplify the vigour of the form. We are proud that Small Wonder has been in the vanguard of stimulating renewed interest in the history and contemporary impact of the short story.”

AS Byatt

Small Wonder Fringe

The Festival runs 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; acclaimed 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 to the friendly festival crowd.


Tickets go on sale on Thursday 19 July. See the full line-up here.

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