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Welcome to The Literary Pig's blog - a safe haven for all those afflicted with
the unbearable urge to write.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Small Wonder Short Story Festival

Every September Charleston hosts the Small Wonder Short Festival and if you write, read or love short fiction then it's definitely worth a visit. The events are housed in a flint stone barn, which is surprisingly cosy (but can get chilly in the evenings). As this is a rural setting then many of the authors have to
contend with background heckling from cows, crows and the occasional tractor. Sweet fermenting hay (not dung as many assumed) provides a fruity sensual overtone.

The single track road leading up to the farmhouse and events has to be traffic controlled, so the Indoor Writer took the easy option the free bus service from Lewes train station. The free bus ticket also gets you a free bottle of Small Wonder beer brewed locally by Harveys of Lewes. Surprisingly few visitors took advantage of this terrific service - there were only 5 people on the Sunday morning bus!

A highlight was Graham Swift (Friday 26th Sep) talking about his latest collection 'England and other stories'. He also read 'Saving Grace' from the same collection. His reading was a masterclass in how to read your work. He took his time, read slowly and carefully savouring every word. It was mesmerising.

Swift shared that he believes a short story begins when "a sudden moment tips up a life". He's "never felt fear of any subject" and will often go into very dark places. He feels that's the deal as a writer. On the question of the differences between novels and short stories he said he felt the differences were exaggerated and the novel is "really just a long story". And that in reality the novel is the oddity because everyone is a short story writer, telling stories in the pub, waiting for a bus etc.

The annual Small Wonder short story slam followed and yes the Indoor Writer got to read! She didn't win (£100 cash prize), but it was terrific fun. Each year there's a different theme with a 3 min max limit. 'Red Letter Day' was the theme and prompted a surprising range of stories.

The Indoor Writer was back at the festival for Sunday afternoon and what a treat was in store ... Edna O'Brien followed by Rose Tremain. Both talking about their most recent short story collections and the art of writing short stories.

Edna O'Brien read extracts of her story 'A scandalous woman' (from 'Saints and Sinners' and 'The Love Object'). She confessed that "writing gets harder" as you get older and lack the energy of youth, but she still believes "literature is everything". A top tip for any writer was how she begins her writing day by first reading a page or paragraph of something remarkable such as James Joyce or Virginia Woolf - it's like training yourself with good language rather like an athlete warming up. Alice Munro is another favoured short story writer she loves to read.

The old favourite 'why do you write' prompted her to think carefully before answering. Looking back on her life she would still become a writer all over again, despite the lonely existence and how writing is not lucrative. "You might as well ask why do I breathe?" she declared. "Words have befriended and beleagured me, but the urge to write is far greater than ambition or vanity - it keeps me from drowning."
What more can you say ... An inspirational woman.

Rose Tremain, wearing rock star dark glasses (she had to swap them for her reading glasses at the lectern) was equally inspiring. She read a delightful story 'Extra Geography' from her latest collection 'The American Lover' (The title story is currently shortlisted for the 2014 BBC Short Story Award). Invoking a very believable New Zealand accent. In the interview she described the short story as "a little thing, standing periously on the edge". Interestingly, she has to have the whole story complete in her head before she starts writing (the Indoor Writer was pleased to hear this as this is exactly how she writes short fiction). Short stories sometimes come like dreams or out of historical reading/research or simply from a commission. She confessed to not being precious and sometimes a commission means she has to lock herself away like Rapunzel and just "get on with it". Her own favourite short story authors are mostly American writers (she taught Creative Writing modules in Nashville for some years where she got the taste) including Annie Proulx.

You can buy books at the event and then get them signed by your favourite authors. Unfortunately, the queue for Edna O'Brien moved slowly and the Indoor Writer had to rush off for the next talk, but she did get to chat with Rose Tremain (one of her all time favourite writers) - who is lovely. She also met some new writers either in the audience or on the bus, everyone is very friendly, which is good to know when you're not in a group.

There are still more events, including Margaret Atwood, continuing up to the end of Wednesday, but many sold out. Look out for this Small Wonder in 2015 and book your tickets early!

Sorry there are no photos of the speakers ... really need to sort out a better phone ...


  1. I'm so envious! Would love to have heard Edna O'Brien and Rose Tremain, two of my favourite writers. Now want to buy their new collections!! I will also attempt to start my writing day by reading some James Joyce or Virginia Woolf! I have to confess I've never particularly got on with either of those writers.

    1. Think I'd rather start the day reading O'Brien or Tremain! My top moment was chatting with Rose Tremain about Robert Merivel, one of my favourite literary characters, as she signed my copy of Merivel. (just to rub it in ... sorry)

  2. This sounds a lovely event. I'll look out for next year's. Thanks for the write-up.

    1. I can highly recommend the event, Lindsay, if you live close enough to visit. Or why not plan a w/e break nr Lewes - it's a beautiful part of the country.

  3. This sounds like a fabulous event. So envious!

    1. It was, Alison. Great to go to an event which is completely dedicated to short stories :)