Bede's Pupils Visit The Small Wonder Fiction Festival


Photo Credit: Axel Hesslenberg

Every September, the Small Wonder Short Fiction Festival brings the brightest stars in the literary firmament to a small corner of rural Sussex. 

For every reader and would-be writer at Bede’s, it is an absolute must. 

This year, a small group of lucky pupils were thrilled to witness a rare public reading and conversation with former Booker-prize winner Penelope Lively. 

Famed for her acclaimed novel Moon Tiger and autobiographical volume Oleander, Jacaranda, Lively is undoubtedly one of the preeminent literary novelists at work in England today, so it was marvellous for students to hear her precious reflections on over five decades in writing, and her tips for younger writers keen to take their first steps towards publication. 

As recipient of the Bede’s-Charleston award for lifetime achievement in fiction, of which the school is a proud sponsor, Penelope was keen to meet pupils to discuss her work, as well as their own aspirations—so we got to go behind festival doors and do exactly that. 


 At an intimate reception event, we were privileged to be able to be able to gather a little wisdom and a few priceless anecdotes from Penelope herself. In a wonderfully wide-ranging conversation, which took in narrative structure, the value of silence, ancient Rome and the benefits of writing on the train, Penelope gave us more than we could have wished for. And certainly plenty of inspiration for our own work. In a flint-walled courtyard once used by the Bell family, it felt good to hob-nob with true Charleston literati:  novelist Anne Enright—who would later speak at the event—biographer Hunter Davies and writer and Festival trustee Virginia Nicholson. 

In the reading that followed, Lively spoke of her most recent collection of short fiction, The Purple Swamp Hen¸ and shared with the audience the title story, which narrates the last days of Pompeii from the perspective of a wading bird. For aspiring writers, this playful use of perspective certainly gave food for thought. 

It’s impossible to predict what a visit to this festival will throw up.  We’ve come to expect challenging, thought-provoking discussion and provocative questioning.  But there are always surprises.  This year, we return with memories of sparkling conversation, notebooks full of new ideas and an armful of books from new writers we’d never heard of until the festival.  And next time, who knows?  We can’t wait to find out.

The Charleston Festival will be held at the end of May 2018, and Bede’s will again sponsor an event.  In the Spring term, Charleston will also host a special afternoon event for our girls day houses.  


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