Sunday, 25 September 2011


I suppose there are literary festivals and there are literary festivals. And if you’re ever lucky enough to get the chance to visit Small Wonder, either as a performer or festival-goer, grab it without a second’s thought.

Situated in the heart of the South Downs, the festival is held at Charleston, one-time country retreat to the artists and writers of the Bloomsbury group.

We stayed at nearby Tilton House, itself one of those magical, still places that writers dream about retreating to. Hammocks hang from its mature trees; a log burner awaits in the yurt at the back of the garden; a fire pit in a woodland clearing, the perfect setting for stargazing. 

And summer seemed to return as bees droned lazily in exotic flowers and cats sunned themselves in the courtyard. 

The main events at Small Wonder take place in a wonderful barn, the perfect amphitheatre, with words and stories swirling above the audience in its rafters. I read from my collection and talked about the short story with Guardian feature writer John Crace

 There followed some superb dinner in the Green Room, before we headed to the Arabian tent for a night-time owl display. 

Back at Tilton we gathered around the fire for wine and cheese, discussing the joy of the short story into the early hours.

Returning home to the drizzle of Dartmoor seemed to confirm I’d rather fallen in love with Charleston, a love affair I hope to rekindle next year.


Rachel Fenton said...

What a superb location. Looks like it was a great experience.

TOM VOWLER said...

It's a wonderful festival, Rachel, yep.