Went to the short story festival – Small Wonder – great day with readings and talks from Sarah Hall and Elif Shafak, both wonderful authors in very different ways and totally inspiring.
Elif, who is Turkish, read touchingly from her new book “Honour” set in Britain in the 70’s. Her initial descriptions of the everyday preoccupation of a mother, were so delicately drawn and I wanted to buy the book immediately! This is essentially about the relationship between a mother and son and the book also takes us to their ‘imaginary homeland’. One of the themes looks at how we hurt those we love both knowingly and unknowingly.
Sarah Hall then read a very powerful short story in a Cumbrian setting It moved from minute detail of things such as a Christmas wreath, to a bolder bloody trail when the heroine decides to go hunting for mink with her brothers in order to make a cape for a sickly sister.
The discussion that followed was chaired by Alison Macleod. It was so well done and the writers so generous in sharing their writing processes that I think I learned more from it than on any course I have ever attended. I loved the fact that they did not write in a linear way, their stories evolving through their individual explorations into the human condition. Elif said she sometimes felt drunk she was writing as her characters developed and their stories emerged.
In the second session ‘Messages from Angela Carter’ Susannah Clapp brought to life a friend by introducing her new book called ‘A Card from Angela Carter’. An added treat came from the actress Hattie Morhan who performed one of Angela’s stories ‘Beauty and the Beast’ which captured both the treachery and tenderness within the story.
Again, in the excellent discussion that was chaired by Di Spiers, we learned more of Angela’s preoccupations. I loved how she described the incongruous ways Angela sometimes presented herself to the general public.
A visit to the house and garden had to be included and on such a lovely sunny day. I have always been fascinated by the Bloomsbury Group but this was my first visit to Charleston which was the home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. The rooms are beautifully furnished, paintings lining most of the walls and have original curtain designs. The famous paintings on doors, the bath and other parts of the house are worthy of anything on canvas.
The studio, which was set out as though it were yesterday, was in my opinion even better than that of Monet’s in Giverny. Here the tubes of paint looked as though they had recently been abandoned, the pale yellow chaise longue was worn and in places almost threadbare. The mantelpiece was crammed with odds and ends, a piece of china, photographs and invitations, one dated from the sixties from the Mayor of London. There is a lovely Charleston website – http://www.charleston.org.uk/visit/
I was treated to this day out by a friend, but to visit the house is £8.50 for pensioners but on Thursdays only. The Garden is £3.50 for everyone, there are of course family tickets and students discounts.
There were no discounts for pensioners at the Small Wonder events.
Charleston is not currently funded by a public body, and relies on donations from friends, ticket and shop sales to maintain it which is truly amazing!
However, I think that other organisations that do receive public funding, be it arts grants or lottery money, including the National Trust, should consider offering a free day a month.
Some old people in this country may never have the opportunity to enjoy the delights of our artistic and cultural heritage, even the ‘keepers’ of the Taj Mahal in India used to have ‘free days’ for local people.
I feel a campaign coming on, or at least a letter to my MP!
A short film of the garden will follow in due course.