The winner of the 2018 11-15yrs Young Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction (YWSP), Jenny O’Gorman from Edinburgh, was inspired by a striking memorial to those who died during the Irish Potato Famine. Her story Shadow of Hunger tells of the desperation of those who boarded ships to a find a better life in the US.
Joseph Burton from Kent, winner of the 2018 16-19yrs prize was inspired to write his suspense story Dust On The Road by the work he did during his GCSE History on the Great Depression in the United States during the 1930s.
How do your ideas emerge?
I remember, when I was around 14 or 15, the moment when an idea took hold. But better than that, I still remember the excitement I felt when I felt the idea forming in my head. It was as if there was a time before the idea and the time after the idea. Between not having it and having it, my life changed.
I was on horseback, riding fast across the sands towards Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland, the sea wild on my left and the other people in my group yelling with excitement on their horses in front of me. It was the nearest I ever came to flying and it was my moment, and not anyone else’s. The idea I had was about how important it was to trust the moment I found myself in, and to pay attention to everything that was around me, otherwise the memory would be lost in time.
The source material for a Historical Fiction story is out there, just waiting to picked up, rolled around your mind and written about. And it can also be in there – in you as you experience the place you find yourself in. This is why we developed the Imagining History workshops. We put you in a place and at a time where an idea you never previously though about might grow and develop in your mind.
We want you to feel that shiver in time when an idea can make you into a new person.There you are, surrounded by the fizzing inspiration of objects and place and a feeling that real people in history once existed there or once held the object you are touching. Slowly but surely an idea emerges into your writer’s mind! Many of our young writers say that they grew ideas during a workshop that they could not have predicted they would ever have.
With the added spur of finishing your entry for the Young Walter Scott Prize, who knows where your initial inspiration will take you, when you explore a time before you were born when the world was very different to the world of your present time.
People in history were just like us – same needs and wants and dilemmas and big questions – except that the details of the living of their lives were different. As a Historical Fiction writer you are free to base your story on events, people and places that already figure in history. Then, by adding experiences from your own life into the mix and imagining how the people of the past might have been thinking, you can create a completely new take on the historical time period you are writing about.
Who is to say that the insights you have are wrong? A fiction writer’s job is to explore ideas and characters – to create new dreams and inspire new thoughts. A Historical Fiction writer’s job is to explore history and to take their readers to a time and place where they never expected to get to. You are a time traveller – you, your imagination and your notebook.