On the first anniversary of the unprecedented announcement of the UK’s first National Lockdown, Imagining History UK is proud to announce the publication of an anthology – Times Shifting – New Voices from a Changed World. This collection showcases the writing and thinking of 15 writers aged between 14 and 24 from across the world. Between May and July last year, as the world experienced a remarkable and collective upheaval, the writers were mentored by a faculty comprising a professional writer, an academic historian, a digital content creator and an arts educator. Following a programme of guided exploration, discussion and writing, they were commissioned to write 2,000 words in a genre and style of their choosing, to reflect their journey through this very changed world of ours.
Imagining History UK, as does its sibling The Young Walter Scott Prize, invites young writers and historians to follow the example of Walter Scott as a young man. Driven by curiosity, he travelled as widely as he could, read as much as he could, and listened to and spent time with people who had a story to tell. From the understandings thus gathered he built the foundation of his life’s work, initiating amongst many other things the genre of Historical Fiction.
Central to the project was the possibility of an exchange of information and ideas between writers from diverse backgrounds and differing national contexts. We invited the writers to share with one another their thoughts, insights and writings on their experiences of lockdown. But TImes Shifting had an additional, counter-intuitive demand to make of its participants – study your present from the point of view of a historian studying events, live your present with the awareness of a writer looking for inspiration, then approach your writing write from a point of view some time in the future looking back and trying to make sense of it all.
What sets it apart from similar projects is that this is not simply an attempt to encourage teenagers to write for writing’s sake, but it is also trying to create historical evidence for the future which adds a unique level of depth to what is being created.Joseph
Historical records are partial and often lacking in first-hand on-the-ground detail from which to build clear hypotheses about the way people actually lived. By converting the present into the past, our young writers of Historical Fiction suddenly had a hugely valuable primary source for their writing.
Times Shifting is designed and led by a team skilled in techniques of historical exploration, creative writing, digital collecting/presentation and somatic and intellectual learning. The writers first had to develop the categories necessary to create the kind of historical source that their writer’s mind would begin to feed off. Tasks taken from techniques of mass observation and the development of dramatic characters in the theatre were interwoven with creative thinking and writing tasks that live in the moment just before a story emerges. It was important to develop their understanding of themselves as writers in the moment of perception of our suddenly changed world.
For Walter Scott the exploration of his world – both natural and imaginative – was a way of mitigating and calming the troubles that life threw in his path. He writes tenderly and candidly about his mental health following major disruptions to his own life. And he allows his insights to help him develop his characters and story lines. At the heart of the Imagining History UK process of working is the sense that a young writer’s voice will develop at pace if we hold the creative space around them in a non-directive way free from the idea that there is a ‘correct’ way to do things. For our writers and for the good of their psychological future it is important to find as many different kinds of pleasure in doing what they feel confident in doing. Our mentoring process integrates exercises in the understanding of historical processes, writing tasks that assume that an idiosyncratic voice will emerge and invitations to explore that perhaps alter the lens through which the writers might see their world.
Along with the irresistible prospect of writing again, the chance to meet new people and explore creative processes as a healthy outlet and escape from everyday life was a big draw to the projectRosi
As Scott himself well understood, a different kind of curiosity arises with the realisation that the everyday might carry historical significance. Observations of worn patches in a garden, the changing significance of doors to the outside, the sensation of deserted school grounds or the intrusive everyday diet of public statistics amongst so much more are transformed into a source of inspiration for the mind of a speculative Historical Fiction writer.
No-one has expected the wheels of history to rattle round the way they have. In editing their work, we gave the writers a chance, two months on, to reflect upon their writing and their writing selves during the project. My colleagues and I are deeply proud of the depth and incisive care of the insights contained in both their writing and their reflections. With their feet in two pivotal historical moments, they have been able to respond creatively to one, then at a later point with clarity in hindsight, to respond to themselves responding. We could not have predicted the richness of Times Shifting, from both a creative writing and a creative living perspective.
Our writers first dig where they stand. In their own lives, events and relationships they find threads that, like the underground communication fibres in a forest, connect them to farther and wider visions.
There has been a shift in the way I think, I am looking at the way in which we interact with each other in a different wayMolly-Rose
Times Shifting- New Voices from a Changed World is available to buy for a very reasonable £5. Contact IHUK for details.
During the time of Covid19 The Imagining History Programme has an extra-special online offer for writers 15 years and up.
The view of young people living in times of change is often overlooked, even side-lined. What we live through as teenagers affects us for the rest of our lives. IHUK wants to give young writers the chance to explore, examine and reflect on what is happening right now, from the point of view of how it will be seen when they are looking back.
Times Shifting is a mentored writing project exploring how to build a historical archive of current events, and then to begin to write a piece of Imagined Historical Fiction written from a point of view in the future and telling a story of now. It is a collaboration led by Dr Dina Gusejnova, Assistant Professor of International History at LSE, University of London and the writer and journalist Elizabeth Ferretti.
It sounds complicated, but actually your brain will work it out pretty quickly. Then your imagination will nail the idea. Now becomes then as we move faster than ever before towards a future we might never have imagined at the beginning of 2020. Hopes and dreams are flying around our heads as physical freedom is limited. Truth is stranger than fiction they say! Just look around the world and see how true this really is…..
We’re in the world of EM Forster’s visionary story The Machine Stops, or the hypnotic There Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury, or the dangerous upturned worlds of JG Ballard. How this current world is seen from the future depends on those who are growing through it understand it. Times Shifting is a project that aims to explore this understanding, adapting Imagining History UK’s innovative workshop process in a virtual environment.
What inspired YOU to write?
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.
2019 Imagining History UK Programme announced
The Young Walter Scott Prize is proud to announce the 2019 Imagining History UK Programme.
14 workshops for teenage writers that explore the writing skills and creative research that build a work of Historical Fiction.
Workshops are held in
- The Scottish Borders,
From Edwardian country houses, to archeological sites, hidden treasures and spectacular art collections – explore sources of rich inspiration for your writing.
Come along and write stories you never thought you could write!
Then enter the Young Walter Scott Prize – the UK’s only writing competition for young people writing Historical Fiction. Check out this year’s winners at http://www.ywsp.co.uk
For more information about Imagining History, the Young Walter Scott Prize and how to book places on our workshops: YWSPrize@outlook.com.
Flightpaths of Historical Inspiration
Here is a fascinating infographic showing where entrants to the Young Walter Scott Prize sourced their inspiration. From the history of the hidden Christians in Japan, to a 1950s family dealing with racial integration, from political intrigues in Ancient Byzantium to the personal sorrow and despair of Suffragettes and Soldiers, young writers of historical fiction are fearless in their writing and connected in their ideas.
Someone quoted an opinion to me last year that The Young Walter Scott Prize and The Imagining History Programme is ‘niche’ – only about history. IT SO ISN’T. History is not ‘just’ history. Mining history for its significances is more important than ever right now. Historical Fiction is all about new thinking. Most Historical facts are invisible. Historical Fiction is the search for new possibilities.