The Imagining History Programme UK

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 project

Rosi

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 way

Molly-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.

Read more about TImes Shifting here