The Imagining History Programme UK for 2023 has come to an end. This year we have worked in person and online with around 104 young writers between the ages of 13 and 19. We are happy to continue our relationship with three schools – in Edinburgh, Suffolk and Cornwall -and to add a new one to our list of collaborators in Bethesda, Gwynedd in North Wales.
Last weekend a group of 13 young writers from Sir James Smith’s School in Camelford presented excerpts of their work live at the North Cornwall Book Festival. Earlier in the summer my colleague Anna Wilson worked with them in school and I joined them on a Historical Fiction writer’s field trip to Trerice Manor, near Newquay. This is fourth project that we have completed with SJS and the North Cornwall Book Festival, and the writers never fail to impress with both their writing and their presentation skills. Young Cornish writers have a strong sense of their identity and their connection with the land they walk on.
Our live workshops this year began way back in May with a writer’s field trip to Trinity House of Leith in Edinburgh with students at Firrhill High School. Then we moved to Suffolk in July, where Sutton Hoo hosted us again with students from Farlingaye School in Woodbridge. Also in July we began what we hope to be a long relationship with Penrhyn Castle in Bangor, North Wales. This workshop was especially exciting for me, because I was joined by Demelza Mason as writer/historian. Demelza won a Young Walter Scott Prize back in 2017, went on to study Archeology and now works for the National Trust.
I’m looking forward to potentially reading shortlisted stories from amongst these new young Historical Fiction writers during the YWSP judging round which will begin around December this year.
Our online programme ran during the month of July and had around 20 writers enrolled. I and my team led workshops exploring major historical turning points (Falling Statues), our relationship with the Sea (Lure and Lore of the Sea), the lives of an English Country House (Boughton Journey) and a new workshop idea exploring the adaptation of a story into a Radio Drama. This last project was led by the award-winning writer Tim Stimpson who writes for Radio 4’s The Archers.
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.
The Director and Development team of The Imagining History UK Programme are proud to announce:
Along with The Young Walter Scott Prize, we are now in our fourth year of inspiring young people to explore the writing of Historical Fiction. Together with the challenge of the Prize, IHUK is the only creative writing programme for teenage writers in the UK focusing on the research and writing of Historical Fiction. We appeal to both young fiction writers and young historians. We offer opportunities to get out into the historical environment to see, sense and feel the richness that is available to enrich creative thinking and writing.
From modest beginnings at two venues and two workshops in 2015, we have expanded to nine venues and 14 workshops nationwide in 2019.
Innovations this year include our first two workshops in London and a psycho-geographical-historical exploration of the extraordinary waterfronts of Great Yarmouth.
In Cornwall our young writers will give a live public performance of excerpts of their work at the personal invitation of Patrick Gale, Artistic Director of The North Cornwall Book Festival.
We are open for bookings from schools and Sixth Form Colleges, individual over-16s attending under their own steam and home-schooled students. For further details, and to book places: YWSPrize@outlook.com
Scottish Borders Bowhill House, Selkirk The House Breathes… 17 June
Edinburgh Trinity House of Leith They Went to Sea… 20, 21 June
Cornwall Trerice A Cornish Journey pt1 27 June & 5 July
London Wallace Collection The Time-Traveller’s Map 2, 16 July
Norwich Museum of Norwich Starting With Samson… 6, 9,10 July
Woodbridge Sutton Hoo On the Border of Myth and History 8 July
Aylsham Blickling The People That Changed The Land 11 July
Great Yarmouth & The Elizabeth House From Shoreline to Quayside 12 July
Cornwall Penhallam Manor A Cornish Journey pt 2 2 Sept dates tbc
Special performance: The North Cornwall Book Festival 11 October
We are, as we have been since our establishment, generously hosted by properties owned and managed by Heritage Environment Scotland, English Heritage, the National Trust, the Buccleuch Living Heritage Trust, Norfolk Museums and the Wallace Collection. We are grateful to the staff, volunteers and resident experts who make our young writers feel at home as they explore these amazing places. We are deeply grateful to our ongoing collaborative and creative partnership with the Young Norfolk Arts Festival, and IlluminateUK in Edinburgh.
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.
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.
Apart from being Creative Director of The Imagining History Programme UK I am also Director of The Young Walter Scott Prize. The two things are inextricably related, both in their foundation and in their inspiration. I am so excited to post this map, showing the geographical spread of entries to the Prize. This year the range and expertise of the writing was impressive and in many cases astonishing. Young writers of Historical Fiction are showing themselves to be perceptive, engaged, energetic and, for readers, inspirational in the way they look at the world they encounter.
There has never been a more important time to promote the reading and writing of Historical Fiction. Sir Walter Scott hoped that his novel Waverley, or ’tis sixty years since would prove useful to people in putting bad times to rest and looking forward to better times. Our times now are troubling but surely there is hope in the coming generations of young people who are learning to take the long view.