Creating Our Projects

Our philosophy

An Imagining History workshop is devised with its audience of young writers in mind, and tailored to the particular qualities of each historical venue.

Our workshops benefit from taking place outside of traditional classrooms with small groups of young people. Our teacher colleagues have brought us to recognise that it is often in the learning space that the outcomes of our workshops really show themselves. After all ‘learning’ is a full-time occupation, into which is poured all of the insights that can be collected as life is lived. We work in collaboration with teachers to make sure that the boundlessness of the outside and personal creative space are integrated with the idea of a learning space.

The COVID19 world asked new things of us – to devise new ways in which the historical environment can come alive for young writers who are not gathered together in a particular place. It also asked us to re-examine the basic structures of our work.

We would hope that our young writers, whether they attend a workshop in person or online, would want to continue their writing journey. Our workshops are devised with the future in mind – knowing that the best treasure an artist creates comes from the heart of their own world. So COVID led us to the following conclusions. Whether online or not, during our workshops the ‘historical environment’ is in fact a combination of :

  • wherever a young writer finds themself,
  • what information they can gather during a workshop,
  • what information they can gather for themself,
  • what kinds of activities they can devise for themself in their own space to further their creative idea.

Our approach to knowledge and writing

Knowledge is no use unless it can be put to use. An IHUK workshop is basically a way of bringing knowledge and the use of it into one place, where writers can explore, pick up nuggets of knowledge, verify them with our on-site facilitators and then put it straight to use in building a set of creative ideas.

Our research and development over the past three and a bit years has highlighted an important distinction for a young writers between static and dynamic knowledge. This distinction permits us to find the ways in which each historical environment we invite our writers into is allowed to give up its secrets to a young person with writing in mind.

Philosophically, writing is for us defined in the widest possible way. We believe we are developing each writer’s individual and idiosyncratic signature – their personal way of thinking through, building and telling their stories. We recognise that the writing of stories is a wide category that could take in visual story-telling, sound story-telling, script-writing (story-telling with people). And we also recognise that story-telling has to be allowed to happen, for some writers, only in the thinking of it – in the believing that they can bring a story out. For us, a story emerges from an inspiration, followed by a thought into the physical presence of the writer and finally into their chosen medium of expression.

Aims and Outcomes of our workshops

The creative process is based on play, trial and error and enjoyment. Initially we make no demands on our writers apart from their presence and their attention. Along a structured but meandering path framed by the act of writing, we have devised stages at which skills of all kinds needed by a Historical Fiction writer are folded into the process in the most organic way possible. These skills progressively immerse the whole person of the writer in the world around them.

In many cases our workshops have outcomes that are left entirely in the lap of their participants, or in the continuation work that their teacher or educator might wish to undertake following the workshop. Increasingly however, we realise that the creation of a focused style of outcome allows the concept of writing to take on its broader definition, and to allow the lines of satisfaction to be both more multifarious and more immediately felt. In this, we take advantage of skills that might be extraneous to a more standard concept of a creative writing workshop – to create performance, exhibitions or published texts.

Development goals

Our team is multi-disciplinary – a professional writer/educator, an academic historian, an arts educator coming from a performance background, and personnel associated with any of the venues that might inspire the workshop. An important addition to our team has been a professional online content creator and curator, entrusted with developing ways to share and display the writing created. Discussions revolve around how best to integrate the two pillars of Historical Fiction – historical research and creative writing that both incorporates and illuminates that historical research – with the demands of hungry, creative minds and active bodies .

Lockdown response has prompted an enrichment of the philosophy, content and focus of workshop preparation – giving more focus to the actual physical presence of the writer and to how our questions and provocations can produce active awareness in the writer themselves of where ideas for writing can come from.

Find out more about our team here.

Examples of past projects

Exploring Our Origins (Sutton Hoo, Suffolk 2021) re-awakened the idea of in-person workshops after the pandemic shutdown period. Together with our long-time collaborators at Woodbridge School and in the management team at the National Trust property at Sutton Hoo, we led two discovery/writing workshops outdoors with two groups of 15 students. The response of the young people was hugely positive – in terms of the creative impact, and importantly, the well-being aspect of being outdoors using their physical freedom to push their thinking a few steps forward.

from the feedback forms

I’m confident that most of the students who attend will feed their experience with you into their independent creative writing – it will definitely nudge some students from a ‘B’ to an ‘A’ but I just don’t think we can record that concretely. More than attainment, these trips are just invaluable. Encouraging even one kid to engage with history/their local area is wonderful and make the trip worthwhile… Also, because a lot of the kids who volunteer/are selected for this sort of thing often (sadly, inevitably) go under the radar because they’re just really good kids, getting some one-to-one attention and a bit of time out is just brilliant. For me, it’s a no-brainer to say ‘Yes’ to this sort of thing.

IH, teacher of English, Woodbridge School, Suffolk

Times Shifting (online world-wide 2020) examined the changing physical world in which each member of an international group of writers found themselves during the historical moment of the first lockdown.

In collaboration with the writers, we published an anthology of writing, which also reflected a process of collecting and creating visual imagery to reflect the historical moment of the first lockdown.

You can read the online version of the anthology here.

An important element of the commission given to the writers was the inclusion of a reflective statement, honouring their assessment of themselves as authors

Cornwall Odyssey (2018 & 2019) was a two-year collaboration with students and staff at Sir James Smith’s School in North Cornwall, and the North Cornwall Book Festival at St Endellion. A blended programme of four workshops – two in-school and two site-specific led to a live public spoken-word performance of 60-second excerpts of stories written.

The form, structure and flow of the performance was devised by the young writers and their teacher.

(nb: the 2018 workshops were co-led by Stephanie Haxton and the 2019 workshops by the Adrian Martin)

It was evident that Steph Haxton’s workshops with the young writers had been hugely worthwhile. The work produced was incredibly varied, energetic and richly imagined and it was lovely to see some evident pride as the writers took to the stage in turn to read their work out to a pretty big audience. 

The combination of Cornwall’s remoteness and its pretty desperate poverty mean that its state schools get all too little in the way of either live literature events, field trips or the chance to produce imaginative work outside the confines of the national curriculum. I would dearly love to see more workshops like these rolled out in the county, not least because I think the teachers benefit from them as much as their students.

Patrick Gale, author, Director of North Cornwall Book Festival


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