IHUK talent development

In 2020, in response to the first Covid lockdown, we set up an online project which wrapped a group of young historical fiction writers from across the world in a series of thinktasks, writing tasks and discussions, all aimed at somehow looking at the present moment as a historical document.

In 2021 we created an online summerschool that broadened the scope of IHUK 2020 to bring in online collaborations with two historical sites – Boughton House in Northamptonshire, and the historical Library at Innerpeffray near Perth.

We are currently devising IHUK 2022 to devise an in-real and online-based place in which young writers of Historical Fiction can develop their talents. This will bring together the best qualities of our work to date to enrich and enhance the contact between young creative minds and their historical heritage. The themes and structures of this programme will be released early in 2022.

We have been working predominantly, though not exclusively, with writers who have been shortlisted for the Young Walter Scott Prize. These are writers who satisfied the judges of YWSP that they are worthy of being considered for one of the UK top prizes for teenage writers, and who are also worthy of being published in the YWSP annual anthology. Through the Young Norfolk Arts Trust we have also been able to expand our reach to young writers internationally.

The Imagining History UK faculty is:

  • Elizabeth Ferretti – writer
  • Stephanie Haxton – writer/historian
  • Dr Dina Gusejnova – historian
  • Roxanne Matthews – art historian
  • Matilda McMorrow – librarian/online content creator
  • Alan Caig Wilson – arts educator

We were very privileged to have the participation of Lara Haggerty, Keeper of Books at The Library at Innerpeffray.

The young writers are granted special access to the remarkable Adam Matthews Digital Archive – a library of around 11 million documents indexed and collated. We are indebted to the team there and for allowing the writers an infinity of rabbit holes down which to travel to fuel their inspiration. www.amdigital.co.uk

IHUK 2020 – Times Shifting

Times Shifting was our response to pandemic times. Unable to take groups of young writers to historical sites of interest in the company of writers and arts educators, we did the only thing we could. With the help of our collaborators at the Young Norfolk Arts Festival, and from the ranks of previous shortlisted writers and winners of the Young Walter Scott Prize, we recruited a group of young artists to explore the historical moment of the pandemic and to use it as a source for their writing.

The writers were guided by the IHUK team in ways to create and share collections of ephemera, snippets, highly personal impressions and momentary inspirations from their lived experience of the time. They were given up to 2,000 words each with which to create their response to that collection. To see the proposal we made to prospective writers, click here.

In February 2021 an anthology Times Shifting – New Voices from a Changed World was published. Below are digital versions of the writers’ works. Follow their names to their writing

Real life copies of the anthology are available by contacting ImaginingHistoryUK@outlook.com.

Times Shifting presents a chance both to step into and back from the immediacy of experience, to sift and comprehend events of great magnitude, and transform these into poetry and prose that snatch snapshots from a maelstrom of opinion, emotion and experience. Elizabeth Ferretti – writer, researcher and tutor on Times Shifting.

IHUK 2021 – summer adventures in time travel re-imagined for a changed world

During July 2021, the Imagining History team led five workshops with young writers from all over the UK, each looking at a different aspect of the research and development of Historical Fiction. The IHUK team were interested in examining the broad idea of historical change and how people view themselves and their lives as things change around them.

We created the IHUK Summerschool for young Historical Fiction Writers. This consisted of three month-long online projects and two in-person writing days. We are grateful to the staff of Boughton House in Northamptonshire, The Library at Innerpeffray in Angus and the National Trust property at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk for their advice and support in setting up our programmes.

The IHUK 2021 Summerschool is dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, in the year of the 250th anniversary of his birth. The spirit of the young Walter Scott as he explored the places, people and events of his native Scotland, is re-ignited in the collective imagination of 42 young writers living in our roller-coaster world of upheaval, online-living and re-awakening after national trauma. Exploring past times, they begin to take the long view of now.

Here is how we described the IHUK 2021 summerschool:

This project is based in and around the Duke of Buccleuch’s family home of Boughton. It was built in the 17th Century, and apart from housing extraordinary collections of art and craft, it has observed the development of our modern world.

We examine how country houses contain traces of the real lives of the people who have lived here, arrived here, left from here. In the things that they touched, in what they observed happening around them and in the journeys they undertook, they played their part in making the world of today.

As a Historical Fiction writer, you seek to develop ideas based on your research that shed light on our lives now. We will send your writer’s 7 senses on a journey of discovery into how ideas and events in the world of today reach back into the past.

We are deeply grateful to the house management team at Boughton for their support both factual and practical in the making of this project.

The Library at Innerpeffray is Scotland’s first free lending library. Since 1680 its doors have been open to anyone who wanted to borrow books and expand their horizons. And since 1680 it has kept records of everybody who has borrowed a book and which books they borrowed – an early kind of data collection which allows us to get an idea of how important books, reading and shared imagination was to all kinds of people, not only those who could afford books.

This is about books, the stories of books and the stories of those whose eyes followed the words on the page. The books borrowed from this library carry the biographies and back-stories of the people who held them – such as the ancient volume which has the worn indentation of countless index-fingers in its leather cover. Why this book? Why did so many borrowers want to hold it tight as they walked, sometimes many miles, home from the library?

If you love books, the making of books, the magic life of books and the collecting of books this project is for you. We will link you up online with the Library’s own bookworms – volunteers and staff who have spent years knowing more and more about the collections. You will travel in time to Scotland and discover the stories that surround books of stories.

We are excited to have the participation of Lara Haggerty, the 42nd Keeper of Books at the Library at Innerpeffray. She will introduce the history of the library by examining four extraordinary artefacts contained within it’s walls.

Times Shifting has two parts. It is an exploration of the ‘historic’ changes that we have all experienced – are experiencing. It is also a mind-expanding way of exploring the contemporary world as if it were a Historical period – collecting data and making connections. As each day passes, it recedes into the past. Life changes and details are lost and remembered as if they occurred in a very different world.

During a series of zoom sessions, we guide you in observing the world around you and your recent experiences with the idea that you are building the thing that a Historical Fiction writer absolutely needs – a primary source for their ideas.

At the end of your explorations of now we send you into an imagined future and ask you to write looking back to the world of today as if it were the past.


As the world began to re-open we were able cautiously an in-real workshop, re-establishing our partnerships with Farlingaye School in Woodbridge, and the management team at Sutton Hoo.

The Sutton Hoo project was made possible by a collaboration between IHUK, students and staff at Farlingaye School in Woodbridge, and the education team at the National Trust site at Sutton Hoo.

The project consisted of two whole-day writing workshops in mid-July – exploring the physical, historical and sensory detail of this extraordinary historical site. Exploring Sutton Hoo is to begin to explore the origins of England. So much is not available to the naked eye – meaning that so much is richly available to the imagination.

This was the school’s first external learning trip since the relaxation of lockdown rules, and the writers took full advantage of it. We are honoured that Farlingaye chose to continue a working relationship started in 2015, and especially in a year where so much is uncertain. Our work is holistic – it is not simply about creative writing but about benefiting a young writer in a much wider range of ways. Here is a wordcloud taken from their responses on the day, which signposts the breadth and depth of their engagement with Sutton Hoo.

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