Imagining History

Live Adventures in Time Travel.

The Imagining History Programme offers free writing workshops in historical places during which new and young writers explore the crafting of a piece of Historical Fiction.

Carefully curated imaginative explorations and writing sessions of varying lengths cultivate the sheer enjoyment of discovering unknown worlds. We believe that actual lived experience of historical places gives rise to deep insight and learning.

Our projects bring together social and historical research with a taste for enquiring into the context that creates a good story. To this we add innovative, sometimes surprising practical techniques for developing the idiosyncratic signatures of young writers using their history as a source for creative and imaginative writing. We have gained the approval of academic historians, archeologists, curators, heritage education professionals, as well as of young writers, their parents, teachers and schools managements.

We are constantly developing new ways of connecting young writers with the skills and concepts of speculation based on historical information and processes. During the first year of pandemic lockdown, we re-modeled our working process for the online environment. This allowed us to explore contemporary discussions of what history in fact is. We were able in our project, Times Shifting, to bring together a unique group of young international writers who over the course of three months explored their shared experience of that astonishing historical turning point. You can read the short stories created fo the anthology Times Shifting – New Voices from a Changed World here.

It has become clear, in the years since we began, that our approach can be an important tool in developing a creative, individual and often idiosyncratic ‘take’ on historical and social facts and processes. Imagining History allows students to speculate in a particularly open way. They create their own intellectual and emotional journeys behind the accepted facts and lived lives of historical figures, places, events and occurrences.

The open and non-judgemental (though not uncritical) methods we use have also brought praise from participants who have experienced challenges to their mental well-being during periods of individual or collective stress.

read more here about what participants have said.

Where we come from…

The programme was established in 2015 by Alan Caig Wilson, Director of The Young Walter Scott Prize, in association with the East Anglian writer and educator Elizabeth Ferretti. Since then our team has grown organically to include two more writer-educators, an academic historian and an art historian. The development of online working has made it easier to invite the involvement of guest professionals associated with hosting venues.

The unique and open approach of IHUK also grew out of conversations with teenage writers in the months following the establishment of the Young Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. Young writers expressed a certain confusion and lack of confidence in understanding the particular balance of speculation and ‘hard’ historical fact that plays such a rich role in the creation of historical fiction.

Our programmes and projects are fundamentally inspired by the actions of discovery and speculation of the young Walter Scott as he sourced the inspirations for a lifetime of creative innovation. The presence of Dr Dina Gusejnova in our core team, herself brought up in Russia on the stories of Sir Walter Scott, gives academic weight to the importance of Historical Fiction in the training of young minds to find their individual and informed voices.

Since then around 900 young writers have explored, researched and written in historical places, often enjoying special access to venues across the Scotland, the East of England and Cornwall. 

for more information about the range and reach of our programme, read more here

Crucibles of inspiration…

We work in a three-dimensional way bringing together young writers, teachers, historical venue staff, professional writers, arts educators and historians. Our work is immersive and experiential. We work with small groups of writers, online or outdoors at sites of historical interest. Our workshops and projects are carefully structured patterns of physical, intellectual and creative discovery, including time for private writing time.

Over the years we have found that it is possible to make complex demands of the writers once the critical relationship with the particular historical place is established. From observations of teachers and years of assessing participant feedback, we are confident in saying that our particular format of creative outdoor, small-group, physical-exploration based working reaches deeply into many areas of the personal, psychological, emotional and creative growth of young minds.

We are inspired by the words of Sir Ken Robinson, who defines creativity as the development of something of value in the eyes of the creator. We place the concept of ‘satisfaction’ at the very heart of our work. Each young person will create something of value that is satisfying during our workshops and projects. In contact with the historical environment, a young mind is faced with puzzles of many kinds. We have developed workshop technologies that guide them to creative solutions to the puzzles. The smiles, nods and excited laughter at the end of a day of mining a historical place for stories is reward enough; the feedback then allows us to believe that the chances of ongoing curiosity-driven development is high.

for more information on how we create our projects read more here

The Young Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction (YWSP)

Inspiration meets aspiration

The Imagining History Programme UK is umbilically connected to The Young Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. YWSP is now in its seventh year – 14 winners, 14 runners up in two age-categories.

YWSP offers a unique pathway for young writers to imagine a future for their creative inspiration. From the decision to enter, the process of mailing the entry, to (potentially) winning, to spending a weekend as a guest of the Prize’s founders, the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, to sharing the stage with the winner of the international Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, and having their entries published in an anthology, YWSP is a totally new world. We invite the winners to become immersed in the world of like-minded people united in their love for the genre of literature established by Sir Walter Scott. Indeed YWSP winners have their photographs taken at the very desk where Sir Walter created many of his novels.

YWSP was founded to seek out those who might, in years to come, follow in the footsteps of the boy who lay in the grass of the Scottish Borders and dreamed of other worlds. The process of creating Historical Fiction asks a young writer to think themselves into the lives of other people in radically different times and to ask themselves what might have happened next?

The top YWSP prize is a £500 travel bursary designed to send our winning writers off on further journeys of inspiration and discovery – this time of their own invention. Previous winners have visited their family homelands in Indonesia, toured Scottish castles and explored the layers of history of Istanbul.

At the Borders Book Festival in 2021, our two winners from YWSP 2020 Madeleine Friedlein (over 16 winner), Atlas Weyland Eden (under 16 winner) and our YWSP 2019 winner Ide Crawford (under 16 ) were awarded their prizes by Hilary Mantel in the year that the final volume of her Tudor trilogy won the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. Read more about this perfect confluence of the established world of Historical Fiction and its world to come here.

Here they are with Sir Walter Scott in his library at Abbotsford.

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