Story Hunter Historical Fiction Masterclass

One early Wednesday morning, 55 excited children gathered outside Newcastle Museum, ready to flex their writing skills, meet new friends, and dive a little deeper into history. Ranging in age…

18 Apr 2024

One early Wednesday morning, 55 excited children gathered outside Newcastle Museum, ready to flex their writing skills, meet new friends, and dive a little deeper into history. Ranging in age from 10-12, and hailing from six different local primary schools, the students had arrived for a unique Story Hunter masterclass in historical fiction. Story Hunter – an initiative of Newcastle Writers Festival – aims to develop the next generation of young writers, pairing local authors with Hunter primary schools to help build confidence, creativity and literacy skills. But this particular workshop was the first of its kind, offering a deep-dive into a genre that also encourages us to connect with the past.

Armed with curiosity and creativity, and guided by a team of established writers, the children set out to breathe life into the stories captured within old photographs. These images, kindly supplied by the Local Studies division of Newcastle City Library, depicted moments frozen in time — protests to save Blackbutt reserve and Newcastle Royal Hospital, floods engulfing Maitland, jovial social outings, and stoic military portraits. 

The workshop kicked off with an exploration of historical fiction as a genre. Students were introduced to the art of blending factual events with fictional narratives, looking for ‘clues’ that could help situate a story in a particular time period and context. They considered what details they could add to immerse a reader in the setting, and what research they might need to do to ensure their stories were authentic. The authors shared anecdotes, insights, and techniques, igniting sparks of inspiration among the young writers. Then, with photographs as their muse, the students began crafting their own historical fiction pieces. Each student carefully selected an image that spoke to them, and imagined themselves as one of the people in the picture. Some were drawn to the resilience depicted in scenes of adversity, while others found their inspiration in moments of joy and passion.

As the day progressed, the workshop buzzed with ideas. Students shared theories, introduced characters to each other, and delved deeper into their narratives. The authors served as mentors, encouraging the budding writers with everything from drama activities and matching games, to funny examples of anachronisms and stories of their own publishing experiences. The schedule was very full, covering setting, character, tension and even editing, but the students worked hard and had pages of writing to show off at the end of the day.

The Historical Fiction workshop was not simply an exercise in writing; it was a celebration of heritage, creativity, and community. Through the lens of storytelling, students unearthed the hidden gems of our city’s past, weaving them into narratives that brought history to life. Meeting other passionate writers – both the adults who guided the workshop, and the other young students from different schools – was a highlight for many. Twelve-year-old Charlie cited ‘meeting real authors’ as his favourite part of the day, while eleven-year-old Otto said, ‘I really extended myself and wrote a piece I am proud of’.

The workshop would not have been possible without Story Hunter’s main sponsor, The Catfish Foundation, and the support of the City of Newcastle, who provided in-kind use of the photographs and the McIntyre Theatrette at Newcastle Museum. Students had the opportunity to explore the museum during the day, where they were able to see, hear and feel more artefacts from the past. Teacher Clay Farrar, from Hamilton Public School, was instrumental in organising the day, liaising between other schools and the Story Hunter Coordinator, Emma Biddle. Students are continuing to polish their stories, ready to share with the wider world soon.

Visit the link below for more information about the Story Hunter program, to donate, or to book a workshop for your school.

author: admin@nwf