Schools 2020

Carolyn O'Brien school visit

Presentation for the historical fiction competition by Carolyn O’Brien, author of ‘The Song of Peterloo’ in March.

 

Welcome to the Altrincham Word Fest Historical Fiction Writing Competition!

We are challenging pupils in Altrincham schools to produce a work of historical fiction of up to 1 000 words. We would like you to write a story that is based on an event, situation or person relevant to the history of Altrincham, Manchester or of your own hometown. We would like your story to be imaginative but also based on your own historical research. It should be placed anytime from the Medieval period to 1960.

If you were lucky enough to see writer Carolyn O Brien’s presentation at your school, you will know all about historical fiction. Carolyn’s book ‘The Song of Peterloo’ is set in 1819 at the time of the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester. It is a great example of an exciting story which is based on extensive historical research. Carolyn has lots of tips on how to create a gripping story in an historical context and how to do your research.

What is Historical Fiction?

Historical fiction is defined as a work set at least 60 years before and one in which the author must do some research

Examples you may have read include works by Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson and John Boyne

Why Write Historical Fiction?

Carolyn is passionate about history and proud of her roots in Manchester and of the city’s radical history. She says that she writes to honour the past, to challenge the present and, of course, to entertain! Could you do the same?

Where can I find inspiration?

You can find inspiration for your story all around you.

Carolyn explained that it was her passion for the history of working people , including her own family, in the North of England that led to her writing her novel ‘The Song of Peterloo’.  Think about your own family history and talk to older relatives. What are the family stories that tell you about what your ancestors were doing and how they were living years ago?

Do you have an area of interest that you could place in an historical context? How about sport, drama, music or art?

Altrincham has a rich history with references to it in Medieval documents. Did you know that Altrincham was home to the ‘Bravest Little Street in England’ during the First Word War? Do you know why? Do you know the tragic story of the bomb that dropped on Altrincham in World War Two? Do you know why the railway came to Altrincham?

You may like to think about people who lived in your house before you or even people who attended your school.

How can I make my work sound authentic?

Writers need to show empathy. You will need to put yourself in the shoes of your characters and think what their world was like. What did they see, smell and hear? Think about your characters’ lived experiences. Carolyn explained that her main character, Nancy, worked in a noisy mill and so Nancy compared other loud noises she heard to the sounds of the mill. Think about the different clothes people wore and how they would have felt.

You will need to carefully reimagine the past; creating an authentic world by including specific places; place names; features of the landscape buildings etc. Pay close attention to social context and attitudes. In Carolyn’s book she is careful to show the contrasting ways that the fight for political reform was viewed by the millowners and the mill workers. Think about language, vocabulary and the use of dialect

Whilst research is essential and known facts should be respected, don’t forget you’re writing a story – it should be fun!  If you’re not sure of something and are unable to discover it through research include something plausible that doesn’t take the reader out of the world that you have created. You are allowed to make things up!

Fill in the Background

What else in going on in the era in which your story is set? Nancy Kay is illiterate at the beginning of ‘The Song of Peterloo’ but learns to read and as a result becomes more involved in political action. The increase in literacy and the education of women was an important social and political development in nineteenth century Britain. Did anything similar happen during the time of your story and would it help to include it?

Resources

Primary

Documents and artefacts from the time you are writing about – these can be found in the museums and libraries listed below.

Remember to also ask your family, particularly older relatives and friends, for their stories. Don’t forget to visit the site of your story and have a good look around.

Secondary

Libraries – Trafford libraries; Manchester Central Library

Museums/ Heritage – Peoples’ History Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester Art Gallery, Quarry Bank Mill, Dunham Massey Hall.

Art, books, films of the time

University of Manchester – free digitised collections

Census – allows 14 day free trial

British Newspaper Archive –allows 3 free views

Project Guggenheim – free online resource of out of copyright material

Google Books – free online resource, pages from copyright material

Rules

  1. The competition is open to anyone in Years 7 -10 at the time of entering.
  2. The closing date of the competition is midnight on Friday the 3rd April 2020.
  3. Entries should be emailed to altrinchamwordfest@gmail.com
  4. Under no circumstances can alterations be made to stories once entered.
  5. The judges will read all the entries; their decision is final.
  6. All entries will be judged anonymously. Please submit a covering email including the name of the story, your name, your year group and the name of your school. Do not put your name or the name of your school on the story itself.
  7. Please submit your story on a Word document, double spaced.
  8. Stories must have a title and must not exceed 1000 words in length (excluding title).
  9. Entries must be set in Altrincham, Manchester or the student’s hometown and must be set in any time from 1200 to 2000.
  10. Stories must be the entrant’s original work.
  11. Under no circumstances can alterations be made to stories once entered.