The advert asked for ‘Story Hunters’, I wasn’t sure if I was one, but I had a bit of spare time and I was willing to give it a go. Ruth, a fellow Hunter, was attracted to the project because “Lancaster is my home and since returning from uni I have felt like a lot of life is disappearing from this place. I wanted to get involved in a project that might in a small way put some life back, show that people care about the city and that it is worth caring about.”
Over 30 local residents contributed to the final exhibition and, for the writers at least, the combination of exploring local history and presenting that history in a new genre, creative nonfiction, seems to have been the “draw”.
There was no restriction on what historical period individual writers could choose and with a 2000-year timeline there were plenty of stories to think about. John found a plaque in the Priory that revealed a story of the Indian Mutiny. Rilda discovered the story of the first iron ship built in Lancaster that disappeared after it visited her home country, Java. I was fascinated by the invisibility of a Roman fort that had been rebuilt six times.
Visits to local museums and the County Archives; exploring the project area with photographer Jonathan Bean where a walk of a few hundred paces took over half an hour because we were looking so intently at things we’d never noticed and a walk with local historian Andrew White, when even a blizzard couldn’t distract us from our quest, warmed us to our chosen stories.
A Saturday afternoon workshop with writer Kate Feld and a subsequent drafting workshop with Project Manager and Editor Claire Massey brought home the challenges of writing creative nonfiction. As Steph says “sorting out what facts to use and what to discard. Keeping track of the facts. Not writing a ‘story’. I would have found it easier to have written a story with dialogue etc.” We ploughed on and got there in the end.
The Story Hunters came to the project for different reasons, because they wondered if they could write, because they wanted to explore a way to communicate historical research, because they wanted to know about Lancaster.
One certain outcome of the project is that even if the Hunters don’t continue to write creative nonfiction, all those I’ve spoken to are committed to continuing to write and sharing their work with audiences. So along with uncovering some of the lost stories of Lancaster, the project has created a dedicated band of storytellers.