Each year, the History Teachers' Association of Victoria (HTAV) organises a Historical Fiction Competition that asks Year 5–10 students to create stories based on historical events and people. Students can write about any period of history as long as the entry has a convincing setting that is historically correct in time and place.
This year, Norman Jorgensen, author of The Smuggler’s Curse and the newly released follow-up novel The Wreckers’ Revenge, will be the judge. He said, ‘I was talking with a group of Grade 3 students about how I research my historical books and mentioned William Dampier, the one-time pirate and explorer of the western coast of Australia in the early eighteenth century. After the talk, while I was packing up, two eight-year-old girls came up to talk to me.
"William Dampier is my explorer in class" said one of them. "We were given an explorer and we have to find out everything we can about them."
"Well, you will have a lot to work with," I replied. "Dampier led a long and very exciting life."
"My explorer got eaten," announced the other girl, her face crestfallen.
"That'll make a great story, though, don't you think?" I suggested.
"I suppose it will," she said, suddenly imagining the scene and the potential.
‘This is one of the reasons why I am so happy to be judging the HTAV's historical fiction competition. Fiction by its nature has to be believable, while historical events actually happened, as unbelievable as many are. Mixing the two often creates wonderful work. Personalising a true event by adding the voices and thoughts of witnesses and participants can help capture a reader's attention and take them on the same ride as the real people involved at the time.
‘Throughout history, random things happen to the great, the good, and to ordinary folk, and people have faced up to these tragedies and joys that revealed their character, or lack of it, by the way they acted. Do we see a little bit of ourselves in the way Dampier, Joan of Arc, Jandamarra, Governor Phillip or Ellen Kelly and her son, Ned, acted?
‘I am looking forward to seeing how the young historians will take familiar people and events, and not so well-known ones, and present them in interesting and exciting ways that bring the characters involved back to life again. Nearly all my reading at home is historical fiction, so reading how the next generation of young writers present their stories will be fascinating for me.’
Entries are free and open to all Year 5–10 students enrolled in the Victorian education system, or students from schools in other states that are members of HTAV. Students can enter in one of three categories – Years 5 and 6, 7 and 8, or 9 and 10. In each category, one prize will be awarded for the best individual story. Winning students will each receive a cash prize of $150 and a certificate. More information on the entry conditions are available on the HTAV website.
The Smuggler’s Curse and The Wreckers’ Revenge by Norman Jorgensen are both available in all good bookstores or online at www.fremantlepress.com.au, where you get free shipping anywhere in Australia if you buy two books or more.