Friday 11 October 2013

(Time) Travel Writing - A Talk from Eoin Colfer

Words by Caroline Matthews
I’d been invited to attend a talk by Eoin Colfer, writer of the hugely popular Artemis Fowl series at The People’s History Museum, and decided to congratulate myself on my (unheard of) early arrival with a sneaky coffee and a cake in the lovely The Left Bank CafĂ© Bar. This was to be the first collaborative event between the Manchester Literature Festival and the Manchester Children’s Book Festival, so this was also the perfect moment to read the winning entries from the Postcards from the Past competition. These four beautifully written postcards are each a reimagining of a moment of world or literary history, as told by a real or fictional character involved.

But the coffee and cake would have to wait, because at the next table sat Eoin Colfer himself, whose new book ‘W.A.R.P: The Reluctant Assassin’ is itself a reimagining of another historical era. I asked him why there is such a Victorian revival in literature at the moment, and why he thinks the steampunk genre holds such an appeal for young readers. He replied ‘It was a very dangerous time for children’, suggesting that what appeals, therefore, is ‘the thrill of danger, whilst reading in the safe place of the present’. But what is steampunk? It’s a creative space where anachronistic lifestyles and technologies meet the present. Think reimagined retro technologies – such as the steam engines of the Victorian era - now incorporating elements of the futuristic to create an amazing alternative history.

Aptly, I later followed Eoin into the museum’s ‘Engine Hall’, to hear his talk to a sell-out audience of school children from across Manchester. But this wasn’t simply a talk to plug his new series of time-travelling sci-fi books. Rather, through his hilarious tales of his own life, from trying to toilet train his youngest son, to the trials of getting a teenage child to admit they love their dad, he showed the audience the fabulous stories to be found in everyday experiences. It led Shabeena Iqbal, age 12, from Abraham Moss High School, to reflect ‘I could write. I could write about my own life’. What really seemed to have an impact was Eoin Colfer’s suggestion that, unless recorded, the most interesting moments in your own life are lost, like a butterfly flying away, but that ‘if you’re a writer, you can catch that’. Later, Ben Holt, age 11, from Failsworth School, said ‘Today inspires me to keep a journal to do my own writing’.
Aisha Akhtar and Shannon Barratt's Postcard entry

Beth Harrop's Postcard entry
Eoin Colfer’s talk was followed by MMU’s own Kaye Tew announcing the winners of the Postcards from the Past Competition – a further exploration of alternative histories. More than that, the competition was also a chance to show entrants that creative writing is something we can all begin to explore. Beth Harrop, 10, winner of the 8 -12 category even confessed to me that she was ‘cheeky at the writing group’ she attended. So when she suggested her Postcard from the Past about the sinking of the Titanic be written from the perspective of the iceberg, some in her group ‘thought it might be silly’. Not so, and her winning piece was both funny and original. Another brilliant example of how literature allows us to consider history from alternative viewpoints came from Aisha Akhtar, 17, and Shannon Barratt’s, 17, joint contribution in the 16 – 18 category. Their postcard from a shift worker at the motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot was both believable and thought provoking.

Eloise Heywood's Postcard entry
Eloise Heywood, from Lancaster Girls' Grammar School, was announced as winner of the 12-16 age category of Postcards from the Past. She will be presented with her award at her school, as she was unable to attend the event. Eloise presented a beautifully written postcard from Wendy Darling to Peter Pan.

For those who had been given the writing bug by Eoin’s talk, the afternoon drew to a close with the promise of another chance to get involved with the Manchester Literature Festival and Manchester Children’s Book Festival. Kaye asked the children to imagine life in the trenches during World War One, and begin to think about what message they would send if it were possible to send ‘Tweets from Trenches’, as this will be the focus of next year’s competition. After the excitement of getting a copy of ‘W.A.R.P: The Reluctant Assassin’ signed by the author, it was time for me to finally go and get my coffee and cake. But on my way out, I spotted Pheonix Jones, age 9, from Gorse Hill Primary School. One of the youngest audience members, I was keen to know what she’d taken from the day. She summed it up brilliantly, when with a big smile on her face she replied ‘I like reading, and I like reading fairy stories. Today it made me wants to WRITE a story’.

The winner of the adult category will be announced at the MLF event, Sarah Dunant: Blood and Beauty, at the Friend's Meeting House on Wednesday, 9th October. Click here for tickets. 

Caroline Matthews is a Mancunian, wife, mother, student and writer. You can follow her @CarolBMatthews and read more of her articles on Humanities' Hallows

Monday 30 September 2013

Postcards will present the winners...

Postcards From The Past is pleased to announce that the entries of this year's competition have been read, judged and the winners finally selected. But you're not going to find out just yet.

Over 750 entries were sent in from schools across the North West. The judges said they were impressed by the range of imagination and creativity representing specific periods of the past, from Ancient Greece to the Second World War, all varying in voice and the writer's situation.

The competition was divided into 4 categories:

  • 8-12 (school years 5, 6, 7)
  • 12-16 (school years 8, 9, 10)
  • 16-18 (school years 11, 12, 13)
  • Post-school Adults (18+)

The winners of the children's categories will be announced at the People's History Museum on Monday, 7th October, at the Eoin Colfer event as part of the Manchester Literature Festival

Winners will receive 100 copies of their winning entry postcard, plus a full set of postcards from the other winning entries. 

The winner of the adult category will be announced at the MLF event, Sarah Dunant: Blood and Beauty, at the Friend's Meeting House on Wednesday, 9th October. Click here for tickets. 

Thursday 28 March 2013

The Ides of March, 44 BC, Rome.

Dearest Mother,

I do not  know if this message will reach you but Cleopatra has told me to write to you with the news. Today at the Senate, Julius Caesar was brutally murdered  and the city is in turmoil and confusion. The Queen is weeping and has disappeared into her bedchamber and closed the door. You told me once that she loved Julius Caesar when she was very young and I see this must be true. I miss Egypt, even though Rome is very splendid. There are statues everywhere and the food, though strange, is very tasty. Still, I miss our country and the wide river Nile. The Tiber is very different. I wish I had brought my old comfortable sandals with me. The Queen goes about the city and I go with her and the straps of my best sandals sometimes chafe between my toes. It's not yet very hot...not like at home, but still I am eager to be back. When I get home, the first thing I will do is greet my  beloved cats and stroke them for as long as I can.  I hope you are looking after them. They like to be brushed, too. They are as careful of their appearance as Cleopatra herself!

I send you fond love from Rome. No one knows what will become of this place now that Caesar is dead.

Your daughter,


Adelle Geras was born in Jerusalem. She has written more than 95 books for children, young adults, and adults. Her best-known books are Troy (shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize and Highly commended for the Carnegie Medal) Ithaka, Happy Ever After (previously published as the Egerton Hall Trilogy), Silent Snow, Secret Snow, and A Thousand Yards of Sea. Her novels for adults are: Facing the Light, Hester's Story, Made in Heaven, and A Hidden Life.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Postcards from the Past - From Vinci to Leonardo

5th December 1512

Dear Thomas,
A time-traveller from the 21st century has visited to tell me of the marvels of the age you live in. I am so excited to know that my ideas about flying machines really do work and are used by quite ordinary people. He also told me about the Olympic Games in London and described to me the engineering you did to make a cauldron for the Olympic Flame. Indeed, he carried a little device full of moving pictures which showed me what you had made. I just wanted to let you know how much I admired it. It is a thing both beautiful and functional. You don't need any advice from me but I'm an old man of sixty now and have learned a thing or two about inventions so I'm going to give you some -  Always finish what you start. I didn't always do that and I regret it now. Good luck!

Your friend,


Mary Hoffman was born in Hampshire and studied English Literature at Cambridge University. She has been a freelance, self-employed professional writer and journalist since the mid-90s. She was nominated for the post of Children's Laureate, 2011–2013. In total, she has written over 90 books, and now concentrates on longer books for teens, including the Stravaganza series and a new thread of historical novels.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Bringing Festival Cheer to Local Competition Winners

Words by Kate Butler

FOR the last few weeks, budding wordsmiths from across Greater Manchester have been plucking inspiration from historical characters and events, for the local-themed competition, Postcards from Christmases Past.

In a spin-off from the on-going competition, Postcards from the Past, a panel of judges from MMU sifted through sacks of entries covering a variety of festive themes, eventually agreeing on six lucky winners, who were announced on Friday.

John Herbert, 54 from Rochdale, Patricia Brock, 73 from Salford, Joseph Noble, 10 from St. John Fisher R.C Primary School, Christine Penney, 45 from Stockport, Noreen Dermody, 56 from Stretford and William West aged 62 from Chorlton, impressed the judges with their well-written, imaginative and touching messages, which are soon to be featured in their local newspapers.

From school history projects to keen postcard collectors, each individual had their own reasons for entering the competition. Each postcard uniquely encapsulated the Christmas festivities, be it through a moving story passed down through family generations, a celebration of the thriving hat industry in Denton in 1872, or whilst seeking shelter during a terrifying Christmas Eve bombing raid in 1940.

Postcards from the Past
The winners will be automatically entered in the Postcards from the Past competition, a collaboration from the Manchester Children's Book Festival and the Manchester Literature Festival. It is free to enter and open to anyone from age 8 upwards. The competition invites participants to write a postcard from a real or fictional character, which can be from any chosen time in history.  Winners will get to have their postcards designed professionally and will receive 100 copies. The the deadline is 20th July 2013, so start writing!

For more information, please visit: 

Thursday 22 November 2012

Christmas Competition with MEN Media

Postcards from Christmases Past invites readers of MEN Media local titles to submit a local-themed Christmas postcard. The best local entries will be published by the relevant MEN Media title in their Christmas editions

Were Christmases always better? Write a postcard and share your memories of Christmas in your community. Or send a postcard from a historical character or event.

Postcards should be no longer than 200 words and can be written as though from real or fictional characters. Entry is free and open to anyone aged 8 or above. 

· Simply write your postcard, attach a copy of the completed form to your postcard entry (or cut and paste the information into an email) and send it to:

· Or post a printed copy to:
  Manchester Metropolitan University, 
  Room 123, Geoffrey Manton Building,
  Rosamond Street West,
  Manchester M15 6LL 
  Click here for entry form.

Entries must be received by 12 noon on Friday 7th December 2012.
The best entries category will be published in your local paper.  If you have photographs to share, even better, but please do not send originals as we cannot guarantee to return them. If your entry is selected you will be contacted by telephone shortly after the deadline. 

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Time will tell... with postcards

TimeRiders with Alex Scarrow, Friday 5th October, 12.30pm, People’s History Museum

It’s a blustery Friday afternoon, but that hasn’t stopped 150 pupils from schools across Manchester braving the elements to meet their favourite author, Alex Scarrow, at the People’s History Museum.
Alex has also brought along copies of his thrilling time-travel adventure series, TimeRiders, in which three teenagers have cheated death and are recruited by a secret time travel agency with one purpose: to fix broken time. We listen intently as Alex reads an extract from his first book in the series, bringing the characters to life with his impressive array of dramatic voices and igniting all of our imaginations.

In keeping with the time-travel theme, Alex is also here to help us launch a brand new writing competition called ‘Postcards from the Past,’ which asks entrants to pick a year from history or research a key event, then write a postcard from the point of view of a real or fictional character. Winners of the competition will receive 100 copies of their very own, professionally illustrated and designed, postcard. To give you an example of what a potential entry might look like, Alex, together with a host of other authors, has put together a sample version. To see Alex’s entry click here. What’s different about this competition is that it’s open to everyone, aged 8 to 80!
Reflecting on his own past, Alex tells us that he previously worked as a computer games designer, every boy’s dream job, but found the commercial aspects of the industry fettered his creativity and ultimately came to the conclusion that writing was the only way he could truly bring his outlandish ideas to life. He’s not surprised that the majority of the children are familiar with the games he’s worked on, but he is a little taken aback to learn that just as many have read his books. It seems, in the battle to capture children’s imaginations, Alex’ crazy concepts are giving X-Box and PlayStation a run for their money!
Don’t just take my word for it, here’s what they had to say for themselves:
Reddish Vale pupil, Bradley Smith, thought Alex was “very inspirational. He gave me a new outlook on life and made me think about all the possibilities there are out there – time travel included!”
Holly Ashurst, from St George’s Primary School, tells us she “loved Alex’s impressions”, while fellow pupil, Oruwa Isibor, feels “inspired to go and write a book”.

The teachers were also impressed with Alex’s wild and wacky antics, which seem to have inspired a whole new generation of budding authors.  Matthew Whoriskey, from Reddish Vale, thinks that Alex gave an “inspirational and energetic talk that thoroughly engaged my pupils. I am excited about their entries for the competition and look forward to the fantastic work they will produce.”
Navigating my way through a sea of pupils, all waiting eagerly to have their books and postcards signed, I finally get the opportunity to steal a second or two with Alex to capture his thoughts on today’s event: “I have really enjoyed meeting the pupils this afternoon. They have inspired me with their enthusiasm for reading and writing. This just goes to show how important it is for children to meet authors, and literary festivals like this are a perfect opportunity to do just that.”  There’s no doubt that the pupils here share his sentiments, as they scuttle away, in search of exhibits around the People’s History Museum to draw inspiration from.
The 2012 book festival was a huge success and MCBF are delighted to be able to continue working with the Manchester Literature Festival to provide children with exciting author events and writing competitions.

To receive details of other schools events and projects, email and we’ll add you to our mailing list. 

The full information for Postcards from the past is on (including sample postcards, posters and the entry form).