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.