|Eoin Colfer with ‘Postacards From The Past’ Winners,
Aisha Akhtar, 17, Eoin Colfer, Beth Harrop, 10, Shannon Barrett, 17.
This was to be the first collaborative event between the Manchester Literature Festival and the Manchester Children’s Book Festival, so it 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 re-imagining of a moment of world or literary history, as told by a real or fictional character.
But the coffee and cake would have to wait, because at the next table sat Eion Colfer himself, who’s new book W.A.R.P: The Reluctant Assassin is itself a re-imagining 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 re-imagined 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 him 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 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.
This led Shabeena Iqbal, 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, 11, from Failsworth School, said ‘Today inspires me to keep a journal to do my own writing’.
Eoin Colfer’s talk was followed by MMU’s Kaye Tew announcing the winners of the Postcards from the Past competition – a further exploration of alternative histories. Moreover, 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 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 17-year-olds Aisha Akhtar and Shannon Barratt’s 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.
Caroline Matthews is a Mancunian, wife, mother, student and writer. You can follow her on Twitter @CarolBMatthews