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A pale yellow background, with a series of pink arms and hands reaching in to the centre, each holding an orange. They form a ring, and in the middle is a white outline of a baby, with a little red heart, lying on a blue mattress, in a red cot, seen from above.

Third year illustration students from ECA have collaborated with the Citizen Writers group of Edinburgh International Book Festival on a project inspired by the work of seventeenth-century author Alice Thornton.

Alice, who lived from 1626 to 1707, left behind several autobiographical accounts, giving a rich depiction of her own life and the world in which she lived. Her life and work are the subject of a collaborative research project being undertaken by a team of academics from the University of Edinburgh, in partnership with Durham Cathedral. They aim to create an online digital edition of all four of her autobiographical manuscripts, encouraging their greater recognition and study.

The manuscripts relate what the researchers have termed a ‘riches to rags’ story – raised in a life of relative comfort, living through the Irish Rebellion and the English Civil War, and later experiencing financial precarity after husband William died in debt, leaving her to raise their children alone. Described in her writings are a series what Alice depicts as near-death experiences, starting at the age of three when she tripped on a hearth stone and cut her head open.

The Book Festival’s Citizen Writers group, led by Citizen Writer in Residence Eleanor Thom, encountered the work of the researchers and were fascinated…

Who could fail to be inspired by Thornton’s recalling of ships in storms, hair-raising incidences of food poisoning and falls from swings? There are fires, rebellion, a cannonball, the pox, a pet chicken that pecks poor Alice in the eye, and on top of all that, she gives birth to nine children.

I wouldn’t normally suggest to a group to ‘write about a time you nearly died’, but the Citizen Writers said this was a brilliant prompt. So, with the caveat that this could be approached with humour (and some of Alice Thornton’s deliverances do make modern readers chuckle), the writing began. The writers deliberately kept stories short, thinking one side of a postcard would be ideal. This echoes Alice Thornton’s deliverances, many of which are written up in brief.

Eleanor Thom

Citizen Writer in Residence, Edinburgh International Book Festival

With more than 40 accounts of their own written, the Citizen Writers shared the Deliverances from Death project with the Alice Thornton’s Books team, who invited them to a talk at the University of Edinburgh, where they had the chance to compare their stories with Thornton’s.

They then linked up with ECA illustration students, who created their own work based on these new stories of deliverance.

The works have now been turned into postcards, each with an illustration on one side and the story on the other, and ECA was pleased to host the writers on a visit to find out how the illustrations had been created. The postcards will be distributed at the North Edinburgh Community Festival in May, as well as being given to the writers and illustrators.

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