Citizen Writers and Edinburgh College of Art: Deliverances from Death

At the end of last year, our Citizen Writers collaborated with illustration students from Edinburgh College of Art to create a set of postcards, inspired by The University of Edinburgh’s Alice Thornton’s Books Project. Eleanor Thom, our Citizen Writer in Residence shares her reflections on the project, ‘Deliverances from Death’ here. 

One of the most exciting things about writing is feeling like an explorer. You often end up researching things you never even thought about before. At the end of last year, something like this happened when the Citizen Writers encountered the Alice Thornton’s Books project ( based in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at Edinburgh University. Alice Thornton (1626-1707), was a Yorkshire woman who wrote at least four books of her life.

The Citizen Writers often write from life, so they were interested to know more about Alice Thornton, who recorded her experiences over 300 years ago: What motivated her? Who inspired her? What themes did she write about? Why did she write four different versions of her life story? Was it a bit like a 17th-century version of updating your Facebook status?

There is one dramatic type of event in Thornton’s books that the group particularly loved, Alice Thornton’s recounting hundreds of her ‘deliverances from death’. 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.

We ended up with over forty deliverances. What was so interesting was that many of them fell into categories that I could recognise in Thornton’s deliverances as well, and we had a great variety of stories, from humorous incidents to genuinely scary near-fatal events. Some events were recent, while others happened in childhood.

The group’s modern stories were shared with the Alice Thornton’s Books team, who invited the Citizen Writers for a talk one evening at Edinburgh University. The group met with project principal investigator Professor Cordelia Beattie, co-investigator Professor Suzanne Trill, and project post-doctorate Dr Jo Edge, and compared their stories with Thornton’s. They found out more about Thornton and other early modern female writers. The group was also excited to hear about the research team’s forthcoming digital release of all of Thornton’s books. Soon, anyone will be able to read Alice Thornton’s writing for free via the project website ( A sample of her Book 1 is already available.

The Citizen Writers’ collection of stories seemed like a perfect match for an illustration project, so it was wonderful to be able to pair the writers with Edinburgh College of Art’s illustration students. Everyone was delighted with the results of this collaboration, and the idea of making our postcards two-sided, with an illustration on one side, and a story on the other. We also had a really enjoyable visit to ECA to meet the artists and find out how they created their illustrations.

Deliverances from Death is collaboration between Edinburgh International Book Festival’s Citizen Writing Group and illustration students from Edinburgh College of Art. This project was inspired by The University of Edinburgh’s Alice Thornton’s Books project (

Thank you to the Players of People’s Postcode Lottery and the PLACE fund for making this collaboration possible.

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