Shaping A Better Future – A talk from the Edinburgh Book Festival Online. #EdBookFest #ValMcDermid #JoSharp #Leila Aboulela #JoClifford #DougJohnson

Shaping A Better Future
An Edinburgh Book Festival Talk

I love the Edinburgh Festivals and thought I would write some of the events up as they are now online, some pre-recorded and others live.

Imagine a country in some way that you would like it to be, seemed to be the theme. There was talk and short bursts of song (at speaking level). It was an interesting and thought-provoking and in some ways, encouraging talk by a diverse panel. It was all socially distanced, some in the same room in Charlotte St. Gardens and others on screens from their homes. The only audience was that of whom were watching online.
I have written a piece of who the hosts and panelists are and then about what they discussed for the book they have been involved in producing – Imagine A Country.

Hosts – Val McDermid and Jo Sharp
Panelists – Leila Aboulela, Jo Clifford, Doug Johnson.

Val McDermid is one of the biggest names in crime writing. (latest book is Still Life). Her novels have been translated into 40 languages, sold over 16 million copies worldwide. She has won many awards. Has been elected a Fellow of both the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. She is the recipient of six honorary doctorates and is an Honorary Fellow of St Hilda’s College, Oxford. She writes full-time and divides her time between Edinburgh and East Neuk of Fife.

Jo Sharp – A University Professor of Geography and also editor, along with Val McDermid of the book – “Imagine A Country.

Leila AboulelaA critically accalimed author, whose work has been also included in some cultural education programmes.

Jo Clifford – A successful playwright who is credited for “putting the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh on the map.”

Doug Johnson – A successful author (latest book is The Big Chill). Johnstone has a degree in physics, a PhD in nuclear physics and a diploma in journalism. Before embarking on his literary career, he designed radar and missile guidance systems for military aircraft.

Imagine a Country cover


The first step on the road to change is to imagine possibility. Imagine A Country offers visions of a new future from an astonishing array of Scottish voices, from comedians to economists, writers to musicians. Edited, curated and introduced by bestselling author Val McDermid and geographer Jo Sharp, it is a collection of ideas, dreams and ambitions, aiming to inspire change, hope and imagination. Featuring: ALI SMITH, PHILL JUPITUS, A.L. KENNEDY, ALAN CUMMING, KERRY HUDSON, GREG HEMPHILL, CAROL ANN DUFFY, CHRIS BROOKMYRE, ALISON WATT, ALASDAIR GRAY, LEILA ABOULELA, IAN RANKIN, SELINA HALES, SANJEEV KOHLI, JACKIE KAY, DAMIAN BARR, ELAINE C. SMITH, ABIR MUKHERJEE, ANNE GLOVER, ALAN BISSETT, LOUISE WELSH, JO CLIFFORD, RICKY ROSS, 

Imagine a Country cover

About the Book – Imagine A Country From Discussion

Imagine A Country sounds like a good conversation starter. It has many contributers, who were invited to write something about what they would like to see. It is essentially a short essay collection, that is quite eclectic in some ways, with the range of subjects, under this one title. There was a brief given and as far as I could tell, it also had to be positive. It may also have been dreamt up in the pub, but let’s face it, maybe there are a number of people who have ideas in places, where you might not expect, I know I do. Contributors were given one month to submit their work. They wanted many writers to come up with something, so it became a collection of ideas and not just 1 story. No politicians were asked to contribute as it was decided not to have the sort of political agenda that they would likely give.  They chose people that had a range of “voices”, Jo Sharp says and that you may encounter some that you haven’t before.

The proceeds of the book goes towards some charities, such as The Book Trust and more.

Val read from Ali Smith’s contribution. It’s interesting about young people forging ahead in time and old songs. It’s moving and has passion within it. It’s also about rebellion and restarting anew to create a better place. It is about people and nature starting anew and creating something better and remembering the things that have been lost. It serves as reminder that there’s “Only One Planet Earth” (sang by Val McDermid to the tune of Guantanamera). It’s a story for those who care.

Some of the contributions include:

Stuart Cosgrove, wrote why there is no public to mourn and thinks there ought to be.

Chris Brookmyre did a piece about wanting philosophy to be taught in primary schools.

Lin Anderson wrote about a landscape for all. Some other writers also echoed this.

Doug Johnson thinks the care for landscape should include more outdoor learning.

Some think there should be more done with the arts.

There are people who talk about creating better places for pedestrians and cyclists.

There are people who talk in the book about disability, homeless and more…

What the guests for the purpose of the talk discussed.

Leila Aboulelashe talked about holidays and public holidays. I love that she loves all of the holidays and reckons more public holidays for a better life and seems to really understand the benefits. She talks about how we don’t need to shop 24/7 and how more days off gives people a good break. She thinks the 4 day working week would be better for sustainability. She compared the UK with different countries and how those with 4 day working weeks have better productivity and how the UK work more for less.

She talked about how working from home works and wonders if there is a need for the commute. It’s interesting how it is debatable as work and home can merge a lot. Val McDermid chipped in about how it could be good to share out the work as there is less to go around.

Jo Clifford – discussed what if you can imagine a country, even if it is hard, that doesn’t have people disrespecting each other and being angry. The piece is about respect the words we use and that everyone has a right to be different. It is also about the origin of some words and how this has changed over the years, such as the word “idiot” wasn’t always a word of insult. It is also about the beauty of some words too.

Doug Johnston  talked about being a writer and how to combat being stuck in a rut and can easily get out to improve his mental health. It’s more an essay of how he thinks regular exposure and some outdoor learning and talks about his own children going to one of those outdoor places from a primary 7 trip for a week. He thinks more needs to be done, so it isn’t just once and unaffordable for some.
He said it came about by his own lifestyle and how easily it can be for him as a writer to not go out and about as it were. His wife also works for an outdoor learning place.

It seems to be a sort of motivational book, to at least think about what sort of world you want and Val McDermid then says people “should hold politician’s feet to the fire”.

All in all, it was a better talk than what I was expecting, in terms of content. I knew it would most likely be delivered well, which it was. The book can be bought from the Edinburgh Book Festival Bookshop, Amazon, Waterstones


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