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

Synopsis

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

Hamnet Q&A #Hamnet #MaggieOFarrell #VirtualEvent #Writing #NewBook

A Q&A featuring Maggie O’Farrell about her new book Hamnet and more…

I joined to watch this insightful Q&A with Maggie O’Farrell. Her latest book is Hamnet, available now. For those wondering who she is or what Hamnet is about, here is a quick introduction and blurb, before I get onto the event.

Maggie O’Farrell is the author of the Sunday Times no. 1 bestselling memoir I AM, I AM, I AM, and eight novels: AFTER YOU’D GONE, MY LOVER’S LOVER, THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US, which won a Somerset Maugham Award, THE VANISHING ACT OF ESME LENNOX, THE HAND THAT FIRST HELD MINE, which won the 2010 Costa Novel Award, INSTRUCTIONS FOR A HEATWAVE, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Costa Novel Award,  THIS MUST BE THE PLACE, which was shortlisted for the 2016 Costa Novel Award, and HAMNET.
She lives in Edinburgh.

Blurb For Hamnet

Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week.

Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; a flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.

Hamnet

The Main Event

It was interesting to hear that Maggie O’Farrell gets editorial feedback from her husband. So she doesn’t really tell her husband too much about what book she is working on or indeed chat much about a book until it is finished. She went onto talking about how all writing is personal, but decided harsh feedback can be in the best interest to either cut a character or to see if it can be made better.

Why Write Hamnet?

She decided to write Hamnet because she studied Hamlet in Scottish Highers and was intrigued by the symmetry of the play’s name Hamlet and Shakespeare’s son. She was interested in the fact that there is so little known about Shakespeare, but the fact that the play (and in fact one of his most popular and enduring plays), was named after his dead son, so she wanted to bring his son more to the forefront. It sounded like she had an interest in writing this story for quite some time.

Research

In the research, she found most interesting in the gaps as there is a lot of potential to fill them. Research was library based and she discovered that he probably would have walked 4 or 5 days between Stratford and London.

She did some physical research. This included, cultivating her own medicinal garden and making bread as in Tudor time to really get a feel for and experience what that was like for research purposes for her book.

She talked about, with research, you need to know more than you actually put down on the page on the book, so it doesn’t feel like any essay or clunky.

Crafting her voice

How long it took her to craft her voice, she doesn’t feel she has ever completely nailed it, but that keeps her writing.

She found it awhile to pinpoint where in the chronology of Shakespeare where to start to write. It sounds like it took a few attempts, but then she found the pinpoint of where to start the story, the voice came.

Setting and Shakespeare (or not)

The setting is of course Stratford-upon-Avon, which she did travel down to (it really is a very long way from Edinburgh), but it was an effort she made.

For a chapter about an infected flea, Maggie O’Farrell tried to imagine what it was like in Warwickshire and what it was like for the plague to spread through the place and coming into your house. She then researched the trade routes and also how it travelled. 

Shakespeare is not mentioned by name in the book because everyone has a sense of him and wanted to ask readers to think about him again and to see another side of him. She reckoned a lot of Shakespeare’s drama happened, not all on stage, but in the time with his son and she didn’t want him to be the focus of the book, when it is about Hamnet.

Routines and Challenges

She tries to do something new with every book and sets herself challenges and creates almost like hurdles to go over.

For writing, she doesn’t really have a routine. She has sometimes a big surge of inspiration that is followed by a bit of a fall, but thinks both is useful to get words on paper and then it can be looked at critically and then writing can be edited.

She wrote a memoir, but not all in chronological order. She wrote diaries, but didn’t look back at them when writing the memoir. There are gaps that she didn’t want to divulge everything or write someone else’s narrative.

What’s Coming Next

Maggie O’Farrel has a children’s book coming out around the autumn. A girl wakes up one night and a snow angel has come into her bedroom. It will be a bit like a modern fairytale.

Hamnet

A talk with Anne Cleeves and a Librarian. Interviewed by william1shaw @WilliamShaw #AnneCleeves @rosie_vietch #Vera #Shetland #librarians #Event #FreeEvent

I watched later on online an event hosted by William Shaw featuring renowned and popular author of Vera and Shetland – Anne Cleeves and a librarian from Cambridgeshire libraries. For Anne Cleeves fans, you may be delighted to know that she has new books for you to get your teeth into.

Anne Cleeves is working on the follow up to The Long Call (a Matthew Venn book). The Darkest Evening is the latest Vera book. She talks of Matthew Venn being gay, not to be political or anything and a gay couple whom she knows and how she is just had them on her mind at the time of creating this character.

Anne talks about growing up in North Devon and the strong community. It sounds a happy time, growing up there in her teens and talks of friendships and special times, so feels she can write about there. It’s always interesting to hear snippets like this.

Anne Cleeves and William Shaw talked about tv. It’s interesting to hear how close to the books Brenda Blethyn is to the books and how Anne Cleeves is invited on set, which I think sounds really nice.

Readers may find interesting that Anne Cleeves alternates between the series of books when writing and doesn’t plot so far in advance.

It’s talked about crime writing being in a golden age, especially for those who write prolifically. Reginald Hill (Dalziel and Pascoe series) is how Rosie Veitch started reading crime. I think that’s a good choice. He is a great writer and an author who really would appeal to any adult age group. It is also worth noting that authors such as Ian Rankin really rate him too. So, worth trying out, if you haven’t already.  It’s quite a big series, so enough to keep people going and always well-written.

Reginald Hill

Watch out for Anne Cleeves earwigging in your conversations, sounds like bits may end up in a book, so many writers get ideas from people and conversations and places round about them.

Rosie Vietch works in Cambridgeshire. Of course it is strange for her as we fight to keep libraries open (fight be the word) and librarians are now doing work online like virtual meetings, virtual coffee break (take it from me, library staff like their tea and coffee).
Rosie Vietch likes Anne Cleeves books and how every voice for each series is different. I’ve heard people say this before.

Rosie Veitch and William Shaw talked at the beginnng of their chat, about libraries and how libraries have lots of magazines, newspapers, audiobooks and e-books and catalogue searching to see what to choose. Although Rosie Veitch talks about extending things public libraries offer, don’t always expect it from community libraries for so many reasons, that I could go on about from experience working in both the public libraries (paid) and community libraries (unpaid), but it would take away from my piece here about the people within it, as Rosie also talks about lovely childhood books.

Rosie Vietch has gone back to reading Mallory Tower and The Chalet School. It seems in times of crisis, some people tend to go to a place they feel most comfortable with. I will say they are lovely books in my opinion and I remember reading them in my tweens and early teen years too.

Secrets-Book-11-Malory-Towers-by-Blyton-Enid-Book-The-Cheap-Fast-Free-Post                                                        The Coming of Age of the Chalet School by Brent-Dyer, Elinor M. Paperback Book

Coming up in next couple of days, if you were to tune in, is Adam Higgenbottom talking about a non-fiction book about Chernobyl. Rebecca Waite called Our Fathers’.

Click here for the link for the talk: The Whole Talk

You may also want to check out some books by William Shaw too. Here is just a few.

Talk with William Shaw and Jo Spain@william1shaw @SpainJoanne @sophieglorita #bookevent #TheLockdown #MondayMotivaton #CrimeFiction

Today author William Shaw was joined by Dublin based author and scriptwriter Jo Spain. Normally I take notes and then write it up like a day later or so, but I thought I would write as I watched and get it published as soon after as I could, so advance apologies if it all looks a bit rushed or doesn’t quite read as well in parts.

Crime writer and scriptwriter. Did an original show for RTE. She is doing a few author’s books for screen.

A book and screen are two different things in the way they are worked it would seem, Completely different in fact as it’s all about showing and also everyone in the tv production saying what is required. 

So far things have come quickly to screen for Jo Spain.

Sophie and First Monday Crime – going for about 5 years. They do book recommendations and Q&As. They talk about accessible films too and watch a film together. This is something everyone can join in with. Here is the link for First Monday Crime

They talked about having to be creative to connect and how work is still going on with how to publicise books and with some bookshops closing. I will add here that there are a number of independent bookshops now trading online.

Ssix-wicked-reasons-jo-spain-9781529400274ix Wicked Reasons is a new book by Jo Spain – locked room set on the east coast of Ireland in a grand country house. The head of the household has been killed. They are all coming home for a family celebration as someone disappeared years ago, but returns. The reasons for the murder emerges. It sounds like if you like Agatha Christie, you will enjoy this. There’s a psychological/sociological element and a sense of realism about it with characters you can care about, even though there is a narcissistic father who leaves damage within the family in different ways. The characters sound like people who you’re really going to get to know and why they are how they are and how they are individually marked.

After the Fire
After the fireTom Reynolds is a Chief Super Intendant – this is part of a series, so this is where he eventually becomes promoted to. He has a difference that there is still investigation work. 

 

 

 

 

Sophie talks about an area in London – rainy and quiet. Sadly some boy racers but nature seems lovely with wild garlic.

How Dublin is feeling is maybe strained with homeschooling and little time to write but in general liking daily exercise maybe and not too fazed and having interviews and online drink parties.

Publishing has got good at changing shape and adapting with different circumstances, still conservative in some ways with a flexible industry. More online launches have been pushed by some in marketing with online streaming given the circumstances. They talked about there being scope for different ways of accessing events. I myself love and much prefer to go to an actual book event/festival, but in the circumstance of this, I think it is fine and opens it up to others, who may then try some festivals or other more local events if the huge events aren’t local to you.

With our Blessing by Jo Spain is one to begin with, but can be read as stand-alone too. Dirty Little Secrets is published in May.

Check out William Shaw on FB for other events, if you would like to, (his profile pic is of his book Deadlands). 

The Stay at Home Festival – Running from now until 11th April #BookFestival #OnlineBookFestival #SocialDistancing #StayAtHomeFestival #Festivals

After seeing a call for bloggers from Janet Emson to be part of The Stay at Home Festival with From First Page to Last, I decided to join in. You can too as an audience member, right from the comfort of your own home. There are many author events between now and 11th April for you to enjoy of all different genres. It’s a bit like a library event in a way. If you’ve never heard or read anything from the author, then now is the opportunity to give someone new a chance as it is for free. If there’s an author you love, now is an opportunity to see them talk about their latest work and more… Why not sit back and relax and watch an event unfold that you weren’t expecting, whilst staying at home.

From First Page to Last

This is one of the bookish activities I am taking part in, along with my usual book reviews. Many authors have seen events and entire festivals cancelled, so they have gone online. This is for free and it would be really great if you can support them.  Any time I attend one either from here or elsewhere over the internet I will be blogging about it to support authors.

Find below the link that will take you to the relevant page, for a scheduling list and links to access each event. 

From First Page to Last

Re-blog post of Bloody Scotland – Mark Billingham and Richard Osman – 2 Entertaining, Warm Authors, 1 now published, the other is coming – 5 Star Review @Richardosman #TheThursdayMurderClub #TheirLittleSecret #BloodyScotland #Pointless

In light of the fact that there has been a cover reveal for Richard Osman’s new book – The Thursday Murder Club – published September 2020. I thought I would re-publish my review of his talk, when he was at Bloody Scotland in Stirling, to give you a glimpse of what was said. I must say, this is a book I am super excited about on the account that instincts tell me it’s going to be a very good book indeed. The premise of it sounds excellent and I am pretty sure that will translate well on the pages of the book.

Bloody Scotland
Mark Billingham in Conversation with Richard Osman
Rated: 5 Stars *****

The weather was warm and sunny on Saturday 21st September 2019 when I attended Bloody Scotland in Stirling. One of the greatest crime festivals, which also showcases new authors as well as the well-known ones. I was in for an amazing night and as my blog turned 1 year old, it was lovely to be able to be back at Bloody Scotland, where I wrote my first blog post.

I went to see Richard Osman and Mark Billingham in conversation. First up was Daniel James for the spotlight section, which gives new authors a chance to talk about their books and read an excerpt. First impressions were that his book – The unauthorised biography of Ezra Mass sounds intriguing and dark.

The main event was Richard Osman and Mark Billingham in conversation with each other. If you ever get a chance to see these two, go for it. You’ll be in for a highly entertaining time and they are both warm and very kind. What I liked too was the way they both seemed to have genuine respect for each other, even when they were ribbing each other about things, but it all seemed to be in good humour,the way that could only be done if someone knew each other well. It was a lovely atmosphere.

Richard Osman, who has produced many popular tv shows, such as 8 out of 10 Cats etc, presents quizzes and been a panelist on shows such as Have I Got News For You etc and can currently be seen presenting Pointless alongside Alexander Armstrong. He has a new fictional book called The Thursday Murder Club. Be aware that it amazingly isn’t published until September 2020. I felt very privileged to be part of an audience to hear so much about it, so far in advance. It is set in an enclosed retirement type of place with the main characters being in a gang of 4 in their 70s and because they are of an age they can get away with practically anything.  It was described  as having a cosy setting but very funny, moving and razor-sharp. Mark Billingham praised Richard Osman about how readers will get to know the characters quickly and of them being likeable. They talked about how there isn’t much police procedural but lots of cakes feature. I quickly decided that this is a book that I would like very much to read and would be happy to review. It seems to have an interesting premise and good “ingredients” to it.

It was so interesting hearing about how Richard Osman has always been a fan of crime fiction and how he always wanted to write and how he and Mark Billingham got together and about a lunch. It sounded like a great lunch, full of amazing opportunity.

It was fascinating to hear about the huge gap between writing and having a book published and on shelves and the public reading it and how with tv, the reaction is more instant. It wasn’t anything I’d ever heard authors talk about at events. There seemed to be great honesty spoken of. Other authors of course talk honestly too, but sometimes of different things. They spoke well and so openly about how authors, whether they are new or been writing for a while have some self-doubt and how so many wonder if their work is actually un-publishable. This wasn’t spoken of in a negative light as people may have expected, rather in a more positive one in some ways.

As for books, Richard Osman admitted that he didn’t read a book until 21. Just shows that no one is too old to pick up a book and start reading. He also talked about how contemporary fiction led to crime fiction and about writing something that is commercial.

Mark Billingham’s latest book is Their Little Secret. Already, it’s an intriguing title.

Tom Thorne is the award-winning Mark Billingham’s main  character and this is the 17th in the series. He has also written short stories, stand alone stories and a non-fiction book. He, alongside crime authors such as Val McDermid, is a member of the singing group – Fun Lovin Writers.

Richard Osman said of it that it was extraordinary how he moves the characters on and also praised about how it was detailed and modern. The interesting thing here was that Mark Billingham talked about the twists and all the other tricks and armour up crime writer’s sleeves, but reckoned the quieter moments were exciting too.

How they plan was discussed. The fact is they don’t really plan, compared to other authors. Everyone is different, which is exciting. It was interesting to hear of the challenges posed when that debut novel is out there and the second novel is being created and the differences between that and furthering a series, as well as reflecting what is going on in the world, especially if something major happens.

Mark Billingham spoke of where he got his inspiration from and so did Richard Osman and I won’t say what it is as the material that could be used in many talks, but there was a moment when Mark was telling of something extraordinary happening that really made me shudder and I am sure I wasn’t the only one to in the audience.

They both spoke of their love of creating books and it became clear that this was genuine by the way they spoke. Richard Osman talked about how he loves being a sidekick on the likes of Pointless but also loves the solitude of writing and of being part of the crime writing community and how lovely people are. I have to say that I too have found that authors are lovely and it was at Bloody Scotland a year ago when I started my blog and then went to another crime festival from there and even though they write about murder etc, the authors, I have found to be generous and very nice indeed.

It was interesting seeing their personalities being totally shown and hearing how hard they work and how pressures often come from themselves. Something I too can relate to. I often think that if you’re going to do something, you might as well try to do it to the best of your ability. Richard Osman also spoke candidly of being an introvert. I think he does amazingly well and it is inspiring how he still puts himself out there to do something, like being on the stage to do this talk or on tv. Sometimes it is just something that has to be done to acheive something, again something else relatable. 

Richard Osman is now working on his second novel, which he spoke a little of and I am already interested in what may happen to his characters and the first book isn’t even available yet. A whole year to wait! I’ll just need to try and be patient. Mark Billingham is working on a prequel to his series. At least there’s already one of his to be getting on with.

There was much fun to be had with a game of guessing author’s ages and it was Mark Billingham v the audience. All the way through the event there was much fun to be had as these men are sharp and are great at the humour as well as the serious and mix it up so well.

All in all I am looking forward to reading Mark Billingham’s book, who I thank for signing and writing such an encouraging message. I look forward to Richard Osman’s book being released and I hope he returns to Bloody Scotland when it is. I also thank Richard Osman for allowing me to talk to him briefly. I thank the two of them for such an excellent evening.

So, I will conclude in saying thanks and that I highly recommend to anyone to see these kind, talented and warm gentlemen and I hope that I get the opportunity to see them again. I also hope Bloody Scotland invites Richard Osman back when his book is actually published.