October 28, 2009 / 11:16 AM / 8 years ago

Margaret Atwood on tweeting and touring new book

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - On the verge of her 70th birthday, Booker prize-winning Canadian author Margaret Atwood is forging into new territory to promote her latest novel “The Year of the Flood.”

<p>Canadian author and poet Margaret Atwood attends an interview with Reuters on the roof at Waterstones in London September 3, 2009.REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth</p>

She is blogging, tweeting, peddling ringtones through the website yearoftheflood.com and will run a YouTube competition.

Reuters TV Technology Correspondent Matt Cowan spoke to Atwood on a rooftop just off London’s Piccadilly Circus.

Q: HOW DID YOU GET HERE?

A: I‘m zero-footprinting the entire thing. Zero footprint is a carbon offset and carbon-reduction design company, so they will not only tell you how much you’re using but tell you how to use less and offset what you do use.

Q: DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU‘RE MAKING A DIFFERENCE WITH THIS GREEN BOOK TOUR?

A: First of all, the problem is huge so me individually making a difference? Doubtful. Getting some ideas out? Yes. Raising a bit of money and quite a lot of awareness for our RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), Birdlife International, the mess we’re in - quite a bit.

Q: THAT SOUNDS LIKE A WARNING ABOUT OUR BLIND BELIEF IN TECHNOLOGY AND PROGRESS.

A: Technology is a morally neutral thing. It’s a tool. It does to some extent form us. It affects how we behave. For instance, if we didn’t have computers, you and I wouldn’t have met through Twitter. Someone asked me today, well isn’t Twitter this stupid thing that’s dumbing down everything? I said, no you’re confusing it with writing. It’s not writing, it’s signaling. Put it in the same category as the telegraph, the semaphore flags, the smoke signals.

Q: IT HAS CAUGHT A LOT OF PEOPLE‘S ATTENTION THAT YOU ARE ON TWITTER.

A: I know, they find it disjunctive, but why do they? I talk on the phone. Why would I not give it a try?

Q: THE IDEA OF A BOOKER PRIZE-WINNING AUTHOR, POET AND ESSAYIST REDUCED TO 140 CHARACTERS IS SURPRISING TO SOME.

A: It’s seeing how small you can get it. Like any other art spectrum - you know, pictures go from miniatures to huge murals. So, it’s the same with writing. It can be small, it can be big. Twitter isn’t writing, it’s signaling. It could be writing. In fact, I thought of doing something like John Cage’s symphony that will be played over 100 years. You could put a word a day on to the ‘twit’, or ‘tweet’?

Q: SO HOW HAS THE TOUR ITSELF BEEN GOING? IN EVERY CITY, YOU PICK UP YOUR ACTORS LOCALLY.

A: It goes like this, I arrive, I walk into the rehearsal and I think ‘oh no, it’s never going to work’ and then it comes together.

Q: WOULD YOU RECOMMEND IT?

A: How much do you want to live on the edge? How anxious do you wish to be every day? Would I recommend it to others? You can only do it with certain kinds of books but as a way of involving other people, it’s terrific and letting them as it were, letting them play in your sand box and make what they will of it. Did you ever go to summer camp?

Q: YOU ARE REINVENTING THE BOOK TOUR. ARE YOU INTERESTED IN REWORKING THE BOOK ITSELF, THE TECHNOLOGY OF THE BOOK?

A: There are a couple of things coming up which could have some good effect. One of them is the print on demand machine. I understand that they’ve now got it so that it no longer looks kind of shoddy when it comes out the other end. It actually looks good. Think of what that would save. It would save the trucks driving the books across country. It would save running out of books. It would save overprinting. It would save sending them all back. It would save things that have bedeviled the book publishing industry.

Q: WOULD YOU BE INTERESTED IN RELEASING BOOKS PIECEMEAL ELECTRONICALLY TO A PAYING AUDIENCE?

A: You mean going back to Dickens’ kind of serial novels? Dickens wrote in what were called numbers and the numbers were usually three chapters and they were like little pamphlets. People would buy them by the number which would mean there was always a great suspense factor. That’s why his novels are the way they are. Every three chapters, or so, there’s a cliffhanger and you wonder what’s going to happen next and then you had to wait a whole week or two weeks before you got the next one. Could you do it over the internet and have people subscribe to it? Subscribe to the numbers the way they used to subscribe to books in circulating libraries, which was partly how they financed the printing of the books then. You could do that. Stephen King tried it, possibly a bit too early. It might work a bit better now. What you are always bedeviled by on the internet is how to pay. How you do what I just learned we call “back-end fulfillment.” (laughs)

Q: WITH THE YEAR OF THE FLOOD YOU REVISIT THE WORLD WE FIRST GLIMPSED IN ORYX AND CRAKE. WHY DID YOU RETURN TO IT?

A: I felt like there were a lot of parts of that world that I hadn’t explored and questions that I would like to know the answers to and the Oryx and Crake is told from the point of view of one person who is speaking from within the elite, he’s grown up within it. So I wanted to go into that area where everything is for sale and life is pretty no-holds barred and follow the gods gardeners to see what that anti-system religion would be like in the future.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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