Margaret Atwood celebrated the 20th Annual Word on the Street festival with a technological twist. Known for her invention of the LongPen, a multimedia device which allows her to remotely sign autographs and talk to fans, Atwood has gone one step further on the book tour for her latest novel, The Year of the Flood.
Sunday September 27, she appeared virtually in Vancouver and Halifax from the Scotiabank Bestsellers Stage at Word on the Street, Toronto. After a reading from her novel, Atwood answered questions from fans in Halifax, Vancouver and finally, from the live Toronto audience.
The images of Vancouver and Halifax looked grainy and there were some difficulties with the sound in Vancouver but the experiment inspired plenty of applause. As Atwood put it, the LongPen is "a way of connecting with people across space." For her, all technology is "neutral," an extension of "human bodies, human desires and fears."
Atwood has taken to blogging and to composing Twitter Tweets to promote this latest book, a companion to her Oryx and Crake which came out in 2003. With her characteristic wit, Atwood promised those participating in the coast-to-coast reading: "You will all be mentioned in this blog, although possibly not individually."
Flood revisits the same post-apocalyptic world as Oryx and Crake, but this time, the point-of-view characters are female. Part of the inspiration, Atwood said, came from people asking her why she had used a male protagonist in that novel.
When asked a general question about sources of inspiration, Atwood hesitated. Instead of giving the usual laundry-list of influences, she cited all the books she read between the ages of five and sixteen as triggers for the desire to write. Once you begin writing, she explained, it becomes less a question of inspiration than being immersed in the process.
Where do her characters come from? She is often inspired by a plot that seems to be going somewhere. Beginning with a situation and using a kind of actor's improvisation, Atwood builds, layers by layer, until the character emerges.