Thursday, March 12, 2009

EAILF Margaret Atwood

Here are my notes from Margaret Atwood at the Emirates Airlines International Festival of Literature.

The first topic was the ‘banned book’ by Geraldine Bedell. Margaret said it took her five days to track down sources. There was no launch planned she just hadn’t been invited like many other writers. In the end Margaret went with the meaning of the word banned. Something happened but it wasn’t what people thought.

She would much rather be here in the sun. Margaret asked what’s the line between taste and censorship or call it sensibility and censorship.

What motivated her writing? What’s it like to go into a new book? She said it’s dark and then it get lighter.

She spoke about her path to becoming a writer back in the 1950s. She said she had very little real choice. She began writing with pen and paper – she cannot type. She now uses a computer as she she can correct without the little white brush. Her mother comment when told that her daughter was going to be a writer – you had better learn to spell and Margaret’s reply was other’s will do it for me.

Everybody comes from somewhere…write from that…the weather, the economy, the history, the language – all enter into who you are as a writer. Then she comment on the fact that being short she had a distinct point of view as she saw things differently than a tall person.

Who you are is all part of your writing.

Labels publishers use can be helpful but limit. They think its helpful as a marketing tool. Bookseller need to know where do I put this?

Quality transcends genre. Using the title literary limits interest.

Asks if she was starting now – she would despair as it is all marketing led. Publishing is not a business it is an art or a craft with a business element.

All books are unique. She likes to write book by book. For new authors it is tough to sell this way. Today you have to make money. Publishers in the past were willing to invest time and money in developing a writer – they are less willing to do this now. Writers are now much more living hand to mouth. It is brutal now.

She writes in many varieties yet most are pigeonholed. She can do this because she is old and no one has told her any different. She has had a free field – no structures.

Her ideas come from Shakespeare, history, politics….Her new novel’s title is The Year of the Flood. It took 15 titles before they settled on that one which they felt would stand the transatlantic divide however the covers will be different.

The question came from the audience about hope for the future. She said the questions she received in the 70’s were about gender then moved onto free speak. Now the questions were about hope. This reflects today.
-can’t see where we are going
-human population
-the relationship of the last two
-people’s rights
-women’s rights (when jobs start to go then its is usually the women’s jobs that go first)

She said that humans are inventive/creative
-many minds are trying to solve these problems
-we have the ability
-hopes we have the political will
-it has taken us a while to see the problems
People are working hard and they have the will plus the ability which gives us hope. We have to look at water, air, energy and use the above to make sure that there is a sustainable future.

A member of the audience stated, “The west has betrayed it own values…How familiar with you with literary tradition with Arab world.
-more familiar history – it is easy to translate
-not with poetry because the meaning lost in translation
-novels fall in-between with the translation difficulties
-there is tremendous interest now
Tomorrow my last report from the festival.....Kate Mosse and Victoria Hislop.


Barrie said...

Truly fascinating. I love Margaret Atwood. And I can't tell you how happy I was to read your post. Thank you!

Lane said...

Excellent Liz. Thank you so much!

Lesley Cookman said...

Liz, you're a star! x

liz fenwick said...

It was a wonderful talk - just a touch sobering if you are trying to break into the market though!

Pat Posner said...

Thank you for sharing, Liz!

Debs said...

What an incredible woman.

Thanks so much for these reports, they're brilliant.

Annie Wicking said...

Thank you for sharing this with us, Liz. How wonderful to hear Margaret Atwood's views on writing. I love what she told her mother. Ace!