In the Media, March 2017, Part One

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

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This fortnight’s seen a number of prize lists announced. The big ones for women writers are the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist and the Stella Prize shortlist.

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s comments on trans women have prompted a number of responses.

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The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

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Personal essays/memoir:

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Feminism:

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Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music, Art, Fashion and Sport:

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The interviews/profiles:

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The regular columnists:

In the Media: October 2016, Part One

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

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The fortnight began with the outing of Elena Ferrante. I’m not going to link to the original article, but there’s been a huge reaction to it:

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Photograph by Kate Neil

The other big story of the fortnight has been the release of the film version of The Girl on the Train.

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And the writer with the most coverage is Brit Bennett who’s interviewed on The Cut, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Jezebel, The New York Times and Literary Hub.

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The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

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Personal essays/memoir:

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Feminism:

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Society and Politics:

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The interviews/profiles:

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The regular columnists:

Book Lists for All Humans #1

This morning, the Independent ran a book list, ‘13 books everyone should read‘. It popped up on my Twitter feed when someone I follow (a white male) tweeted it with the words, ’13/13 men, 13/13 white. Seriously?’ Clicking the link led to the discovery that the list was voted for by reddit users. My only surprise on discovering this was that House of Leaves wasn’t one of the books on the list.

What isn’t a surprise though is that yet another book list is all-male and all-white. It happens a lot in the media. Last year I got into a debate on Twitter as to whether those writers who selected 10 books related to whichever subject their latest work is on for The Guardian should be given guidelines stating/advising/suggesting they consider a diverse list. Someone (a white male) argued that because they were personal choices they should be allowed to reflect that person’s taste. A point that would be perfectly valid if structural inequality didn’t exist and the majority of people writing these lists weren’t white. At that time, Sarah Jasmon, author of The Summer of Secrets, counteracted the largely male, all-white, list of Top Ten Summers in Fiction.

I’ve long been riled by this situation: when I used to include lists in In the Media, I spent a disproportionate amount of time checking whether the lists were gender balanced. Most were not. Include the balance of white to brown writers and there would’ve been barely any lists left. Every time one appears, I think I should counteract it with an all-female list of writers of a variety of skin tones and today I’m riled enough that I’m doing just that.

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Welcome to the first in a series! Here’s my take on 13 Books Everyone Should Read. I’m aware there’s many more I could’ve chosen so please, leave your suggestions in the comments. I’m hoping this will become an series of excellent crowdsourced book recommendations. Then, maybe, the media might just have a word with itself and compile lists reflective of the actual world rather than its own narrow one.

Citizen – Claudia Rankine

To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf

The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison

Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronté

Americanah – Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Human Acts – Han Kang (translated by Deborah Smith)

The Bloody Chamber – Angela Carter

Quicksand and Passing – Nella Larsen

Geek Love – Katherine Dunn

Push – Sapphire

I Love Dick – Chris Kraus

Trumpet – Jackie Kay

(Links are to my reviews.)

In the Media, December 2015

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

This fortnight’s mostly been about end of year lists. Last year I linked to those that were gender balanced but this year I gave up counting after the first two, deciding it was a futile endeavour. Having said that, Sarah Seltzer says , ‘White Men Are the Minority on This Year’s Biggest Book Lists‘ on Flavorwire and there was some excitement around a new ‘Best UK novels’ list commissioned by the BBC. On The Pool, Lynn Enright said ‘Women writers dominate the top spots in list of best British novels‘. Which they do but the list as a whole isn’t balanced and it’s dominated by Nineteenth Century novels.

A fortnight ago I was going to begin this piece by mentioning The Good Immigrant an essay collection being published by Unbounders which means it needed crowdfunding. It includes essays by Chimene Suleyman, Bim Adewumni, Salena Godden, Sabrina Mahfouz, Coco Khan, Sarah Sahim and Reni Eddo Lodge and was fully funded in three days, partly thanks to JK Rowling. You can read about what an excellent person she is and what a great collection it sounds in The Guardian. And you can still contribute to the funding.

Clare Vaye Watkins essay ‘On Pandering’ is still being discussed. She talks about it further (with Marlon James) on NPR. Anne Boyd Rioux responded with ‘A Brief History of Pandering‘ on The Rumpus. Aya de Leon responded initially with ‘“On Pandering” and Subversive Revelations of Female Insecurity‘ and then to Marlon James’ Guardian conversation with ‘On Pandering, White Women as Scapegoats, and the Literary Industry as a Hand-Me-Down‘ on her blog, while Dreda Say Mitchell replied with ‘Black authors don’t write only for white women‘ in the Guardian.

In prize news, Sarah Howe won the resurrected Young Writer of the Year Award for her poetry collection Loop of Jade. She’s profiled in The Sunday Times (£) and interviewed on Bookanista and The Workshy Fop. And the Saltire Society Literary Award was announced with wins for Helen McClory, Patricia Andrew and Tanja Bueltmann.

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music, Art and Fashion:

The interviews:

The regular columnists:

In the Media, November 2015, Part Two

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

There have been a number of powerful pieces published over the last fortnight by women about women reading books by white men and trying to please an establishment that loves white male writers. Rebecca Solnit wrote, ‘80 Books No Woman Should Read‘ on Literary Hub and Sigal Samuel responded with ‘What Women Can Learn From Reading Sexist Male Writers‘ on Electric Literature. Jennifer Weiner wrote, ‘If you enjoyed a good book and you’re a woman, the critics think you’re wrong‘ in The Guardian but the big one was Clare Vaye Watkins ‘On Pandering‘ published on the Tin House blog. On Flavorwire, Alison Herman published a response titled, ‘Claire Vaye Watkins’ “On Pandering” Describes a Specific Experience of Writing and Gender, But Has the Power to Start a Broader Conversation‘ and it did. Nichole Perkins wrote ‘A Response to “On Pandering” in the LA Times; Aya de Leon wrote, ‘In Gratitude for Claire Vaye Watkins and my own Fatherlessness as a Woman Writer‘ on her blog; Marie Phillips wrote, ‘Writers: we need to stop pandering to the white, male status quo‘ on The Pool; Katy Waldman argued, ‘Claire Vaye Watkins’ Tin House Essay “On Pandering” Has a Very Limited Definition of “Male Writers”‘ on Slate

The woman with the most publicity is Patricia Highsmith. The film of her novel The Price of Salt, renamed Carol was released on Friday (in the UK). In the New Yorker, Margaret Talbot writes ‘Forbidden Love: The Passions Behind Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt‘; there’s an interview with Phyllis Nagy, screenwriter and Highsmith’s friend on Bookanista; Frank Rich wrote, ‘Loving Carol‘ on Vulture

The Irish Book Awards were announced this week, including wins for Anne Enright, Louise O’Neill, Susan Jane White, Jane Casey, Sinead Moriarty,Sara Baume and The Long Gaze Back anthology edited by Sinéad Gleeson. While in London, the Costa Book Awards shortlists were announced.

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music, Art and Fashion:

The interviews:

The regular columnists:

In the Media, November 2015, Part One

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

We’re still deep in book awards territory this fortnight with a number of winners and shortlists being announced. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won the Bailey’s Best of the Best for Half of a Yellow Sun. The award prompted pieces from Alice Stride in The Bookseller, an editorial in The Guardian and Anna James on The Pool about why we still need the Bailey’s Prize.

Sarah Waters won Stonewall’s Writer of the Decade; Lydia Davis will receive The Paris Review’s Hadada Award 2016; Kerry Hudson won the Prix Femina for Translated Fiction; Roxane Gay won the PEN Centre USA Freedom to Write Award; Jacqueline Wilson won the JM Barrie Award

The shortlists include the eclectic, female dominates Waterstones’ Book of the Year Award, chosen by Waterstones’ Booksellers; The Guardian First Book Award which Catherine Taylor, one of this years judges, discusses, and The Young Writer of the Year Award (which not only has gender parity, but also an equal split between writers of colour and white writers).

Meanwhile, Arundhati Roy returned her National Award for Best Screenplay, she explains why in The Guardian and Heather Horn investigates why the Prix Goncourt has been awarded to a man 102 times and a woman 11 times on The Atlantic

Irish women have been speaking out about the Abbey Theatre where nine out of ten plays in its 2016 centenary programme are written by men. Emer O’Toole writes about the reaction in The Guardian and Ellen Coyne in The Irish Times while Dr Susan Liddy, academic at the University of Limerick, writes ‘Women and the Irish film industry‘ to The Irish Times.

And if you only read one thing from this fortnight’s list, I highly recommend Jacqueline Rose’s essay, ‘Bantu in the Bathroom: on the trial of Oscar Pistorius‘ in The LRB.

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music, Art and Fashion:

The interviews:

The regular columnists:

In the Media: October 2015, Part Two

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

Photograph by Nadya Lev

This fortnight has been dominated by trans issues and feminism. This is largely due (in the UK at least) to the no-platforming of Germaine Greer due to her unpalatable comments about trans women. Sarah Seltzer looks at ‘The Disturbing Trend of Second-Wave Feminist Transphobia‘ on Flavorwire. This coincided with YA author, James Dawson, coming out as a transgender woman in this great piece by Patrick Strudwick on Buzzfeed. I look forward to featuring James and his books on the blog under his yet to be revealed new name and pronoun. Elsewhere, Francesca Mari writes, ‘They Found Love, Then They Found Gender‘ on Matter, Corinne Manning writes about ‘In Defence of the New Censorship‘, discussing the use of singular they on Literary Hub while Laurie Penny explores, ‘How To Be A Genderqueer Feminist‘ on Buzzfeed.

Photograph by Chad Batka

The woman with the most publicity this fortnight is Carrie Brownstein. She’s interviewed in Rolling Stone, Slate, Noisey, The New York Times and The Guardian.

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music, Art and Fashion:

The interviews:

The regular columnists:

In the Media: October 2015, Part One

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

In the media is back in a slightly altered format. You might have spotted a change in the opening paragraph – this feature will now appear fortnightly rather than weekly. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be bigger than it was before, however. When I started this feature, the plan was to focus on fiction writers with published books but as I started to read more widely, I realised how many brilliant women columnists and features writers there are and it seemed ludicrous not to include them. I want to keep supporting them so you’ll notice as you scroll down that I’ve reduced the number of categories but I’ve added a regular columnists category to link to those writers who are consistently good/interesting.

This fortnight’s been all about whitewashing. First there was the Sufragette film which ignored any women of colour involved in the movement. Anita Anand asks ‘Were the Suffragettes racist?‘ in the Telegraph. Victoria Massie tells us about ‘3 black women who fought on the front lines for women’s suffrage‘ on NTRSCTN and a piece on Asian Suffragettes on British Protest at Home and Abroad was highlighted. Eesha Pandit writes, ‘The discomfiting truth about white feminism: Meryl Streep, Amy Poehler & the movement’s long history of racial insensitivity‘ on Salon while Henna Zamurd Butt asks, ‘So Nadiya won the Great British Bake Off, why the big deal?‘ on Media Diversified and Nadia Shireen says, ‘Why the world needs more Nadiyas‘ in The Pool.

And then there was Meg Rosoff who said,“there are not too few books for marginalised young people”. This came at the same time Leila Rasheed posted, ‘A New Scheme Hopes to Promote BME Voices in Children’s Literature‘ on The Asian Writer. Responses to Rosoff came from Camryn Garrett, ‘this is how the industry lives now: five signs that you might be suffering from white privilege’ on For all the Girls Who Are Half Monster; Edi Campbell, ‘SundayMorningReads‘ on Crazy QuiltEdi (whose Facebook page is where Rosoff made her comment); Kaye M, ‘This Is How I Life: An Open Letter to Meg Rosoff‘ on Medium; Radiya Hafiza ‘Why we need mirrors in literature‘ on Media Diversified; KT Horning, ‘Spouting Off While White‘ on Reading While White, and Debbie Reese, ‘About Meg Rosoff’s Next Book‘ on American Indians in Children’s Literature, which includes an up-to-date list of responses so far. And how about this for a radical idea: ‘Is Hermione Granger White?‘ Monika Kothari answers on Slate.

Reactions to Chrissie Hynde blaming herself when she was raped continue. Ann Friedman writes, ‘We Shouldn’t Let Chrissie Hynde Off the Hook So Easily‘ in The Cut while Tracey Thorn says, ‘Chrissie longed to be one of the boys. Unlike us, she didn’t have riot grrrls‘ in The New Statesman.

Finally, while there wasn’t a female winner of the Man Booker Prize, there was a female winner of The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize. Congratulations to Kirstin Innes who won for her novel Fishnet. Unfortunately, both the Samuel Johnson Prize and the Goldsmiths Prize shortlists were somewhat lacking in women. Michael Caines offers an alternative all-female shortlist to the latter on the TLS while Cathy Rentzenbrink on blistering form in The Bookseller writes ‘On Noticing‘.

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music and Fashion:

portrait_walsh_colourThe interviews:

The regular columnists:

WIN A Signed Copy Of Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood

Giveaway now closed.

I know lots of you love Margaret Atwood’s work so I’ve teamed up with Virago Books, publisher of books by women and a perfect match for this blog, to bring you a Margaret Atwood competition. There are nine competitions running on nine blogs across this week and next and each have a prize bundle which includes a signed copy of Margaret Atwood’s short story collection Stone Mattress, published in paperback last week, and something related to one of the stories from the collection.

I chose ‘The Dead Hand Loves You’ which means my prize bundle includes a nail varnish set. Why? Because it’s a story about a story about a sentient hand (no, that isn’t a typo); nail varnish is brilliant, and, having spent many a half hour painting my male friends’ fingernails in my parents’ kitchen, I don’t consider it a gendered prize.

To whet your appetite, here’s the opening:

The Dead Hand Loves You started as a joke. Or more like a dare. He should have been more careful about it, but the fact was he’d been blowing a fair amount of dope around that time and drinking too much inferior-grade booze, so he hadn’t been fully responsible. He shouldn’t be held responsible. He shouldn’t be held to the terms of the fucking contract. That’s what had shackled his ankles: the contract.

And he can never get rid of that contract, because there wasn’t any drop-dead date on it. He should have included a good-only-until clause, like milk cartons, like tubs of yoghurt, like mayonnaise jars; but what did he know about contracts back then? He’d been twenty-two.

He’d needed the money.

If you want to be in with a chance to win, all you need to do is leave a comment below before 4pm UK time on Friday 2nd October. A winner will be chosen via random number generator soon after the closing time and the winner notified by email. UK only, this time, I’m afraid. Good luck!

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And if you fancy a personalised Stone Mattress ebadge, like mine above, then head over to the Virago site where they’re giving them away.

I’ve allocated everyone a number in order of entry so, for example, Cleo is #1, Jaime Walker #15, Georgina #28 and lindarumsey #46. And the random number generator says…

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Congratulations, Rhoda K! Check your email for information as to what to do next.

Thanks to all of you for entering. There are eight more opportunities to win across eight more blogs. Information on the Virago website as to the blogs and the additional prizes.

Thanks to Virago for the prize.

‘I’ll do anything once.’ Margaret Atwood at Manchester Literature Festival

It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon in Manchester as I weave my way through teems of shoppers. Thankfully my destination’s the more tranquil Royal Exchange Theatre where Erica Wagner is interviewing Margaret Atwood as a precursor to the two-week Manchester Literature Festival.

It’s the 10th anniversary of the festival and in the introductory remarks, Cathy Bolton, co-director of the festival, shows us the programme with a picture of a 10-year-old Margaret Atwood on the front. And this is where the discussion with Wagner begins…

Wagner asks where the curls are now that Atwood sports in the photograph. She replies, ‘In my sister’s cellar.’ She says that she wanted to get them cut but this met with parental resistance. Her mum used to create them by curling them around her finger but, when her mum went into hospital to have Atwood’s younger sister, her dad’s fingers proved too thick for the job. Atwood went to the hairdressers. The curls were saved though and ended up in her sister’s cellar when Atwood refused to have them in her own home. There’s been some discussion of making them into Victorian hair jewellery but traditionally this was done following someone’s death. ‘No yet! No yet!’ says Atwood.

She goes on to talk about how the latest novel, The Heart Goes Last, came about. Atwood says she was working with editor, Amy Grace Lloyd, who’s worked for the New Yorker, The New York Review of Books and Playboy. (She’s also a novelist. Atwood tells us that Lloyd’s book The Affairs of Others did well in France because it has ‘widows and sex in conjunction’.) Atwood used to write long form pieces for Playboy when Lloyd was there but when the magazine decided it wanted ‘no more hifalutin stuff’ and ‘confined itself to the basics’, Lloyd started a site called Byliner on which to publish long essays and fiction. She lured Atwood in by saying Amy Tan had done something for it. She says she wanted to do a continuous story, a serialisation, because she’s always admired Charles Dickens. She did four parts and then her book editor got wind of it and wanted it to become a book. Of course, this meant changes. She had to take the reminders as to what happened in the previous episode out; the embedded back-story was removed and put at the front in chronological order, and Stan was rescued. At the end of part four, he was a sex robot, dressed as Elvis Presley, being shipped to Las Vegas in a box. You can have Elvis in any form in Las Vegas, she tells us. ‘They’re thick on the ground.’ She then reads an extract from the novel where Stan is putting on his Elvis costume.

After the reading, Wagner asks about one of the conceits of the novel – the private prison. ‘It’s not a conceit,’ says Atwood. They discuss people making money from prisons. Atwood sites a number of examples including a prison in Alabama that’s discussed in an article on The Atlantic website which uses “pay-only” probation. The American constitution outlawed slavery but not for prisoners, she says. [‘Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.’] She also tells us that when prisoners were being transported to Australia there were far more men than women so, to keep the men happy, they lowered the tariff for sending women to the colonies. Once you’ve a quota it has to be filled.

Wagner asks her if she has a sense of when she wants to focus on a subject. Atwood says it’s usually due to ignorance. She then goes on to talk about The Heart Goes Last. She says the scheme in the novel seems utopian on the surface: the volunteers spend a month in prison, followed by a month out, swapping places with other civilians. When in prison, they alternate between being prisoners and guards. People are keen to do this because there’s a lack of jobs and they’re living in their cars. There are two problems, the first is that the real criminals were released because they were too disruptive, they now roam the streets in lawless gangs, and the second is that we don’t know what will happen when people get old.

Atwood refers to the recent film 99 Homes in which people are evicted for not paying their mortgage. Atwood has a television programme in the novel called The Home Front in which evicted people are interviewed. The audience vote on people’s stories and whoever’s told the ‘woeist’ tale wins money. Atwood’s protagonists don’t think of trying this, ‘The odds are low anyway that you’ll ever win anything.’

Wagner asks about Consilience, the name of the town in the novel. Atwood defines the word as the way biological forms in nature interact, using eating and being eaten as an example. Wagner also points out that at the front of the novel, it’s divided into cons + resilience. They also discuss Positron, the name of the prison project. Atwood says it’s a subatomic particle but Isaac Asimov also used it in I, Robot. It means that robots can’t cause harm to humans.

This is followed by a discussion about sex robots. Atwood says that Taiwanese banks have just introduced a robot greeter that can read human emotions. A limited number of these were put on sale for private use and sold out in one minute. The brochure that comes with them says they can’t be used for sex or improper behaviour. Atwood adopts a generic robot-sounding voice, ‘Do not come close to me. I can see what you’re thinking. Get your hands off me.’ Apparently the Japanese have invented a robot that gets goosebumps.

Wagner follows this up by mentioning a young woman at Cheltenham Literature Festival who asked about how far we’d come since The Handmaid’s Tale was written. She asks if Atwood’s surprised at the developments. No, she says. She doesn’t use anything in her novels that hasn’t been done, used or we have the technology for. She says humans are driven by desires and fears and those are limited in number. If you want to find out more about them, go back to mythology and fairy tales. She talks about the cloak of invisibility, about being able to produce endless amounts of food and not having to clear up afterwards, about desiring interesting and endless sexual partners whilst expecting our spouses to remain loyal to us at all times.

She mentions the epigraphs in The Heart Goes Last. There are three. The first from Ovid’s ‘Pygmalion and Galatea’, the third from A Midsummer Night’s Dream which she says relates to her protagonists Stan and Charmaine meeting their alternates, lost in the dark, falling in love with the wrong people, and the second is from a blog called ‘I had sex with furniture’. Someone has manufactured a sofa with an aperture in it so a man could have sex with it and the blogger did so, so ‘you didn’t have to’. ‘Who thought it would be a good idea?’ she says. ‘Who thought I can sell that? Would you have that in your living room?’

Before they take questions from the audience, Wagner tells us that Atwood has an essay in the New Statesman next Friday about a book they both admire called A Story as Sharp as a Knife. She asks Atwood to tell us about it. ‘Once upon a time, a long, long time ago,’ she begins. There was a group of islands called Haida Gwaii off the coast of Canada. There the Haida people lived in solitude until someone discovered them and brought diseases amongst them. All but 100 of the Haida people were wiped out. Amongst those left were two epic poets in the tradition of Virgil and Homer. An anthropologist, with the help of a translator, wrote all the poetry down, after which it ‘slept in the library for 100 years’. There it was discovered by polymath, Robert Bringhurst, who realised it was poetry not primitive folklore. He taught himself Haida and this, along with the poetry, is the story told in A Story as Sharp as a Knife. Atwood describes it as ‘an extraordinary accomplishment’.

The first audience question concerns Atwood’s unreliable narrators and why she’s drawn to them. The Blind Assassin is mentioned as an example. Atwood says, ‘She doesn’t actually lie. She just doesn’t tell the whole truth.’ It’s the same in Alias Grace. She says there are two different versions of Alias Grace’s story written down, she must have been lying in one of them, but she couldn’t find enough information to confirm whether she had murdered or not. She mentions an Agatha Christie novel in which it is revealed that the narrator is the murderer. She says people didn’t like this but there’s no rule that people can’t lie. ‘I don’t think any of my narrators have been unreliable to the point of Agatha Christie’s murdering narrator. They haven’t been Iago.’

Another audience member mentions the narrator in Surfacing. Atwood says that holding things back is not the same as a barefaced lie. ‘It’s something that people do. You know what you know but not everyone you know knows what you know.’

The next question is about Edward Said’s Orientalism and the quotation ‘There is never only one, of anyone’ from Cat’s Eye and whether there’s a link between the two. Atwood says that’s ‘A little out of my ball park’. She stopped being an academic with any degree of depth in 1970/71. When she was writing her PhD thesis, she got a call from England from Oscar Lewenstein saying he wanted to make a film of The Edible Woman. Atwood replied, ‘Who is this really?’ She says she became an academic because she thought she’d need a day job, she didn’t expect to become a best seller straight away, but was decoyed by the world of film. She wanted to go to France, live in a garret, drink absinthe, become an existentialist and get tuberculosis.

The final question is with regards to Atwood’s relationship with feminism. It’s too old for her to have invented it, she says! She tells us that when she’s writing she puts the birthday of the character in the margin so she can create a timeline showing how old they are when world events took place. She proceeds to do the same for herself and key points in the feminist movement. She says the second wave was good for any women writing anything because they had an audience. The Edible Woman garnered two types of reviews, either ‘This is a young writer she’ll grow up later’ or ones that recognised she was in tune with the second wave of feminism. She’s followed feminist conversations with great interest. She describes a period in the 1980s and ‘90s as ‘I’m not a feminist but…’ but says the current focus is on violence against women and gender identity. At this point she stops and says, ‘What was the question?’ Wagner reminds her and she says, ‘Women are human beings.’ They’re just over half of the population. ‘It’s pretty much impossible to write a novel without a woman in it unless it’s Moby Dick.’ She thinks that some of the strongest support for women has come from men because ‘they can get away with it without being yelled at, screamed at, getting death threats’. She cites The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as an example. If a woman had written that she’d have been called the most ferocious man-hater. ‘Still,’ says Wagner. ‘Still?’ replies Atwood. ‘It’s getting worse.’

If you’re an Atwood fan and you’ve yet to get your hands on a copy of the recently published in paperback short story collection Stone Mattress, check in tomorrow when I’ll have a competition just for you, courtesy of Virago Books.