An autumn morning in Ilkley, North Yorkshire. Summer has finally slunk away, and not long after breakfast I find myself tramping, in the chill grey air, down the hill to the train station with Margaret Atwood. She is dressed in sensible travelling black, but for a colourful scarf and pink-and-purple sneakers. Last night she filled a hall of more than 500 people at the Ilkley Literature Festival, nearly all of whom, it seemed, then stood in line to have their books signed. Some of them had just bought a copy of Stone Mattress, her new story collection – but most were bringing not only her new book but stacks of well-worn and clearly beloved paperbacks, from The Handmaid’s Tale to Cat’s Eye, from her first novel, The Edible Woman, to Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam. The final three are a remarkable trilogy that began to appear a decade ago; a vivid, frightening, and fully realised world that is all too believably a consequence of our present existence.
She and I were an hour on stage at the King’s Hall in Ilkley; we had arrived in the early afternoon, at which point she’d had a quick shower and then sat down to a long conversation with me and my tape recorder. After the event, she would sign for another hour, or a little more, because these days authors of Atwood’s prominence not only sign books but are also asked to appear in selfies. She has been on the road for six weeks, to Italy, to France, to Greece. Britain is her last stop before she sails home on the Queen Mary 2, a form of transport that has the advantage of being both relaxing and low-carbon, the latter a great priority for her. (Become one of her more than half a million Twitter followers and you will see that most of what she tweets has an ecological bent.) [Read more]
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