Margaret Atwood Is Ready to Let It Rip


A whole book? No. I changed “Freeforall” to make it more succinct. But to redo a novel, no.

I don’t think you need to redo any of your novels, by the way.

They are a snapshot in time. They are of their age. So, much to my surprise, The Edible Woman [Atwood’s 1969 debut novel] still sells a lot. That was from the age where there weren’t even pantyhose.

Just stockings?

Two stockings, and you held them up with garter belts or girdles. But young people still connect with The Edible Womanbecause it’s about the job problem—what are you going to live on? What jobs can you have, and what comes next? Should I get married? I mean, “Should I get married?” was more pressing in those days. More of either/or choice.

Like “Freeforall,” the characters of Nell and Tig, who first appeared in another collection of short stories, have been with you for decades. Are the Nell and Tig of Old Babes in the Wood the same people, to you, as the Nell and Tig of Moral Disorder?

Yes. Otherwise their names would be different. [Both laughing.]

So they’re not, say, in a different dimension—

They’re not in a different dimension.

OK. Just wanted to make sure there’s only one Nell and Tig cinematic universe.

Just the one. Why don’t you ask me about snails?

Oh, of course. Tell me about snails.

Most shape-changer stories are about bears, wolves, seals, and snakes. Those are the main ones in folklore. Oh, and I forgot, birds. one about a snail. It’s Chinese. A rather quiet, well-behaved wife spends half her life in a bucket outside the door as a snail.

Was the Chinese folklore about the bucket-snail wife the inspiration for your snail story?

Well, yes and no. I’ve always been keen on snails.

If you had to body-swap with an animal, what kind of animal do you think would make the best Margaret Atwood?

A fox. They’re wily.

There are a ton of foxes in my neighborhood now. They’re eating all the local hens.

[Several minutes of detailed discussion about how to best fox-proof a henhouse takes place.] If you go onto my Substack, you can find three stories having to do with domestic fowl.

Do you like Substacks?

So far, so good. But it’s work. I don’t like work. I’m quite lazy.

You don’t seem lazy. I read somewhere that you’d described other writers as entering the “gold watch and goodbye” portion of their careers. You could’ve entered that phase if you wanted to rest on your laurels, but instead you ‘re producing this vital new work.

You do it because it’s what you like to do.

Has your writing routine changed?

I don’t have one. I never have. When you have a day job, you just stuff it in when you can, in the evenings. When you have a small child, you do it when they’re down for a nap, and then at school. It shifts around. What is it now? Aeroplanes are good. But not always. Sometimes you would rather watch the movie. Kung Fu Panda, Captain Underpants.

Modern classics.

I would think so. But yes, routine—part of the reason I don’t have one is that I’m so old, I didn’t go to creative writing school, because there were hardly any back then. That meant nobody told me to specialize. Are you a novelist, a short-story writer, a poet? Nobody said you should choose.


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