Peak At­wood

She seems to be ev­ery­where these days, but be­ing pro­lific is old hat for the au­thor


Mar­garet At­wood is no­to­ri­ously late for in­ter­views. She’s also renowned for not nec­es­sar­ily an­swer­ing the ques­tions you’ve posed, but for giv­ing an­swers to her own unasked queries in­stead, in turn quizzing the in­ter­viewer.

At 77 years old, and with more awards and hon­orary doc­tor­ates than are per­haps pos­si­ble to count, the Cana­dian au­thor is eas­ily for­given. If any­thing, these quirks add to her mis­chievous charm and wise aura, and leave you feel­ing as though you’ve just had an im­por­tant con­ver­sa­tion about the world rather than hav­ing sim­ply dis­cussed the lat­est in “spec­u­la­tive fic­tion.”

That’s the wide-reach­ing, self-def­i­ni­tion At­wood at­taches to her fu­tur­is­tic, dystopian nov­els like The Hand­maid’s Tale and the Madd-Ad­dam se­ries, tomes that are prov­ing to be more rel­e­vant to­day than when she first wrote them. And with a num­ber of her works get­ting the TV treat­ment — Bravo premieres the Elis­a­beth Moss-led The Hand­maid’s Tale on April 30, just as Kids’ CBC un­rolls a 26-part chil­dren’s se­ries on April 29, based on the au­thor’s Wan­der­ing Wenda and Widow Wal­lop’s Wun­der­ground Wash­ery — these sto­ries are about to be avail­able to au­di­ences in more ways than ever be­fore.

Add an­other CBC adap­ta­tion in the up­com­ing Sarah Gadon-star­ring Alias Grace and MGM’s de­vel­op­ment of the dystopian of­fer­ing The Heart Goes Last, and the pro­lific — and maybe prophetic — au­thor seems to be ev­ery­where these days.

That in­cludes cameos, ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer ti­tles and even work­ing on a po­ten­tial se­quel to The Hand­maid’s Tale (al­though the writer is cagey about that last point, nei­ther con­firm­ing nor deny­ing the ru­mours that sur­faced af­ter this month’s re­lease of a spe­cial au­dio ver­sion of the book that hinted at a fol­lowup tale).

“Ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer is a very stretchy term,” she says, go­ing back to her var­i­ous ti­tles. “What it meant in the case of Wan

der­ing Wenda is go­ing through sev­eral it­er­a­tions of ideas and be­ing part of those dis­cus­sions. But it didn’t mean that I wrote the se­ries, be­cause I didn’t.”

“It also seems to have meant that I have an in­tro­duc­tory cameo at the be­gin­ning,” she adds.

The an­i­mated se­ries, in which each episode takes preschool­ers through a let­ter of the al­pha­bet by us­ing ad­ven­ture and al­lit­er­a­tion, orig­i­nally came to fruition in print be­cause At­wood was “do­ing a favour” for a publisher friend who needed con­tent.

Ap­pear­ing at the be­gin­ning of each episode didn’t ex­actly take con­vinc­ing, “not for some­body with a back­ground in am­a­teur the­atrics and pup­pet shows.” Be­yond that, At­wood ad­mits she had to re­lin­quish any per­ceived con­trol in or­der for these projects to get the TV treat­ment in the first place.

“Un­less it’s your money on the ta­ble, you don’t have fi­nal con­trol,” she says. “That goes for any film or tele­vi­sion project. So you can con­trib­ute ideas, you can say, ‘This looks great,’ or you can say, ‘I ap­prove of this,’ but you’re not go­ing to say, ‘You can’t do that.’ ”

The au­thor says that so far she’s im­pressed with what she’s seen of ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Bruce Miller’s take on The Hand­maid’s Tale, sim­ply call­ing it “great” and al­lud­ing to more de­par­tures from the open-ended novel in the al­ready an­tic­i­pated sec­ond sea­son.

She also re­veals that her cameos came with their own chal­lenges. She called her Hand­maid’s Tale ap­pear­ance “hor­ri­bly up­set­ting” and “too much like his­tory” in a guest col­umn for the New York Times (watch for a slightly phys­i­cal scene be­tween At­wood and Moss’s char­ac­ter Of­fred in the pi­lot), and re­veals less-than-ideal weather con­di­tions for a top-se­cret stint in Alias Grace, which does not yet have an air date.

“I had to put on the full 19th-cen­tury out­fit in Au­gust and it was very warm,” At­wood says. “It was hot. I had on the pan­talets, the pet­ti­coat, the over­skirt, the stock­ings, the chemise, the corset, the over-jacket, the capelet, the shawl and the bon­net. And the gloves. It was . . . warm.”

For those keep­ing track, TV is just the lat­est ex­ten­sion of At­wood’s brand. Be­tween her nov­els, chil­dren’s se­ries, the third vol­ume of her first graphic novel, An­gel Cat­bird, planned for sum­mer, not to men­tion speak­ing en­gage­ments, red car­pets and me­dia events tied to The Hand­maid’s Tale re­lease (she’ll be at a screen­ing of the first episode at In­nis Col­lege April 26), At­wood has far from lim­ited her­self cre­atively.

“How is it that I can do all these

”In high school, on one hand I was writ­ing dis­mal po­etry but on the other hand I was putting on the world’s only home eco­nom­ics opera.” MAR­GARET AT­WOOD AU­THOR

dif­fer­ent things?” she won­ders. “Al­ways did. Al­ways have. In high school, on one hand I was writ­ing dis­mal po­etry but on the other hand I was putting on the world’s only home eco­nom­ics opera.”

Given all that, you can’t blame us for won­der­ing where she’ll ven­ture next. Wher­ever it is, just don’t call her a prophet.

“I’m not a prophet. Hon­est, I’m not a prophet. If I were a prophet I would have cleaned up on the stock mar­ket years ago.”


Mar­garet At­wood makes a cameo in each episode of Wan­der­ing Wenda, a Kids’ CBC show.

Mar­garet At­wood makes ap­pear­ances in the TV adap­ta­tions of Hand­maid’s Tale and Alias Grace.

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