The au­thor on pol­i­tics, ro­mance and hu­mour — and paint­ing her face green on Hal­lowe’en

Sunday Times - - WHAT I’VE LEARNT - Mad­dAd­dam is pub­lished by Blooms­bury (R330).

WRITER and critic Mar­garet At­wood, 73, is the au­thor of more than 30 books of fic­tion, es­says and poetry, and won

the Booker Prize in 2000 for The

Blind As­sas­sin. She lives in Toronto with her part­ner, nov­el­ist Graeme Gib­son. The cou­ple have one adult daugh­ter. In the early ’70s, peo­ple re­viewed my hair. With women writ­ers it was al­ways about some sec­ondary fea­ture: “She’s a woman writer; she can’t be any good.” I was right about some as­pects of the fu­ture. What­ever in­stincts I had in

The Hand­maid’s Tale came very much to the fore in the last pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Repub­li­can can­di­dates made some il­lad­vised re­marks about women’s re­pro­duc­tive rights. They also claimed that there is a dif­fer­ence be­tween “real rape” and “not real rape” and that if it were “real rape” a woman couldn’t get preg­nant be­cause her body would shut down. The menopause has taught me

noth­ing. It made hardly any

im­pact. There are peo­ple who are now 62 who were deeply trau­ma­tised by me as chil­dren. My younger sis­ter was born the day be­fore Hal­lowe’en and I used to run her birth­day par­ties. I would paint my face green, turn down the lights and tell sto­ries. It had a big ef­fect.

Cre­ativ­ity must be partly ge­netic. Part of it has to be, doesn’t it? I think that’s where I got mine from. Other kids are good at maths. Peo­ple move through the world in co­horts. The year in which you were born and how many other peo­ple were born in that year has a big in­flu­ence on what sorts of op­por­tu­ni­ties are avail­able to you. I was born in 1939, right af­ter World War 2 had be­gun — there weren’t very many peo­ple in that co­hort so there were a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties for those in that age group once we started look­ing for work. That didn’t hap­pen 15 years later. You will al­ways en­counter peo­ple who are go­ing to be

jeal­ous of you. In 1972 I re­ceived some good ad­vice: “Now you’re a tar­get, peo­ple will shoot at you.” In other words: be ready, don’t take it per­son­ally, keep mov­ing. It’s more dif­fi­cult to hit a mov­ing tar­get. My fa­ther taught me that the first mark of a real sci­en­tist is they’re scep­ti­cal about sci­ence. If they’re given a study, they want to know who did it and whether it stands up. When I read a sci­en­tific claim, I al­ways ask: “Is this real? Let’s look at the stud­ies.” ‘The Hand­maid’s Tale’ is No 37 in the Amer­i­can Li­brary As­so­ci­a­tion’s 100 Most Fre­quently Chal­lenged Books. It’s banned be­cause there’s sex in it and it’s “anti-Chris­tian”. What does that tell me about the US? Noth­ing I didn’t al­ready know. Dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions of young peo­ple worry about dif­fer­ent things. We wor­ried about nu­clear war. Now they worry about cli­mate change: what is go­ing to hap­pen when the hu­man race hits the wall. In its ex­treme form, ro­man­tic love is some­what hu­mour­less. For Valen­tine’s Day, my boyfriend in high school gave me a real cow’s heart with an ar­row through it. It made me laugh. The way to my heart has al­ways been some­body who can make me laugh. So, Mr Gib­son, you’d bet­ter keep on be­ing funny.

I was a col­lab­o­ra­tive par­ent. I used to run mur­der par­ties for my daugh­ter. It’s im­por­tant to hire an ac­tor to be the mur­derer. No­body wants their child com­ing home say­ing: “I mur­dered some­one to­day.” When you’re 73, things don’t dis­may you in the same way they used to. Some­thing hap­pens to your bio­chem­i­cal make-up, num­ber one. Num­ber two: you know what your own per­sonal plot is. You know how the story has worked out. — Ste­fanie Marsh © The Sun­day Times, Lon­don • Mar­garet At­wood’s new novel

BULL’S EYE: Mar­garet At­wood and her cat Fluffy. At­wood says it is harder to hit a mov­ing tar­get

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