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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006, 07:46 GMT 08:46 UK
Atwood is optimistic for mankind
By Clare Gabriel
BBC Wales News website

Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood said she was optimistic about the future
Canadian writer Margaret Atwood has spoken at the Hay literary festival of the two kinds of optimism in her world.

She said she had to be optimistic as a writer - and was optimistic about the future of the human race.

There were, she added, "hopeful signs" of improvement in the world, referring obliquely to Al Gore's lecture on global warming later that day.

She also said writers had to believe their work "will go somewhere and that you won't just cack out in the middle".

The author, an "old favourite" of the mid-Wales festival, said: "We have the intelligence to dig ourselves out of the muddy field we seem to have sunken into."

When I am talking to young writers I say there has to be some blood in the cookie
Margaret Atwood

But, she added, she would stop short of designing her own utopia.

"There's a problem with Utopian thinking. You can design your perfect world but there is always going to be someone who doesn't agree with you.

"What do you do with them?"

Continue down that route and, she warned, you end up with "dystopia - a much worse situation".

The author - whose most famous novels include The Handmaid's Tale - read extracts from her new work The Tent, which she describes as short fiction.

It includes passages which seem of a more personal nature than her past work, including a poem called Bring Back Mom: An Incantation, referring back to Atwood's childhood in the 1940s.

She described The Tent as "a kind of liquorice all-sorts".

"Everything you write has always got something of you in it because it has passed through you," she said.

"When I am talking to young writers I say there has to be some blood in the cookie."

'Breathtakingly bad'

She also described her bad habits - too much gardening in the summer and having trouble "sitting and beginning [to write]".

Atwood confessed she was an addicted reader: "I will read anything about Attila the Hun, anything on the Black Death, lots of new fiction, lots of old fiction."

Among the old fiction, she admitted to a liking for the English classics.

"I'm very fond of Milton... and an even more shameful admission I'm fond of Tennyson - not all his poems, some of which are breathtakingly bad, but others are brilliant."



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