On the 8th October, Topping Co. Bookshop in Bath hosted an event with Margaret Atwood at St Mary’s Church, Bathwick.
As we filtered into the venue, we were ushered first to a stall filled with Atwood’s latest book ‘Hagseed’, the price of which was incorporated into the ticket fee and therefore the book was free. The tables which were manned by staff from Topping Co. were filled with signed copies of the book since the author didn’t have time to sign or personalise books after the event.
The next set of tables were covered in glasses of wine; red wine, white wine and also elderflower cordial. Picking up a drink we made our way down the church’s centre aisle towards the front, where we were told we could sit in the seats on the side of the stage. Sitting here provided us with a pretty good view and a close proximity to hear well – which was particularly fortunate when we later discovered that the combination of Atwood’s accent and her soft-spoken tone made some of what she had to say difficult to catch.
Settled in our seats we eagerly awaited the arrival of Margaret. Following a short introduction from Topping Co., Atwood appeared from the wings and ascended onto the stage. Atwood began by talking about Hagseed. The novel was created alongside many others by different authors for the Hogarth Shakespeare Project to celebrate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. Hagseed is a recreation of The Tempest, and Atwood explained that because she was asked early on she luckily got her pick of the bunch and could, therefore, choose the play she truly wanted.
Why choose this play? She went on, not just because of the weather aspect which is also extremely influential in Canada but because she has written about dubious wizards including; Prospero and The Wizard of Oz in her previous book On Writers and Writing. Atwood also felt that The Tempest is the play that comes closest to reflecting Shakespeare’s own life. After running through some of the initial details regarding the book, Atwood then read an extract from the chapter entitled, Usurper.
Following this the author continued her explanation of the novel, telling us that she wanted to carry all the plotlines and characters into her story rather than just creating something that was inspired by the play. Although this brought about several problems, Margaret found a way around them all including interpreting a leaky boat into an old, falling apart car, and the cave on the island into a home built into a hill.
As the author told us more about her work it became clear just how witty she is, in particularly in another extract she read allowed in which Caliban Raps.
“Ban, ban, Ca-Caliban,
Don’t need no master, I am not your man!
Move it, man! Let it go, let it flow –
Don’t need no, need no, need no! No no no!”
As the monologue about Hagseed from Atwood ended, she announced there would be 15 minutes for any questions. Over the course of this, there were many questions, not only about this work but also some of her previous novels. Some of the best questions and answers included;
What was the trickiest thing from The Tempest to incorporate into a modern version? The character of Miranda, who in the original is supposed to be on an island, having never seen other people. To solve this Atwood has created two Mirandas.
If you couldn’t choose The Tempest, which play would you have chosen? In answer, Atwood suggested she might not have done it at all. Going on to quote Sidonie Gabrielle Colette “If I can’t have too many truffles, I’ll do without truffles.”
What other authors influence your writing? Shakespeare she replied with a sarcastic laugh. Then after a pause, she added, Beatrix Potter, who in a way is somewhat like Shakespeare in that what she writes, often has a dark edge.
Why is it important to re-imagine Shakespeare? WHY NOT! Again she chuckled before saying, he is infinitely re-imaginable.
An hour had passed and the event was coming to an end, Atwood answered one last question from the audience before thanking Topping Co. and receiving rapturous applause as she exited the stage.