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Author Margaret Atwood meets with members of the Globe and Mail's editorial board to talk about culture and upcoming federal election. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Author Margaret Atwood meets with members of the Globe and Mail's editorial board to talk about culture and upcoming federal election. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

At the editorial board

Margaret Atwood at the editorial board Add to ...

You have a choice from these people from the party, and these other people from the party. I lived in Berlin in 1984. I visited Poland and Czechoslovakia. Two very different experiences, and East Berlin. The most thoroughly locked-down were East Berlin and Czechoslovakia. Poland, because it had a counter-power, which was the Roman Catholic Church, was relatively open.

And it was Poland where the whole fall-down of the curtain began. So I know how people behave in those societies. I know the kinds of pressures that they feel. I know the kinds of hoops and jumps you have to go through to talk to people under those circumstances. Out in the middle of the park, away from the microphones. That wouldn't avail you now. They've got directional mikes. They can pick up what you're saying.

I think we're now reduced to the little piece of paper with the message on it, which you then burn.

John Geiger, Editorial Board Editor: Do you think, speaking to that point, if a campaign is boring, which you keep hearing people saying - it's become almost a mantra in some media...

Ms. Atwood: Well maybe things need to get a little more locked-down and then it'll be less boring. Maybe the needle has to go further towards the dictatorship and maybe people will wake up and think, "Hey, just a minute, what happened?"

Karim Bardeesy, Editorial Writer: Before he entered politics, Michael Ignatieff had a job similar to yours, as a writer.

Ms. Atwood: Writing isn't a "job," by which I mean you don't have an employer, so you can't be fired.

Which is why it is me sitting here today saying it, and not a couple of million of other people or more who would be saying exactly the same thing. Because if they were here saying it, people would look at them funny and it might impact their job.

Mr. Bardeesy: What do you think happens to writers who have that independence when they enter politics?

Ms. Atwood: OK, so writing and "writing." Michael has written some books, is that the same as being a writer? Was he ever a freelance? No. He always had another job. Is it the same. No. It's not.

If you look in Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing, and look at the chapter on money, there are only a limited number of ways in which you can support your writing habit. And they are: having a patron, that would include grants; inheriting money - I recommend it; marrying it - also good; having another job - the T.S. Eliot fallback position; or supporting yourself through the marketplace. Those are the options.

I do the final one, lucky me. I am one of 10 per cent in North America.

So not may people can actually support their writing habit through the marketplace.

Under having a patron today would fall grants.

Somebody tweeted me today saying Picasso didn't need grants. Actually Picasso had a patron. Who would that have been in his early years? It would have been Gertrude Stein - did you know that? I bet you didn't.

James Joyce had an affluent patron who supported him through Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake.

We don't seem to have many of those patrons in Canada, although we've got some. We tend to do it in the form of awards.

I was talking to a guy on the subject of copyright. He was in favour of the "don't pay writers for their stuff" option. At least not in universities. And I said, how do you think writers could therefore make a living and he said, "Couldn't it be a grant system?" And I said "Absolutely not," because then immediately you have favouritism, and you certainly don't have the market deciding anything.

Mr. Geiger: As a writer of dystopias, if there were a Harper majority, do you have a vision of what Canada would look like?

Ms. Atwood: I think it would force a unite the Centre movement. And the centre would probably include the righter portion of the NDP, the Liberals, the lefter portion or the orphan Tories, who have nobody to vote for, and a number of Greens.

I just think people would finally say, 5 parties is untenable. And how that would arrange itself I'm not sure.

A lot of origins of parties disappear. The issues that the party congealed around in the first place go. And then other issues come on stream.

And if you go back into the 19th century it is a bit like the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, in which people move around a chair. The Liberals of the 19th century were big free traders. It was the Tories who were up against that, and they were against it up until Mulroney.

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