'This time, it's gonna work. That's the difference."
Bruce Walsh is on the telephone from his office in Toronto, talking about the LongPen machine that supposedly allows writers to sign books from virtually anywhere in the world and thus, potentially at least, revolutionize those staples of the literary life: the book launch and the author tour.
We say "supposedly" because the device, which has been bankrolled by none other than Margaret Atwood, famously flubbed at its much-anticipated international debut in March at the London Book Fair.
Atwood is scheduled to try it again on Sunday in a booth at The Word on the Street book and magazine fair in downtown Toronto. This time, though, she is tripling the ante, observes Walsh, vice-president of marketing for Unotchit (as in "You no touch it"), the company Atwood formed in 2004 to manufacture the LongPen.
In March, Canada's most famous living author attempted to conduct two transatlantic signing sessions from London of her then-latest release, The Tent. The plan was for her to use a magnetic pen to autograph a bit pad containing the image of The Tent's title page, as it was beamed from bookstores in Guelph, Ont., and Manhattan. Atwood's pen would then activate a regular pen attached to a robotic arm that would, in turn, sign the real books for fans waiting in the stores across the pond.
Unfortunately, according to Walsh, "a glitch" in the Internet messed up the connection between Britain and North America, forcing Atwood to do an impromptu reading via live video conference larded with jokes about failed inventions.
For Sunday's event at Queen's Park Circle, Atwood has enlisted the participation of two other writers, London adventure novelist Kate Mosse and New York historian Thomas Cahill. Atwood herself will be appearing live from Edinburgh, reading from her latest, Moral Disorder, and signing copies via LongPen, starting at 1 p.m. Mosse will be using her LongPen in London to sign paperback copies of her bestseller Labyrinth, beginning at 11 a.m., while at 3 p.m., Cahill will do the same with his newest, Mysteries of the Middle Ages, from the offices of Random House in New York. It's being billed as "the world's first transatlantic signing" and "the first transborder signing."
Walsh says Unotchit has "been working with Internet experts" for the past six months to eradicate LongPen's transmittal problems. "Now when we do an event, it works," he promises.
And if it doesn't? Well, there's always next month: On Oct. 28, at the International Festival of Authors in Toronto, Atwood is participating in what is being billed as "the world's first LongPen signing from Toronto to Montreal."
Finalists for the 2006 Scotiabank Giller Prize will be using the LongPen long-distance autograph machine devised by Margaret Atwood at a signing event linking Toronto with Montreal on Oct. 28. Incorrect information was published in Globe Review on Sept. 19.