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High-net-worth investing: Margaret Atwood muses on money

Author Margaret Atwood during an interview with The Globe and Mail at L'Espresso Bar Mercurio on Bloor St., Toronto August 07 2013. Photo by: Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

Margaret Atwood is best known for writing wildly successful books but she's also no slouch when it comes to business. She's an entrepreneur who helped transform her LongPen remote signature technology from idea to reality and a businesswoman who backs some innovative companies that she considers environmentally friendly. Ms. Atwood also has a strong position on debt and how it has informed human behaviour, which she laid out in her prescient 2008 book Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth.

This combination of bestselling books and business ventures has made Ms. Atwood a good sum of money over the years, which she puts toward some unconventional investments, at least by Bay Street standards. She also contributes to a few offbeat crowdfunding campaigns for movies or projects that interest her, and occasionally kills time with scratch bingo cards.

The Globe spoke with Ms. Atwood recently about where she puts her money, and why:

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Where do you invest your money?

Let's make it clear. I'm not an investor. That's not what I do. Warren Buffett I'm not. Occasionally something comes along and I have to get involved in it. I put money into things I think are useful. That includes the green funds run by [environmental investor] Michael de Pencier and his merry men called Investeco, and one on the West Coast called Renewal2, which puts it mostly into organic produce and various other things that are environmentally useful.

Do you give those fund managers any direction on where to put your money?

Are you nuts? I trust them to pick out worthy things. Besides, they don't invest in the things I wouldn't invest in. I'm not putting it into oil wells. I'd be much richer if they did, but I can't do that.

Why can't you invest in oil companies?

I just can't. It would be hypocritical. Into every life a little hypocrisy must fall, and I know perfectly well that's what makes the car go.

But if [Tesla CEO] Elon Musk was putting his Powerwall on the market, I would certainly buy a piece of that. My feeling is that, once that becomes affordable, everyone is going to do that. I think that's definitely the wave of the future. If the Urban Death Project [a human composting company] was floating stock, I would probably invest in that. Into a certain age group that is what we talk about. It's no longer, 'who's having an affair with whom?' It's 'what are you going to do with your corpse?'

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Is there anything you've thought of investing in directly yourself, such as the next tech IPO?

I'm not into it. I'm quite good at thinking of pretend ones and putting them in novels.

You've invested in a private touchscreen-technology startup called Baanto. Why that company?

I like the technology. The beauty of it is that [its ShadowSense technology] takes a lot less energy to make and the material is cheaper.

Do you get approached a lot to invest in companies as an entrepreneur?

No. I get approached a lot to support things and by people who want to know what I think.

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What's the best investment you've made?

The best investments you make are buying things that you want and like. I like pieces of land, but they aren't investments. My dad made me buy the first one. He said if I didn't it would turn into a gravel pit.

What's the worst?

Of course you try to forget those things, but probably all of those lottery tickets that never paid off. I never won a single one. I might get a scratch bingo card once in a while. It's a pastime. I'm willing to pay $3 to have something to do for 15 minutes.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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