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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Saturday, 28 February 2009

A few remarks on Geraldine Bedell's actions by Margaret Atwood

by Suzan Abrams
There were many talks and also a major poetry celebration of Mahmud Darwish's work at the Emirates Festival of Literature today. I won't be able to write anymore about it, until after I've returned to Dublin late next week.
Anyway, one of the many exciting events had Margaret Atwood in conversation on her writing life through a video link that filmed her at home about 2.25am Saturday. She was interviewed by British journalist Liz Thompson. She was in a cheerful mood often smiling and always gracious in her answers. She gave a lengthy interview especially on the current stage of the publishing climate and what it means for authors today. I will write it out for you in Dublin.
The first thing Thompson asked Atwood about was the recent controversy and if she wanted to talk about it. Atwood was quite passionate about the subject and she certainly did.
She explained what we already knew but in greater detail. However, it was different hearing it all from the novelist herself.
Just a few important lines today from Atwood that you may not have known:
a) She received an email from someone informing her that Geraldine Bedell's novel had been banned from the Emirates Festival of Literature.
b)Soon after she received the email, Geraldine Bedell wrote her damning blog on the Emirates Festival, in the Guardian and Margaret Atwood herself, read it. She was horrified that Bedell would be so mistreated for her creativity.
c) She cancelled her trip and not long after, learnt the truth. Bedell hadn't yet published her book. There was nothing to ban. Atwood badly regretted cancelling her flight and added that she hoped to attend the Emirates Festival next year. She felt that as Vice-President of PEN, she had done the right thing in reacting the way she did, although she regretted her actions afterwards. To make up for what happened, she felt too, that she was doing the right thing in speaking to us through the video link. In short, the chaos had placed her in a spot.
d) Margaret Atwood spent a good few days in involving her time with the laborious task of sorting out the truth through e-mail letters. She found it a painful chore as she can't type.
e) The truth was that Geraldine Bedell was simply one of a large number of writers, whose proposed participation in the Festival, was rejected.
f) To Margaret Atwood who described herself as an old war horse, the word banning in the dictionary means something prohibited and that's the interpretation that she abides by. She discovers that Bedell had not told the truth. It was a cheap publicity stunt and she, Atwood, had been fooled.
g) Geraldine Bedell's book is to be stocked in Magrudy's chain of bookstores in Dubai. There was never any problem in stocking the title. This was then announced to Atwood, who was not surprised.
h) Margaret Atwood said that she was now "so dying to read it to find out what it's all about". In this sparkly mood, she tells us all to go out and buy one as soon as the book is published. She laughs and is regaled as she says this.
i) Much later on, there was a slight outcry from some in the audience - many angry with Bedell that false information and a trivial publicity stunt had blocked a famous author's attendance, someone they had badly wanted to meet in person. Also, many were disappointed and said they would not read Bedell. A few voiced concern that if everyone followed Atwood's advice to go out and buy the book, then other publishers would think up similiar stunts since Bedell would have achieved her goal of chalking up sales and all the right attention the wrong way.
Much more on Margaret Atwood later.

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