Margaret Atwood sheds light on hackers' efforts to steal The Testaments

Margaret Atwood sheds light on hackers' efforts to steal The Testaments

Margaret Atwood has spoken of the “phoney emails” from cyber criminals attempting to access The Testaments (Chatto & Windus), at a global press conference in London on Tuesday (10th September).

Speaking with author Erica Wagner at the hour-long conference at the British Library in King’s Cross, central London, on the day of publication - Atwood spoke of the pressures of returning to the world of Gilead 34 years since The Handmaid’s Tale (Jonathan Cape) was published. The 79-year-old Canadian author addressed the worldwide media, before posing for a photo-call flanked by two silent Handmaidens dressed in silver - less than 12 hours after she had read the Booker-shortlisted sequel at the Waterstones Piccadilly midnight opening.

When asked about her “rock star” status, she revealed her gratitude to her team and how they fended off numerous attempted cyber hacks, following revelations from her agent Karolina Sutton in The Bookseller on Friday (6th September).  

“Am I overwhelmed by it? I am very pleased and grateful to the readers who have stuck with me for all these years and the teams of people here, and in the US and Canada, who have been working an amazing number of hours putting it altogether and trying to keep the lid on, because there were concerted efforts to steal the manuscript which would have been used, I’m told, for phishing expeditions in which ‘download The Testaments’ and then you do the fatal ‘click on the link’ and get malware on your computer and all your information is in the hands of the people who can steal your identity,” said Atwood. “So that did not happen, as far as we know, but not for lack of trying. There were lots of phoney emails from people trying to winkle even just three pages, even just anything.”

Discussing the writing process, Atwood revealed how, “I know I sent a two-paragraph summary to my publishers to my publishers on February 17th 2017, saying what it was and who was going to be in it… I think probably they were terrified. It does sound like a mad idea, usually I never tell anyone what I’m doing because they always sound mad and I think with books you have to read them. I must have been far enough long to tell them what I was doing.”

Margaret Atwood with Erica Wagner at global press conference (photo credit: Craig Simmonds)

The six-time Booker shortlistee and one-time winner revealed how the political changes in the US had affected the context of her imagined world of Gilead. “So it goes back into probably thinking about in 2015, starting to building it up in 2016 and writing the summary in February 2017, the serious work in April 2017… Election [of US President Donald Trump] happens 2016 at which point everyone in the cast and team [of the Hulu TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale] woke up and said ‘we’re in a different show’. Nothing in the show changed, the frame changed, it would be viewed differently which it was.”

When asked if she would return to the Handmaids’ world for another book, Atwood said: “Never say ‘never’ to anything because I have said ‘never’ and been wrong, I’ve also said ‘I’m writing this’ and then didn’t. So I think It’s best not to tell anyone what you may or may not be doing because otherwise there will be endless questions about why you’re not doing what you said you were going to… I’m not telling you my platform.”

She also revealed that she wrote a lot the sequel in a dome car (a railway passenger car that has a glass dome on the top of the car) travelling across Canada, after winning the trip in a raffle fundraiser. “It was a great place to write because nobody phoned - they couldn’t,” she said.

The launch comes after The Testaments was sent out almost a week early in the US last Wednesday by Amazon, for which the e-retailer later apologised. This led to reviewers in America and then the UK breaking press embargos. 

Atwood described the incident as a "boo-boo" and a "big fracas" when speaking to the BBC and suggested there should be financial penalty for such errors whether "on purpose or by mistake".

She said: "I think anybody putting an embargo in place in the future should attach a dollar amount. They should say if you violate the embargo, this is what it will cost you and that money will go to independent bookstores."