Booker winner's robot brainwave may spell the end of the book tour

Novelist's invention means that authors on one continent can autograph volumes on another

The bizarre, futuristic device would not be out of place in one of Margaret Atwood's sci-fi novels. But next month the Booker Prize-winning writer will unveil a machine she has invented which means authors will never have to meet their adoring public again.

Ms Atwood, the Canadian author of The Handmaid's Tale and The Blind Assassin, has created a machine that will allow her - without leaving the comfort of her home - to autograph the pages of her books while she is in another continent.

The imminent arrival of the gadget, called LongPen, has prompted fears it could kill off the grand tradition of the book-signing tour. Those long hours spent on trains and motorways, trudging the publicity circuit as writers to press the flesh with the people who pay their wages, could be a thing of the past.

Yet the threat has led to a backlash by other authors. D J Taylor called it "an absolutely feeble idea - another example of fatuous modern technology", while novelist Jilly Cooper believes "if the signing tour were to die off, it would be a tragedy".

Ms Atwood, 66, is to launch the device - which has been seen by only a select few at secret testings - at the London Book Fair a fortnight from today, where publishers and authors from around the world will be given a demonstration. The writer will be in Canada but will create what is being billed as the world's first transatlantic autograph.

A video screen will link Ms Atwood with the public, allowing them to speak to her. Then, as she signs a personal message at one end, a robot arm instantly replicates the strokes in a copy of the book at the other.

"You don't have to be in the same room as someone to have a meaningful exchange," she said. "As I was whizzing around the United States on yet another demented book tour, getting up at four in the morning to catch planes, doing two cities a day, eating the Pringle food object out of the mini-bar at night as I crawled around on the hotel room floor, too tired even to phone room service, I thought, 'There must be a better way of doing this.'

"So I talked to a few people, then put together a team to find out whether anything like it existed - no - and whether it could be done - yes."

It may well find favour among some writers and publishers. Mark Hutchinson, a director of literary PR agency Colman Getty, said tours could be a huge boost to sales, but could be demanding on authors who had little time or had commitments that made it difficult to travel.

"I can see that it would be an attractive proposition to simply sit and do the signing from their home," said Mr Hutchinson, who has organised signings for clients such as J K Rowling and Nigella Lawson.

"It can be a demanding, and occasionally mundane, experience - the writers will be meeting and greeting for hours on end, smiling and exchanging pleasantries. If they can do it from the comfort of their armchair and not have the added burden of travelling around, it might be an attractive proposition.

"Some publishers have been trying to think of ways round the whole touring thing for a while. When you think that you instantly email people, this might be an obvious extension and authors could do a virtual world tour in a few hours."

But many authors are aghast at the idea of axing tours. Mr Taylor said: "You have to turn up in person - you have a duty to the people who turn up to see you. Authors spend so much time in their rooms ... the more that technology keeps them sat in their rooms, the worse it is. We can't all be J D Salingers - at some point we have to leave the home and meet the people who pay our wages."

The comedian Charlie Higson, who has recently been promoting his book Blood Fever about the young James Bond, said: "I don't think a robot arm is a substitute for an actual signature. Plus, you still have to go through the actual process of waggling your arm across the page. I do like to do a short tour if I have the time, although if you are in the middle of something else it can take for ever."

Signed copies of books can be highly sought after and collectable - but a new generation of remotely produced signatures may have the reverse effect.

Roddy Newlands, expert in modern first editions at London's Bloomsbury Book Auctions, said: "I think if it were to be signed this way, it might actually take something off the value. I would say it could probably cause a depreciation of the price."

Ms Atwood insists that the device is not a hoax. "It's real. Trust me. You need to have more faith."

On the road: A chapter of disasters

JILLY COOPER: "I went to one signing with a beautiful pink suede skirt with buttons all the way up the front, and when I sat down it split right up to the crotch. I kept putting my bag over it but it didn't do much good."

IAN RANKIN: "I flew from Seattle to San Diego, which is about 3,000 miles, to do a book signing and not one person turned up - so I hung around for an hour, went back to the airport, and got back on a plane to Seattle."

JENNY COLGAN: "I've had my fair share of signing traumas. Sitting completely by myself at a desk in the main concourse of Stansted airport, 30 metres from the bookshop, directing people to their departure gates, is particularly burned into my memory."

TERRY PRATCHETT: "The worst waswhen I turned up at the bookshop and the manager went white and said, 'Was it today?' After every tour I doubt if I'll do it again ... Tours gouge out big lumps of my life, but everyone seems to think they're essential."

Arts and Entertainment
Serious player: Aussie Guy Sebastian rehearses for the big show in Vienna

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
    Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

    The end of an era across the continent

    It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
    Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

    'Focus on killing American people'

    Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
    Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

    Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

    The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
    Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

    Same-sex marriage

    As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
    The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

    The Mafia is going freelance

    Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable