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
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
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.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game