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
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
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 appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas