Electronic pen allows Atwood to reach the world from home

For many authors, book- signing tours to promote their latest work can be an arduous task - a tedious slog around the less glamorous parts of Britain or America, an exhausting round of airplanes and anonymous hotel rooms.

Now Margaret Atwood has devised a method of limiting the amount of touring, while maintaining the vital task of keeping their fans happy with signed books.

The award-winning Canadian author, has developed an electronic remote signing device that allows writers to stay at home but sign books almost anywhere in the world.

"It is simply a very long pen ... with a nib in another place,'' Ms Atwood said yesterday, launching the device, officially known as The Long Pen, at the London Book Fair. She demonstrated its potential with a remote signing of her latest book of short stories, The Tent, between the stand of her publisher's Bloomsbury and a room elsewhere in the exhibition hall.

But plans for an inter-continental signing between London and Ontario and New York were scrapped amid technical difficulties.

The idea came to Ms Atwood, who is in her sixties, during lengthy tours around Britain to promote her book Oryx and Crake two years ago. She said: "I am just finding the whole business very wearing now that I am an old age pensioner.''

Developed by a company of which Ms Atwood is now president, the Long Pen consists of two connected video screens and an electronic pen at one end and a document or book holder at the other, together with an electronic arm wielding a pen.

The author and the recipient can see and hear each other on the screens, while the arm replicates accurately the movements made with the electronic pen. Unotchit, the company, stresses that the device is not an automatic pen - because it can only operate when the signer is present - or an electronic signature.

The company says that while The Long Pen was developed at the behest of Ms Atwood, its potential applications were far reaching and could have a variety of uses whereever a remote signature was needed.

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