Margaret Atwood reveals the real life inspiration behind her Handmaid's Tale sequel 6 months ago

Margaret Atwood reveals the real life inspiration behind her Handmaid's Tale sequel

Margaret Atwood has revealed what inspired her to write a sequel to The Handmaid's Tale. 

The Testaments, the sequel to the Canadian author's 1985 novel The Handmaid's Tale, hits shelves on September 10 - and has been hailed as one of the most highly anticipated books of the year (you can read our thoughts on the book here).

The 79-year-old said that there have been "many, many requests for a sequel" over the years - and that for a long time, she thought that wouldn't have been possible.

Speaking to author Erica Wagner at the launch of The Testaments on Tuesday, she told Her and other gathered press:

"I always said no to [a sequel] because I understood it to mean it would be a continuation of the narrative voice of Offred and The Handmaid's Tale - and there was no way I could recreate that.

"However, as time moved on, instead of moving further away from Gilead we moved closer to it - particularly in the United States. I reexamined that position [on a sequel] and decided that although I couldn't continue the story of Offred, I could continue with three other people who are concerned in these events.

"I could tell the story of the beginning of the end. We know from The Handmaid's Tale that Gilead vanishes; it's no longer present 200 years in the future.

"How did it collapse? How did this kind of regime disappear? They can disappear in various ways - and I was very interested in exploring that."

Another key thing she wanted to explore in the book was what it would be like for a new generation; the people who grew up with Gilead being the current regime.

Atwood continued:

"The second generation in revolutionaries are very different than first generations. It's all they know - and they're not engaged in the violent part of the affair, a form of order has been restored.

"One of the narrators grows up within Gilead, another grows up across the border [in Canada]. You see Gilead from within, from without and from a founder."

While The Handmaid's Tale is from Offred's point of view, The Testaments has three narrators - including Aunt Lydia, who seems to have amassed even more power over the years.

Discussing the reason why she included Aunt Lydia - and her backstory - in the novel, Atwood said:

"She's only seen from the outside in The Handmaid's Tale. We know she's a quoting type of person - and she doesn't give up this habit in The Testaments. 

"The question always is with people in those kinds of positions in regimes [is] how did these people get into it; how did they get into their position of power; what do they use that power for; and what is the justification to themselves about why they're doing it?"

The author also explained how the television adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale - which is now in its third season, surpassing the original novel - was influenced by what she had been planning for The Testaments. 

She said:

"[The Handmaid'sTale showrunner] Bruce Miller and I have been in communication [a lot]. We talk on the phone, I read the scripts and make notes.

"I don't have any actual power - I've got influence.

"But luckily, we're in accord most of the time. I knew [some elements] would be coming into The Testaments. 

"And when I've said 'oh, you can't kill that person', he said, 'I wasn't going to anyways.' Or when I said, 'hands off that baby,' he said, 'oh, ok!'

"He's now read the book and is thrilled to have been given so much extra white board space [in the writing room]."

Atwood also said that she wouldn't rule out a return to the world of Gilead at some point, adding: "never say never."

She continued:

"I never say I'm not going to do anything, because I have said never and even wrong. I think it's best not to tell anybody what you may or may not do.

"If you do something else, there's going to be endless questions about why you didn't do what you said you were going to do.

"Politicians experience this all the time by not saying - but authors, they can avoid it by just saying, 'I'm not telling you my platform'."

  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood is published by Chatto & Windus in Hardback. It hits shelves on Tuesday, September 10 and will cost €20.

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