Toast and jam

At last year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival, the ABC’s Ramona Koval spoke about writing with someone who should know:

Margaret Atwood: My daughter isn’t here … she somewhat resents this story, but maybe she’s got through her period of resentment because she’s now 29. But when she was five, she and her friend Heather put on a play, and they sold the tickets to this play which were five cents. We bought the tickets and we were, in fact, the only audience members. The play opened, and the play was two characters having breakfast, and they had some orange juice and they had some cereal and they had milk on the cereal and they had some toast and they had butter on the toast and they had jam on the toast…
Ramona Koval: You did have hopes for this play early on though. You thought that you could see in its structure perhaps something Pinteresque or …
Margaret Atwood: That was after we’d had more toast, more orange juice and more tea and more jam, and then more orange juice, and finally at about the third go around we said, ‘Is anything else going to happen in this play?’ And they said, ‘No.’ We said, ‘In that case, we’re going away, and when you think of something else that’s going to happen, we’ll come back,’ because otherwise it gets to be like an Andy Warhol movie about somebody sleeping. It makes an artistic point but you don’t want to actually sit through it for 12 hours. So that’s the difference. In literature, unless something happens fairly early on in the book, people are probably not going to turn the page.
Ramona Koval: It seems like a simple message but so many people don’t get that.
Margaret Atwood: Well, maybe they have more faith in the reader than they ought to have. Maybe they think they can have the thing happening on page 15. They really need to have it happening on about page three … something, anything.

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