Margaret Atwood says thieves tried to steal manuscript of Handmaid's Tale sequel

Margaret Atwood did not only have to worry over whether her follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale would be leaked in advance of its rollout.

She told the BBC that she, and her publisher, also had to fend off attempts by cybercriminals to get hold of The Testaments manuscript.

Atwood, 79, described the efforts as “a commercial venture of a robbery kind”.

“People were trying to steal it. We had to use a lot of codewords and passwords,” the Canadian novelist told BBC arts correspondent Rebecca Jones.

Exposing what the criminals could have done if they had succeeded, Atwood added: “They might have said: ‘We’ve got the manuscript, and we’re putting it up online – give us your credit card details.

“Or they might have said: ‘Read this excerpt and download it.’ And if you downloaded it, a virus would have stolen your information.”

Atwood prompted excitement and speculation when she announced last November that she was working on The Testaments, set 15 years after the ambiguous ending of The Handmaid’s Tale in the fictional, totalitarian state of Gilead.

Her publisher ramped up security by listing early review copies of The Testaments under a fake title.

Judges for the 2019 Booker Prize for Fiction – The Testaments is among six books on a shortlist – were asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement before they could read the manuscript.

But secrecy around the book’s plot was breached recently after Amazon accidentally sent out a number of pre-ordered copies.

To prevent another slip-up, Atwood said: “I think anybody putting an embargo in place in the future should attach a dollar amount.

“They should say if you violate the embargo, this is what it will cost you and that money will go to independent bookstores.”

The Testaments is set to be rolled out on Tuesday (Sept 10) in London, with the event slated to be screened in 100 cinemas around the world.

“Publications of this level are few and far between,” said Ms Bea Carvalho, fiction buyer at the British Waterstones chain of bookstores.

The company’s midnight launch party in London touted the presence of Atwood who would read from her new work.

“This is by far the biggest release of the year and one of the biggest cultural moments altogether,” Ms Carvalho told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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