Personal Advice from Margaret Atwood: Tweet like a silly old woman by Matt Rees

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I’m in Dubai for the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature. Normally festivals fly authors in for a day, we do our thing before the public, and then we’re packed off, wishing we had time to get to know the other writers. The Emirates Festival is very different: I’m here for a week.

A week in Dubai is long enough to see an entire new office block erected here. It’s also long enough to form friendships with other writers over the kind of book-talk that even the most well-read partner or friend will eventually grow sick of, if they aren’t writers. In the coming weeks I’ll be blogging about some of these writers, whose work in some cases I didn’t even know before the festival. In all cases they have proven to be warm, intelligent and open to new ideas.

I might even be tweeting about them. Because last night, after a cruise up the Dubai (manmade) Creek, I was chatting with Margaret Atwood. I had noted in an article about her that she has 100,000 followers on Twitter. As someone with…less of a tweeting profile, I asked her how I could get to such Twittering prominence.

“Pretend to be a silly old woman,” she said.

I was sure she wasn’t referring to herself. She’s 71, but silly she most certainly is not. Nonetheless, I said: “I can do that.”

“The question is, whether you want to be seen as silly or serious,” she responded.

“The point is to get 100,000 followers. Is silly or serious best?”

“But what do you want to do with them?”

100,000 followers? Surely at least a few of them would send me all their money. Or some soiled, sexy underwear. No, stick with what’s important. “Well, I want to persuade them to read my books.”

“Aaaah,” Margaret said, with the air of someone who’s heard that before. She wagged her finger and said, “Weeeellll….” She went on to explain that while she might get some of her 100,000 followers to buy my books, I would have to re-tweet an awful lot of other people’s online tat before I got enough followers to exert my svengali-like influence over them in the direction of my books. The problem is, I don’t read all that online stuff so how would I retweet it. Unless of course, I retweet things blind… But that would be silly.

In fact, I fear that if I were to tweet and retweet, I might turn into a silly old woman rather quickly. Gossiping, lacking concentration, easily offended. (That, at least, is what silly old women were like where I come from. I apologise if you have a different experience of them.)

I should add that not all old women are silly. Which is why not all old women tweet. Or perhaps they aren’t silly because they don’t tweet.

I’d better call an end to this. It’s silly.

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