“THE wastepaper basket is your friend” – Profound words from Margaret Atwood when she visited Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre.

To a packed audience, made up of academics with notebooks in hand to avid readers of her myriad of novels, the Canadian author spoke about her latest offering, Hag-Seed.

The book is a tale which replicates Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in which a duped director produces the play within a prison, in a bid for revenge on the men who cheated him.

When Atwood was asked by Hogarth Press to join a list of acclaimed authors to rework Shakespeare, she explained she would only do it if she could have The Tempest. She was fascinated by the Bard’s epilogue, performed by Prospero, who asks for ‘release’ from the audience. By what is he imprisoned?

And why did she call the book Hag-Seed (after Caliban)? Because it’s a great word, of course.

During her discussion with award-winning novelist Joanna Kavenna, Atwood also discussed her dystopic story, The Handmaid’s Tale, which was written in the 1980s but recently rose to the surface again after being serialised for television.

Despite its uncomfortable content, about a society changed by war where the reduced number of fertile women are enslaved to produce heirs for a ruling class, the book contains nothing that has not happened somewhere in the world. And if she wrote it again, now? She’d add cell phones and lattes – two ubiquitous items that were not in existence when she first penned the novel.

But back to the wastebasket. In a question and answer session, an English teacher asked her for advice she could pass on to her students.

“Remember, the page is yours,” she suggested. There is no shame in screwing up the sheet and starting again. And once screwed up, chuck it…in the wastebin.

* Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood, Vintage, £8.99