The Watcher

2013-06-06 00:00

ONCE, when Anthony Horowitz’s two sons were small, he walked with them into a lift at a railway station.

“At the last minute, my one son, aged nine, ran into the lift next door — so the two lifts travelled parallel to each other, but separately — and when we got out, I was very angry with him.

“I said to him: ‘Never do that again. Never run away like that. You were in a lift with strangers.’ My son replied: ‘But, Dad, I was in the lift for 20 seconds. What could have happened to me?’”

Those words, “what could have happened to me”, sparked off the inspiration for a story that Horowitz then proceeded to write.

“Everything is a source of material,” says Horowitz when we meet for an interview. Whether he’s exploring in Petra, Jordan or sitting in a kayak in Antarctica, relaxing in Greece or, indeed, simply going about his everyday life, the author is constantly on alert for a story idea.

“Writing is a constant adventure for me. Actually, the more mundane the situation, the better the story,” he continues.

“Stories, for me, come from the slightest pretext or experience. The slightest meeting or encounter has a story attached to it. Everything in life has a story. The secret is simply to find that story.”

We are meeting at a hotel in Cape Town, a day before Horowitz is scheduled to appear as one of the major attractions at the Franschhoek Literary Festival.

Despite being in excruciating pain due to a slipped disc in his neck, he talks openly and easily about his diverse body of work. (The author eventually had to forego the festival on medical advice and flew back home to the UK straight after the interview).

Horowitz, who had his first book published when he was 22, has written more than 35 books. He also writes plays and TV and movie scripts, as well as travel articles and regular pieces on topical issues in the media.

The best-selling teenage spy series, Alex Rider, consisting of nine novels, has sold more than 13 million copies and was adapted by Horowitz into a movie that was released worldwide in 2006. He also recently completed Oblivion, the final book in his Power of Five fantasy series, and has also written a range of adult books.

The author — who is frequently described as a polymath — was commissioned by the Conan Doyle Estate and Orion Books to write a new Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk, which was published in November 2011 to great acclaim. Horowitz also wrote some of the UK’s most successful television series, including the first seven episodes of Midsomer Murders, and he is the writer and creator of the drama series Foyle’s War.

It’s difficult not to fawn all over Horowitz. Firstly, he’s very easy on the eye. Secondly, he clearly loves the young audience he writes for, and, thirdly, in this reporter’s case, he has finally got my 11-year-old son reading obsessively without any encouragement.

The author, who lives between London’s Clerkenwell district and Orford, Suffolk, is married to TV producer Jill Green whose production company has produced Foyle’s War and other top shows. The couple has two sons in their 20s, who, while delightful, Horowitz says, do not actually read much.

“I like young people more than I like adults,” says Horowitz, who has loved books since taking sanctuary in libraries, while enduring life in an all-boys boarding school.

“People in their 20s often come up to me and tell me that my books were a part of their childhood — and I love that.”

Horowitz, who believes that adults are the cause of most of the world’s problems, believes young people have inherited a world that is in a much worse state than the world he was handed at their age.

“I think my generation has been an extremely selfish and destructive one,” Horowitz says.

It is for this reason that he writes regularly in the media on a range of subjects, including education, literacy and youth in prisons.

“I write a great deal about the importance of literacy and libraries. In Britain, school libraries are being slowly demolished because of cutbacks.

“I believe it should be statutory for every school in the country to have a library and a full-time librarian.”

Horowitz also writes at length about the nature of education itself in Britain, “and how it has changed from being about fulfilment and enrichment to simply how to get a degree and a job”.

He also writes regularly about youth in prison and about “how futile it is to lock up young people”.

“I visit young people in prison. I talk to them and I write to them, and am available to go to prisons if they invite me to go and speak to the young people.

“I am interested in these young [prisoners] because I am aware that if my son, aged 16, had got into a fight in a pub and had punched somebody, and that person fell and hit his head on a table and died, he’d be in prison. The difference between someone in prison and someone who isn’t is not as big as we think. I am also interested because I feel that I can help.”

According to Horowitz, the young offenders he visits are often surprised to learn that he was not clever when he was young. “I say to them that when they were 14, they were probably cleverer than I was at 14 — so why are they the ones in prison and not me? A lot of young people, particularly those in prison, have never actually had a compliment.

“Sometimes when I talk to prisoners about writing and they show me something they have written, and I compliment them, it strikes me that this might be the first time they have ever had praise.

“I am a firm believer that, with books, encouragement and friendship, you can find the good in everybody. Maybe I am naïve.”

Horowitz, who is also working with Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson on the sequel to Tintin, says his current commitments will keep him busy for the next three years. He’s also started on his next Sherlock Holmes novel, which he is very excited about.

When he’s not working, he loves spending time in Suffolk or Greece — both places he loves — where he reads, reflects or walks among what he considers to be the most beautiful countryside he’s been in.

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