Anthony Horowitz: Icon of Children’s Literature

Antarctica - inspiration for 'Oblivion'

By Helen Spalding

As seen in Pegasus Pages (December 2012).

An iconic figure in children’s fiction, Anthony Horowitz was interviewed in the Sky Arts Tent as part of the Cheltenham Literature Festival. Shy at first, he became more confident and at ease on stage when his love for writing claimed him and he took the opportunity to share his thoughts and inspiration behind his books.

The author of the legendary Alex Rider series and the new Power of 5 series spoke passionately about his newest piece of work, Oblivion, the final book in this latest collection of novels. He described to the eager crowd his unique writing process, his experiences in writing, and some of the deeper messages behind his works.

As one of the most acclaimed writers of children’s fiction, he has paved a new road for literature for the younger ages with his horror and action novels, igniting the imagination of an entire generation, despite a phenomenon he calls the “squeeze”. The “squeeze” is the diminishing interest in reading due to the increasing pressure of education and the development of technology for leisure (television, PlayStation, and cinema). He revealed that his technique is to reach out from the very first page, grab the reader by the throat, and not let go until the very last. He said the highest praise he has ever received was a comment that he had got children reading again.

Horowitz’s works are not just blood and adventure, however. They include a deeper, political undertone, enjoyed by older readers and adults as well. He has even recently branched out into adult fiction, with his sequel to the classic tales of Sherlock Holmes, called The House of Silk. He has plans for a future novel involving a detective of his own invention, and some minor Sherlock Holmes characters, churning in the works. His prowess extends not only to writing books, but also to screen plays for film and television, and journalism. Some of his more recent works include the screenplay of Tintin and the script for the series Foyle’s War, produced by his wife. He has now written over 35 books, sold across the globe.

Much to the annoyance of his wife and children, Anthony’s passionate writing process means that he is completely consumed by his imagination, sometimes working up to 10 hours per day. He prefers to write in the actual location which his books are set in, and thanks to the many literary talks he gives globally, he is able to travel frequently, as he puts it: “discovering new cities to destroy in his books.” The final scene of Oblivion, he revealed, is an Armageddon, a huge battle between his main characters, and the forces of evil, the ‘Old Ones’, which takes place on the ice of Antarctica. He said it was only fitting to him to stage the end of the world at the end of the world. In order to write the final part of his book, he travelled all the way to Antarctica and spent several months writing it whilst wandering the frozen waste land.

Despite his alienation from his family during his writing process, he revealed that they maintain a very close bond. His youngest son became very involved in the editing process of his latest novel. After finishing the rough draft, Horowitz’s son told his father that the entire last section was not up to standard, which, after initial shock, Horowitz agreed with. The series, being a rewrite of a lesser-known collection of his earliest work, had taken him more than seven years to rewrite, and in its final stages, he admitted that he had become lazy, had paid no attention to detail, and was just desperate to finish. The ending was therefore entirely rewritten. Horowitz said he values constructive criticism over undue praise, although his son is still disowned.

Horowitz felt that he was born to write his latest Power of 5 series which, beneath the initial thrill of the action and violence of the plot, actually contains some deeper themes and messages closer to his heart. Inspired by the Iraq war and the revolts that have been taking place in Africa, the series is set in the future, when the environment has been completely destroyed, and the population is at the mercy of ancient demons emerging from the earth (the aforementioned ‘Old Ones’), a metaphor for his dark, satirical take on modern society and the government. He was adamant that he does not intend to push his opinion onto his readers, and when questioned about the levels of violence in his work and its suitability for the audience, he responded that in all his works he tries to honour a contract of mutual understanding between concerned parents, whom he says he respects immensely (and admits to being one himself), and writers for children. He replied that when writing first drafts he is committed only to telling the story, but during the harsh but efficient editing process his books are submitted to, the audience and commercial aspect of the books are taken into consideration and his work is revised to be both thrilling and appropriate to young readers.

Anthony Horowitz is a talented and imaginative story-teller, who not only seeks to entertain, but to enlighten, and his style and original take on the world make him unique in children’s literature. His books deservedly take a place in the hearts of those who read his novels next to Lemony Snicket and J K Rowling’s works, and he continues to inspire children, and even adults, across the world.

Photography: by Rita Willaert on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

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