Anthony Horowitz plans to tour the U.S. to promote Snakehead, the seventh book in a series about teen spy Alex Rider.
Alex is in Southeast Asia this time, battling another band of evil. Do you change the locales to keep it interesting?
If I got tired of it at all, I wouldn’t write it. I have a great belief in not doing anything unless I’m passionate about it. My greatest fear is disappointing the reader, so each book has to be better than the one before.
Are you already working on another adventure for Alex?
Not at the moment. I do have a story outline for the next one but Snakehead took two years to write because I took some time off after Ark Angel. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t slipping into formula. So I am going to write another Alex Rider but I probably won’t start it for another 18 months, maybe a year.
What are you working on, then, because the publicity materials that came with Snakehead say you are “The Busiest Writer in Britain.”
That’s almost certainly true. I am writing two television series, one for I-TV, and one for the BBC, and I have a new series for the Fox network in America, which I would be writing if there wasn’t a strike at the moment [Horowitz has signed on to write and produce Raffik, a cop show about an Albanian police officer who transfers to the LAPD]. I’m also writing another book in the Power of Five series, and some journalism.
Wow, you are busy. Tell us your secret. How do you keep yourself motivated?
I’m not happy unless I have a pen in my hand, it’s really that simple.
Have you always been like this? Was there a moment in your childhood when you knew you were destined to be a writer?
Well, I’ve told this story before, but I had a classically unhappy childhood. I’m from a wealthy family. My father was aloof, very strange and very distant. It was more like a 19th-century existence than a 20th-century one, with servants and a gong to come down to dinner. Then, when I was eight years old, I was sent off to a horrible school, a place where there were regular beatings. I don’t say this to complain of it because it’s the same experience of many men my age who came from privilege. But I was basically unhappy and unsuccessful from age 8 to 13. While I was at school, however, I found I liked to tell stories. We were eight boys to a room, and I enjoyed telling stories to scare or entertain the other scared and miserable kids. I was at the bottom of every class and every subject, but I could tell a good story.
And was it during that period that you read through the Ian Fleming canon?
Actually, it was my mother, whom I adored, who introduced me to James Bond. She took me to all the movies. I remember going to see Dr. No with her. Ursula Andress coming out of the sea in that white bikini—that was a hugely formative experience for me.
But how, then, did you come to write about a teenage spy?
I had been writing children’s books for about 15 years, a book a year with modest sales of 10—15,000 copies. Then J.K. Rowling suddenly exploded onto the scene and, after the second Harry Potter, I felt I had to do something radically different— my books were sort of similar to hers in tone and setting. I had an idea I’d been playing with for a long time about a young spy because I had seen Roger Moore playing Bond and thought, ‘He’s just too old. Why can’t Bond be young again?’ And it hit me that now is the time to do this idea. So I wrote Stormbreaker and Point Blank and they were immediate hits.
And they were your first hits in America, too, right?
Right, although they did take longer to take off, and my profile is still much higher here [in the U.K.] than it is America.
Do you have a theory about that?
It’s hard to know quite why. Three of the books have been set in America now.
Do your own sons read your manuscripts as you’re writing them?
My children [sons Nicholas, 18, and Cassian, 16] have been absolutely vital in helping me create Alex Rider. Nicholas is a wonderful sportsman, and he knows all the proper language for snowboarding or kite-surfing... that’s not what they call it... wind-surfing, it is. So he sets me right on that. Cassie’s very good at creative ideas. I’m sure he’s a writer. They both read the manuscripts and they are brilliant critics.
What did all of you think of the Stormbreaker film?
I think the movie was good. I don’t think it quite did the job. I just saw Philip Pullman’s movie last night [The Golden Compass], which I liked very much but not nearly as much as the books. The problem with film is that it’s fighting a child’s imagination. What a child can imagine from what he reads in a book is always going to be more potent and more fun than anything Hollywood can create.
You did write the screenplay for Stormbreaker, though, right? Did you enjoy the experience?
It was enormous fun, and it brought thousands more readers to the book. It was like a big advertisement for the books. But films are just a different beast because there’s so much money at stake. I love all my writing but books are my love. My children’s books mean more to me than anything else except my family. It has to do with the enthusiasm of the young people I meet who love my books and are so giving of their enthusiasm. It’s so different than an adult who sits back watches a film or a TV show. I feel enormously privileged to be reaching young readers at a time when we all know how important reading is.
You have quite the punishing tour schedule—12 cities in 13 days. Are you looking forward to it?
It’s great to go to places, to American cities I wouldn’t normally see, to see there’s more to America than New York and L.A. I don’t do presentations. I do questions and answers because I want to hear everybody’s questions. Tours can be quite exhausting but I try to enjoy everything. I really get quite the buzz from meeting readers.
Snakehead by Anthony Horowitz. Philomel, $17.99 400p ages 12-up ISBN 978-0-399-24161-1