Children's book club webchat with Anthony Horowitz
Anthony Horowitz, best-selling author of the Alex Rider series and Power of Five series, answers your questions about his latest novel, Oblivion, our November 2012 Children's chapter book of the month, and his writing.
Q. Worriedmum46: Did you always want to be an author? And do you ever run out of new ideas?
A. Anthony: I knew from the age of about 10 that I was going to be a writer - partly because I wasn't much good at anything else. I really was the most stupid boy in the school (the teachers told me often enough) but I found I was happy telling the other boys stories... in the dormitory after lights out. I have never run out of ideas. Sometimes I think I have too many ideas - the secret is knowing which one to write.
Q. Firewall: Your books are fantastic, and it's so lovely to have books that also engage boys to read. My question is, as a parent or teacher, in your opinion, what are the best ways of engaging boys to read and write more, or even enjoy it? Every year I see that once pupils have a choice to whether to take A-level English or English Lit, only one or two boys go for it.
A. Anthony: Thank you for your kind words. Your question is a tricky one. I think the best way to engage boys in reading is by simply sharing enthusiasm... that was how it worked for me; three brilliant teachers who somehow communicated their love of literature, language and drama, and ignited something inside me. That's the way I approach my writing now. I get excited about a story and need to share it. Somehow that seems to click with my readers. And perhaps that's part of the answer too. Story is everything. Find a story that engages a boy and all the rest will follow.
Q. Modernbear: Did you know Power of Five's ending when you started Raven's Gate or was the series an evolving thing thing? Also, I read somewhere that you were involved with the child protection agency, Kidscape. Why did you get involved with this particular charity and is your involvement in any way reflected in your work?
A. Anthony: Yes. I did have a rough idea of the ending as much as 30 years ago. When the Inca tumi turns up in the second book, the ending is already signposted. But I worked out some of the fine details as I wrote the last book. I always knew that it would be my longest and most ambitious book, by the way. That was why it took so many years to write.
I met the director of Kidscape following an article about chuggers (charity street sellers) that I wrote for a newspaper. We hit it off and he invited me to become a patron. Which I was happy to do. Kidscape does great work helping children to deal with bullying and I love the way it uses young people as counsellers with a unique phone line.
Q. Preety18: Where did you get your inspiration for Oblivion?
A. Anthony: A lot of my inspiration comes from the news. Oblivion came from the sense of decay and destruction…the near collapse of the banks, the crooked MPs, the end of the EU, the dangers of the Arab spring. It was also inspired by the idea of writing a Tolkein-esque fantasy but setting it in the real world.
Q. Naggity: My children would like to ask which character from your books would you most like to be and why?
A. Anthony: A lot of my characters have a fairly rough time and I'm not sure I'd rush to be any of them! But I think I'd most like to be Nick Diamond, the younger brother in the Diamond Brothers detective series. He's my most cheerful character. Even when the bullets are flying all around him he still has time to smile.
Q. KateKat: Where do you get your ideas from? Is there any particular method to get inspiration? Is it like a process or would you say ideas are being born spontaneously?
A. Anthony: Inspiration just comes. There's no method and no process - at least, not for me. It's more a frame of mind. Something will happen and it will suggest a story for me - even a small or a trivial incident. Last week someone left a present for me on my doorstep but forgot to leave a name. That, to me, is the start of a story (and may appear in a short-story collection I'm publishing next year). The sight of a massage chair in an airport. A new bath. A child with a hearing aid. A photo machine on a station platform. All of these have inspired stories in my various horror collections.
Q. Somuchtobits: I recently heard you speak at my son's school and was very impressed. As the school is only 11 years old, a small number of parents volunteer to help there, including myself, but as I'm not a teacher or librarian I don't know what to recommend to them to borrow.
Which books would you recommend to an almost-12 year old like my son, who likes action and adventure (think Arthur Ransome, Narnia books, and your own novels)? What type of books would you look to see available in their school library in the future? And do you think it's important to have qualified staff working in the library to offer advice to children? I'm no expert so I feel sometimes unable to help the children as much as I would like!
A. Anthony: Well, like yourself, I'm no expert - and may I say (without, I hope, sounding patronising) that it's fantastic you're lending your time and energy to your school library. Anyway, a few thoughts in no particular order:
I think every school should have a qualified librarian. Reading underpins every school activity - it is the cornerstone of all education. A librarian can make the right connections, find the books children want to read, let other teachers know books that might inform their specialist subjects.
I'm not sure that children always need to be advised what to read. Dabbling, exploring, trying and discarding are all part of the reading experience - children should never be afraid to put a book down and try something else if they're not enjoying it.
The first books I loved were the Willard Price Adventure series, which are still in print. They might appeal to your son. I notice though that his reading choices aren't very modern!
How about some Michelle Paver's Wolf Brother series (also inspired by Price). Or Michael Morpurgo for classic fiction - Private Peaceful is my favourite. Frank Cottrell Boyce for brilliant and thought-provoking comedy.
Patrick Ness is one of the best living children's authors - The Knife of Never Letting Go is superb. Louis Sacher's Holes is wonderful. Charlie Higson and Robert Muchamore both have a huge following. There's loads for boys.
Q. Dilysprice: My daughter (10 - huge Alex Rider fan) wants to know "Are you a perfectionist? Do you have lots of crumpled up story ideas in the bin?"
Also, I've just found out that Oblivion is a reworking of books you originally wrote in the 1980s, so I'd love to hear about the process of rewriting. How many of the changes are due to your development as a writer and how many are due to changes in the world around you, and your post-Alex Rider audience?
A. Anthony: I don't think I've ever achieved perfection but I hope I learn from my mistakes! I usually write three or four drafts of every book and I'm not afraid to tear up large chunks and start again if need be.
For example, my 21-year-old son didn't like a whole section of Oblivion. I realised he was right and consigned about 30,000 words to the bin. It was painful but necessary. He's a brilliant critic.
I began the Power of Five series more than 20 years ago, it's true. I'm afraid I lost heart and stopped before the end - but then, after the success of Alex Rider, I revisited the books and started again. It was an interesting experience.
I thought the 25-year-old Anthony Horowitz had some quite good ideas but didn't have the same skill set as the 57-year-old Anthony Horowitz. It was interesting meeting myself across the bridge of time and I'm much happier with the series the way it is now.
Q. ChewyK: This question comes from my son Matthew: "We have both enjoyed your Alex Ryder books. Are you a fan of James Bond - and would you like to have been a spy?"
A. Anthony: I loved James Bond from the time I read the books - in my very early teens. I also loved the films, particularly when Sean Connery played the lead. Alex Rider was really inspired by the thought that Roger Moore was too old to be Bond. Wouldn't it be great, I thought, if Bond was a teenager. I never wanted to be a spy. I always - and only - wanted to be a writer.
Q. Eirwen: My teenage daughter is a huge fan of your Alex Rider books and also The Power of Five series. She asked me to thank you for many hours of enjoyable reading material. She's thoroughly enjoying Oblivion but is saddened as this is the end of another series. She's curious to know your future writing plans: do you have any ideas or intentions for a new series?
A. Anthony: Well, first of all, my thanks to your daughter. It is true that I seem to be closing a lot of doors - first Alex, now the Power of Five. But I have at least six more books in me. I'm writing the story of Yassen Gregorovich at the moment (he's the killer in the Alex books). Then there will be a sequel to my Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk.
I have a collection of adult short stories coming out soon. And I also have plans for a trilogy for young adults - the story of a boy who has parents and a family (for a change) but whose whole life self-destructs when...
Sorry. I'm not saying any more. I hope to start writing it in 2015.