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Anthony Horowitz: "I’m not peddling my views to ten-year-olds"

The Books Interview.

You’ve been very busy. You’ve just published Oblivion, the last book in the Power of Five series for children. You’ve also written for television, as well as a Sherlock Holmes novel last year. How do you do it?

I love doing it. I’m excited by it and every project that I take on is something I really want to do. I’m now old enough and successful enough to be able only to take on things I really want to do.

Also, I never do two things in one day. Today, I’ve been writing a screenplay. Yesterday, I was finishing the third episode of Foyle’s War for ITV.

Do you use a different part of your brain when writing for children and for adults?

Children’s authors see life in fairly simplistic terms – this is a book, at the end of the day, about good versus evil. I’ve always seen life as a constant balance between these two opposing forces.

I do believe quite strongly in evil. I think certain political figures [and] certain business people have been a force for evil. I know that’s very simplistic but it’s how I see it. So if I sat down to write a political thriller in the style of Robert Harris, I’d just write trash.

One business person in particular came to my mind when I was reading Oblivion!

Obviously, the three main characters are heavily influenced by the Murdochs. That’s only because these things [phone-hacking] were going on while I was writing. In the Alex Rider books, every main character was drawn out of the news, too.

The sense of crisis of the past three or four years pervades the novel, doesn’t it?

Yes. The whole end-of-the-world atmosphere seeps into the novel. The novel was written at a time when, every day, you’d read in the paper about some sort of collapse. Was it going to be the banks, the European Union, Greece? Was it going to be the newspapers, politicians . . . ?

Oblivion opens with the evocation of a kind of post-apocalyptic landscape. Were you influenced by dystopian literature?

There were two books I couldn’t avoid thinking about: Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Once you get into the world of dystopia, it’s hard to avoid plagiarism, because other people have had such powerful visions.

In your books, you broach some big issues – environmental catastrophe and financial collapse, for example. What are the dangers in writing about such topics for children?

The danger is that you forget that your first duty is to entertain, to write books that are page-turners.

You should try not to proselytise. The Alex Rider books were always political. Oblivion and the Power of Five likewise. I can’t help the fact that, as I get older and think more about things, it creeps into my work. But I’m not peddling my views to ten-year-olds to try to change the way they see things.

You say you don’t want to proselytise but presumably you feel some sort of obligation as a children’s author to be a public figure, an advocate for reading?

The more the books are successful, the more I feel a responsibility to become a positive influence for young people. Although if I could see myself now at the age of 20, I’d be horrified at the notion of being an example.

But I do get very nervous when writers like me get vocal about political issues and get up on soapboxes, because the end result can be very messy. I’ve just been invited on to Question Time and I’ll probably do it. I’m doing it because it’ll be an adrenalin rush and not because it’s a good idea – it isn’t.

The Power of Five books have been less commercially successful than the Alex Rider series. Why do you think that is?

No writer can really sustain two huge – I hate the word – franchises. Alex Rider was what clicked and what got kids excited in my books and what they are loyal to in their hundreds of thousands, whereas as the Power of Five series has always attracted a bit more of a clique.

What will you do next?

There’s one more Alex Rider book contracted. I’ve got the next Sherlock Holmes novel to write and more TV and film. So there’s plenty still to do.

Anthony Horowitz’s “Oblivion” is published by Walker Books (£16.99)

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 November 2012 issue of the New Statesman, What if Romney wins?