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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?

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For the last time, please, bring back the plate

The slight lip around the edge is no mere bourgeois affectation; it keeps the food contained in its proper place.

The much-vaunted tech revolution is not without its casualties, as I discovered first hand last weekend. The album format, creative boredom and now my favourite skirt: all collateral damage in the vicious battle for our waning attention span.

The last met its end in a pub, when it found itself on the wrong side of a slate slab full of Sunday roast. Once gravy got involved, things turned pretty ugly; and when reinforcements arrived in the form of a red-hot jar of plum crumble, I abandoned all hope of making it out with my dignity intact and began pondering the best way of getting a dry-cleaning bill to Tim Berners-Lee.

I lay the blame for such crimes against food entirely at the feet of the internet. Serving calamari in a wooden clog, or floury baps in a flat cap, is guaranteed to make people whip out their cameraphones to give the restaurant a free plug online.

Sadly for the establishments involved, these diners are increasingly likely to be sending their artistic endeavours to We Want Plates, a campaign group dedicated to giving offenders the kind of publicity they’re probably not seeking. (Highlights from the wall of shame on the campaign’s website include a dog’s bowl of sausage, beans and chips, pork medallions in a miniature urinal, and an amuse-bouche perched on top of an animal skull – “Good luck putting those in the dishwasher”.) Such madness is enough to make you nostalgic for an era when western tableware was so uniform that it moved an astonished Japanese visitor to compose the haiku: “A European meal/Every blessed plate and dish/Is round.”

The ordinary plate has its limitations, naturally: as every Briton knows, fish and chips tastes better when eaten from greasy paper, while a bit of novelty can tickle even the jaded palate at the end of a meal. Watching Jesse Dunford Wood create dessert on the tabletop at his restaurant Parlour is definitely the most fun I’ve ever had with an arctic roll (there’s a great video on YouTube, complete with Pulp Fiction soundtrack).

Yet the humble plate endures by simple dint of sheer practicality. The slight lip around the edge is no mere bourgeois affectation; it keeps the food contained in its proper place, rather than slipping on to the tablecloth, while the flat centre is an ideal surface for cutting – as anyone who has ever tackled sausages and mash in an old army mess tin (“perfect for authentic food presentation”, according to one manufacturer) will attest.

Given these facts, I hope Tom Aikens has invested in good napkins for his latest venture, Pots Pans and Boards in Dubai. According to a local newspaper, “Aikens’s Dubai concept is all in the name”: in other words, everything on the menu will be presented on a pot, pan or board. So the youngest British chef ever to be awarded two Michelin stars is now serving up salade niçoise in an enamel pie dish rightly intended for steak and kidney.

Truly, these are the last days of Rome – except that those civilised Romans would never have dreamed of eating oysters from a rock, or putting peas in an old flowerpot. Indeed, the ancient concept of the stale bread trencher – to be given to the poor, or thrown to the dogs after use – seems positively sophisticated in comparison, although I can’t help seeing the widespread adoption of the modern plate in the 17th century as a great leap forward for mankind, on a par with the internal combustion engine and space travel.

Which is why I have every faith that all those tiny trollies of chips and rough-hewn planks of charcuterie will eventually seem as absurd as surrealist gazelle-skin crockery, or futurist musical boxes full of salad.

In the meantime, may I recommend the adult bib?

Felicity Cloake write the food column for the New Statesman. She also writes for the Guardian and is the author of  Perfect: 68 Essential Recipes for Every Cook's Repertoire (Fig Tree, 2011) and Perfect Host: 162 easy recipes for feeding people & having fun (Fig Tree, 2013). She is on Twitter as @FelicityCloake.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide