Tuesday 20 November 2018

Not the end of the world as Horowitz finishes series

Author Anthony Horowitz has overcome an unhappy childhood to enjoy writing success, says Julia Molony

'Oblivion' is the final installment in Anthony Horowitz's 'The Power of Five' series but a screenplay for the sequel to 'Foyle's War' keeps him busy. Photo: Tony Gavi
'Oblivion' is the final installment in Anthony Horowitz's 'The Power of Five' series but a screenplay for the sequel to 'Foyle's War' keeps him busy. Photo: Tony Gavi

When Anthony Horowitz decided he wanted to write the end of the world, he went, logically enough, to Antarctica to do it. In Oblivion, his conclusion to his The Power of Five series, he sets a dramatic apocalyptic battle among unearthly horizons and creaking ice fields of the South Pole. To get the descriptions right, he joined a research vessel and went to have a look.



"I had to," he explains over coffee. There were so many fantastical elements to the denouement, that he needed something concrete to hang them on. "You've got two armies, an array of mythological creatures from shape changers to fly soldiers, fire riders, giant animals ... You've got a huge fortress built out of ice. You've got nuclear missiles being fired. And you've got destroyers from different countries on the water. And on top of that, you've got the topography itself. You've got the ice, you've got the water, the sky, the cold, the wind, the light."

So he grabbed his thermals and off he went.

As writers go, it seems as if he is to fiction what Indiana Jones was to archaeology, having the extraordinary luck to combine his creative work with a life of action.

That's not to say it's all jollies off into the wilderness. Horowitz is one of the most prolific, hard working writers going. And happily for Walker books, in publishing terms he's a bankable asset of rock-star proportions.

Most of his work falls into the children and young adults marketing category, though he hates being called a children's writer. ("It makes me sound like a children's entertainer"). And it's true, he has powerful crossover appeal and a clear knack for narrative. Right now, despite finally signing off on the The Power Of Five series, a project that has been on his slate for 30 years, he's busier than ever. He's writing the screenplay for the sequel to Tintin for Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson. There are also rewrites of Foyle's War, the ITV series, which he writes and his wife Jill Green produces, to be done.

He's a bit of a renaissance man, is Horowitz. From his childhood as a self-described "fat, unhappy" boy who retreated into his imagination as an escape from the cold and disorienting circumstances around him, he's spun something of a dream life in fiction and in fact. But though his upbringing was the spur, he says he had to put a certain amount of distance between him and it before he hit anything really interesting.

"My books really took off when I left all my family behind me," he says. "Once I stopped writing about my autobiographical side, suddenly everything exploded."

The grim past was duly filed away but, of course, not erased. "The forces that make you into a writer stay with you for all your life. An unhappy childhood is a very useful thing for a children's writer. Of course, I have to say that with care because people will look at my childhood with wealth and privilege and say, 'well, what the hell does he have to be unhappy about?'. But that's how it was, and that hasn't changed. I think I am still, to a certain extent, fighting against what I lost in my early years. I think the odd circumstances of my family -- they are probably less influential now than they were. I've sort of got over it, if you like."

Horowitz was born into a wealthy Jewish family in 1955. A public school boy, he was miserable at Harrow. Things improved a little when he transferred to Rugby but he hated boarding school in general, feeling lonely and abandoned there.

His father, a fixer for Harold Wilson's government bankrolled the family's privileged lifestyle but was cold and distant. And when he died, it was revealed that his fine life was a house of cards. He left his widow and children no money at all. Just a load of coded references to Swiss bank accounts.

Horowitz has been writing children's books since his 20s, but had written 15 before he started to have any meaningful success at it. In all that time, he hasn't ever flagged or lost enthusiasm. "I've been writing professionally for more than 30 years now and obviously I've become more successful and things have changed in my life. But the writing process hasn't. I sit down now at my desk, and I take out a pen, because I write with a pen and paper, and I have as much pleasure and excitement, and I'm as young in my head when I'm writing as I was 30 years ago. And I haven't become cynical, I don't do it for the money. I don't think to myself, 'God, another book, another deadline'. I love it to bits."

Speaking of love, it was while working in advertising in his 20s that he met Jill Green. "I was the copywriter and she was the account director,' he says. "It was a very stormy relationship. We hated each other." Nonetheless, something seemed to work, and the couple recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. They started to work together after she set up her own television production company. Together, they are a formidably productive creative partnership.

"Jill is the only person I know who works harder than me, in the whole world. She is up half an hour before me and she's normally in bed half an hour after me. And she's just unstoppable. I think it's beginning to take its toll on both of us, the amount of hours that we do, and we keep talking about trying to slow up, but we're both very committed. We love what we do."

And though he jokes that the relationship is about the work, it all seems to function very well.

"Well, you know, we have two children, and we've been together for a very long time. It's a good partnership, I think. It's been a very successful partnership. And actually I sometimes wonder how anybody can be married to somebody and not share work. Because we very seldom argue about carpets and curtains and shopping and all the rest of it because most of our discussions are focussed on Foyle's War, so it's quite helpful."

He seems to admire her enormously, says he "loves working for her" which is a pretty big compliment. Producer/writer relationships are notoriously delicate and one can only imagine the epic diplomacy involved when there is also a marriage at stake.

But she is, he says, "the power behind the throne". The professional respect seems mutual. "Anthony is driven," Jill has said. "He cannot go anywhere without coming up with ideas, even when he is walking the dog."

The best thing about being a writer of his standing, he says, is not all the travelling, though for that, he acknowledges his luck. He's still nervous about how each new project will be received, because he cares very deeply that he won't disappoint. But ultimately, he's got enough under his belt now to take risks. "If my career was to stop tomorrow, it doesn't matter because I've achieved more or less what I set out to do."

'Oblivion' is published on October 4 by Walker Books, £11.99. Anthony will be signing books at Eason's O'Connell Street from 1.30pm to 2.30pm on Saturday October 13

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