Anthony Horowitz, master mystery novelist, television writer, playwright and journalist, has a certain restlessness, a whirlwind of ideas, juggling so many creative swords at once that it’s a wonder he has such clarity of thought.
To describe the bestselling author as prolific is an understatement. Author of some 56 books, including the Alex Ryder teen spy series, three James Bond novels and several Sherlock Holmes reimaginings, as well as TV hits including Midsomer Murders, Foyle’s War and Poirot, in he’s already published three books this year – he’s been on a high during the pandemic – and is now looking forward to creating a six-part TV series with his producer wife, Jill Green.
Memorabilia related to Horowitz’s work decorate his office – a human skull on his desk reminds him that time is short, Tintin figurines because Tintin was his first inspiration, models from the world of Bond, his favorite Sherlock Holmes books, a computer from the movie “Thunderstorm”.
“I try to make sure that wherever my eyes go in my office, it’s something that reminds me of my work,” he notes.
Horowitz, 67, splits his time between his home in London and a castle in Suffolk, switching off to walk his dog for at least two to three hours a day. He manages all his work past Jill, to whom he has been married for 34 years and with whom he has two grown sons.
“Jill reads everything I do first and is my best and wisest critic and completely honest. What she thinks is very important to me. We’ve always had a marriage and a relationship that’s partly based on work because we’re both very driven.”
Today, in the process of moving to West London, he squeezed into our interview to talk about his 56th book, Twist of the Knife, a sly locked room mystery and the fourth in the Hawthorne & Horowitz series.
Horowitz appears in the book as himself, accused of murdering a theater critic who gave a bad review of his new play Mind Games (which was actually a play he wrote). But the inspiration, he says, didn’t come from Mindgames posts.
“It was ‘Dinner with Saddam’, my last play, which I always say split the critics – it was 50:50. Half of them hated it and half hated it,” he quips.
Jokes aside – and there are plenty of lighter moments in the latest novel – Horowitz has expressed his concern in recent weeks about how the so-called “cancellation culture” is making writers afraid of what they’re writing. He thinks carefully before talking about today.
“These days, writers really have to self-censor. Before you speak in an interview or at a literary festival, when you’re answering questions, and when you’re writing a book, you should always give yourself a three-second pause so that what comes out of your mouth or onto the page has that opinion .
“We live in a society where people seem to take offense a lot more easily than they used to, where the reaction is often a bit extreme. This is the result of social media, which is not a good platform for review or criticism because it is black or white, yes or no, good or bad.
“There is no gray area in social media that fosters a society where people are less willing to consider the nuances of an argument and immediately adopt one point of view or another, a digital binary choice, or worse, start to have a jealous view of the person whose view they are arguing with. “.
Horowitz has personal experience with this: “I’ve noticed on Twitter that when people send me angry or nasty tweets, they don’t know who I am. They have no idea what I’m really thinking. They have an idea in their head that is far from the truth.”
And the results can be dangerous, he argues: “Social media fuels a view of society that is often harmful at best and can be dangerous and violent.
“At the moment there are some pretty nasty and hurtful arguments on social media and we’re living in the shadow of what happened to Sir Salman Rushdie, which for me is loosely connected.
“I am not saying that this anger on social media led to that horrible event. We have to think about the issues of freedom of speech, religious intolerance and other issues, but nevertheless, I believe that the person who attacked Sir Salman has not read his books (The Satanic Verses) and this overwhelming sense of anger and violence leads us to dark places.”
In an interview with the New York Post, the man who allegedly punched Rushdie on stage at an event in New York on August 12 said he had read two pages of The Satanic Verses. Hadi Matar, 24, pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault.
Expanding on his argument, Horowitz continues, “I really think writers are now mostly afraid of offending.
“They need to think about everything they do. The extreme is when people like Sebastian Faulks say he might even consider not writing a description of a woman in his books. What on earth is going on if that’s the case?”
Horowitz’s children’s books, he says, are edited with some caution. “My publishers were more nervous about editing my books. Matters of the level of violence, language and attitude are indeed examined more closely.
“I read a few of my books for sensitivity. But this is the 21st century. People’s attitudes have changed, and things that didn’t offend people 40 years ago do now.”
He is delighted that the books he wrote 35 years ago are still in print, so he believes that if they had offensive content, someone would have told him.
“There are very few things I regret – maybe the weirdest things like making fun of vegetarians, which I did 30-something years ago. Now I hardly eat meat myself. Your attitude does change, but because I’ve always focused on entertaining people rather than upsetting them, there’s nothing in my books that I regret.’
What about James Bond, who might be considered non-PC these days? “When I write books, I always hear Sean Connery and see Daniel Craig. I am very happy to defend Bond. My Bond is a man from the 50s and 60s, so he lives by a different moral code than we have now.
“I refute the suggestion that he is a chauvinist, a sexist or a misogynist. I think he’s very good about the women in the books and has a lot of respect for them, but I’ll admit that he has some views that we wouldn’t celebrate now in the 21st century, but that’s because the books were written in 20th century. It was a different time.”
Horowitz emphasizes that the type of modern murder mystery he writes focuses on intellectual abilities rather than digital discoveries.
“I’m not interested in forensics, computers or police analysis – I’m interested in a more intellectual and entertaining form of crime that goes back to Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. I like his pace.
“If you don’t have a mobile phone, information is not immediately at your fingertips. I like it when the detectives have to sit and think instead of pressing a couple of computer buttons to find the answer. It makes reading more interesting.”
He and Jill are working on a six-episode TV series and hope to create a television adaptation of his novel The Moonflower Murders next year. There’s no sign of him slowing down, though he keeps threatening to do less, but then he gets a flood of ideas and finds it hard to say no to himself.
Future ambitions? “Write the best book – the next one must be better.”
- The Twist Of A Knife by Anthony Horowitz is published by Century. Available now