Today sees the re-release of the complete set of Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider books, all newly rejacketed with stunning new cover designs to celebrate fifteen years since the release of Stormbreaker. We wanted to help celebrate this as Anthony is one of a small number of authors that changed the face of children's publishing, paving the way for the vast wealth of middle grade books that are published today, and so a couple of weeks ago we ran a competition on Middle Grade Strikes Back for our readers to post questions for Anthony. We picked what we thought were the best ten, and now Anthony is here to give us his answers:
I run a Year 5/6 book club at a local primary school and would like to ask, what is the secret of your PHENOMENAL popularity with my young readers? (Hoping it's not an 'if I told you I'd have to kill you’ type thing)
First of all, it’s nice to know your readers are enjoying my books – thank you. But if you want to know the secret, you’re probably better off asking them, not me. I just write stories I want to tell. And I suppose, quite by chance, those are the stories they want to read.
Where were you when you first thought up the idea of Alex Rider and Stormbreaker?
I was being interviewed by a man called Michael G. Wilson. I was trying to get the job of writing a James Bond film and he was the producer. It was a disastrous interview. But when I left, I started thinking about Bond, how old he had become and why he couldn’t be a teenager again. Five years later, I wrote Stormbreaker.
The Alex Rider books are great for reluctant reader boys. Was this one of your intentions when writing the first, or subsequent books?
I just wanted to write enjoyable, fast-paced books, the sort of books I’d have enjoyed when I was young. I didn’t think “boys” in particular. I didn’t even really think “children”. And I certainly never set out on a crusade to convert kids to reading even if that is, in a way, what’s happened.
Now that the Alex Rider series has been finished for several years, has the distance given you any new perspective on the series?
Well, I miss writing Alex – that’s for sure. I’m surprised how well the stories have stood up to the test of time although I did have to make some changes for the new edition (with its great new covers). I had to remove one or two references to footballers and pop singers who have sadly been forgotten. One or two of the gadgets were also, sadly, out-of-date.
How far is Alex Rider your teen alter ego, that inner hero/heroine we all have that wants to break out?
I think every young person dreams of being a hero and it’s probably true that Alex rubs that particular nerve. When I was bored and bottom of the class at school, I often dreamed of saving the world and I was remembering those dreams when I wrote the books.
It's one thing to come up with one excellent book, but to keep them coming with the same exceptional characters is something special so I would like to know if it gets harder to keep the stories fresh and exciting or easier because you get to know your characters’ traits, behaviour and characteristics better with each book you write?
This is a very good question because I think there are quite a lot of series that go off the boil after a while. It is quite difficult to think up new villains with new villainous plans, new chases, gadgets, action sequences, escapes. I was quite nervous of writing an Alex Rider novel that felt tired or which repeated the others – that’s why I always said I would only write eight or nine of them. Well, in the end I did ten.
How did you remember/keep track of details from earlier books to keep continuity?
It took me seven months to write each book which meant that I knew Alex pretty well and remembered most of the things that had happened to him. I also had brilliant editors at Walker Books (my publishers) who sent me detailed notes about what had happened in the earlier books.
Do you ever feel pressured into being politically correct in choosing your villains ethnicity or sex? Personally, I'd love more fab roles written for great female villains.
The only problem with a female villain is that I feel a bit uncomfortable killing her off at the end – I don’t know why. That said, I really enjoyed creating Julia Rothman in Scorpia (she’s named after the cigarette, which also kills you) and she does have a terrific death. I don’t care about political correctness very much but I have to be careful not to annoy teachers or parents. They might stop children reading my books!
How easy do you find crossing between writing for the different ages you write for? Are the techniques you use the same?
There’s not a huge amount of difference in writing for children and writing for adults. I do try not to use complicated language or constructions in my YA books – I don’t want to put off those reluctant readers you mentioned earlier. And of course, the content is a little different…no bedroom stuff, for example. But the pace, the energy and the love of story are what matter most to me and they remain the same.
You have had such an amazing career, but which of your works are you most proud of and why?
The answer has to be Alex Rider because it does feel rather good to have somehow helped get so many young people reading. But I also created Foyle’s War which swallowed up fifteen years of my life and I’m quite proud of that too.
Huge thanks to Anthony for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions for us. The Alex Rider books are as great now as they ever were and with their fresh new cover designs they make perfect reading for boys and girls who love their middle grade laced with action, adventure, spies and gadgets.