Q and A with Anthony Horowitz
1. So here we are fast approaching publication of the eighth Alex Rider novel, CROCODILE TEARS. Does each of the Alex Rider books get easier or harder to write? How does the challenge differ from when you were writing the first book(s) in the series?
In some ways the books do get harder to write. I want each one to be better than the one before . . . my greatest fear is that I’ll somehow disappoint my readers. And the books may be a successful formula but I don’t want them to become “formula” books. That means thinking up new ways of getting Alex into the adventures, new bad guys, new gadgets, new action sequences . . . and I sometimes think there can’t be many left. On the other hand, I know Alex and his world so well by now that it feels a bit like meeting an old friend.
2. Next year will mark 10 years of the Alex Rider phenomenon. How does it feel to be approaching that milestone?
God. I must be getting old. Some of the kids who first read Stormbreaker may well be in their first jobs by now. Some of them may have kids of their own! All in all it’s probably best not to think about these milestones. I just need to keep going.
3. Tell us about your latest baddie, Desmond McCain . . . the man named after a brand of frozen chips!
Well, he got his name after he was found abandoned as a baby in a supermarket trolley, wrapped in a bag of McCain’s finest. I think in many ways he’s Alex’s nastiest opponent yet: an ex-Tory MP, jailed for fraud and now back as a born-again Christian and the head of a huge international charity. I would like to make it clear that he’s not based on anyone specifically!
4. At one point in the story, McCain says “World domination has never seemed particularly attractive to me”. If the villains no longer want world domination, what is the prize they are seeking?
There are one or two sympathetic elements to McCain and I agree that given the state of the world, only a madman would want to dominate it! McCain is the first Alex Rider villain who is simply after the one thing that everybody wants . . . money. His motives are fairly ordinary. But his methods make him the monster he undoubtedly is.
5. At the start of CROCODILE TEARS, Alex Rider looks in the mirror, dressed in black tie for a posh New Year’s Eve party and thinks he looks like “A young James Bond. He hated the comparison but he couldn’t avoid it.” Then again, the card game at McCain’s New Year’s Eve party feels like something of an homage to CASINO ROYALE. How do YOU feel about comparisons between Alex and James?
I wasn’t sure about that James Bond reference. But it seemed unavoidable. After seven missions for MI6, Alex finds himself in black tie. Who else would he compare himself with? And the poker game (which Bond never played) does tread rather close to Casino Royale, I know. It’s my son’s fault. He’s a gambling addict and plays Texas Hold’em online. He’s even taken me to a club to play for real. So that’s why it’s there. I hope, after eight books, people will agree that Alex now exists in his own right and I have no need to steal from Fleming.
6. There’s a decidedly dodgy journalist on Alex’s trail in CROCODILE TEARS, you’ve been in the media spotlight yourself for 10 years now. How far is Harry Bulman representative of your own thoughts/feelings about the media?
I needed Harry Bulman as a means to lever Alex into the story and I think he works very well. I really like the chapter “Invisible Man” in which he gets his comeuppance. If you go back to question 1, you can see that this is a new approach, a way to vary the formula. But I certainly have no animus against journalists myself. Politicians, on the other hand . . .
7. CROCODILE TEARS contains some of your most spectacular action sequences to date. Do these come easily to you now or are you under pressure to raise the stakes each time? If so, how do you achieve that?
I really enjoyed writing the last chapters of CROCODILE TEARS. As soon as I’d brought together all the ingredients (the dam, the jungle, the Kikuyus, the wheat field, the bomb) I knew I was going to have a lot of fun. The secret, if there is one, is simply to find new ground, new rules of engagement. I think to myself — “I’ve done the Alps, Air Force One,nuclear submarines, a hot air balloon over London, an oil rig and a space station. Where can I go next?”
8. What’s the strangest question you’ve ever been asked by a fan?
Do I have a tattoo? Is Horowitz my real name? Do I like rhubarb? (maybe his parents had a farm).
9. You are always meticulous in your research. Where did you go to research CROCODILE TEARS and how did this research impact the story?
I was in Kenya last Christmas but this was a holiday as much as a research trip. I visited Sizewell B in Suffolk (a nuclear power station) to work out how to destroy a nuclear power station. I was in the Western Highlands of Scotland both for the opening sequence and for the climax at the end (with the Monar Dam standing in for the one that Alex blows up in Kenya). I visited a GM Crops Research facility in Norfolk. And I surfed the net! The research is vital to the books. It makes all the locations come to life and gives me ideas that I might not otherwise have had.
10. You must qualify as the most prolific writer in the business, what with Alex Rider, The Power of Five, the Diamond Brothers, Foyle’s War and now Collision. How on earth do you keep all those plates spinning and, on a practical note, get all that writing done?
Obviously, I have no life at all. Well, that’s not quite true. I just love writing and therefore write a great deal . . .sometimes as much as ten hours a day. In a way I was lucky that nobody noticed what I was doing for a very long time. So I was never pigeon-holed. I did lots of different things and still do.
11. CROCODILE TEARS ends with Alex looking forward to his imminent 15th birthday party. You’ve said many times that the sequence will end when Alex turns 15. How worried should fans be getting at this point?
You’ve given away the ending! Never mind. There are two more books in the series. But I have one surprise up my sleeve . . .
(reprinted with permission, Walker Books Australia)
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