Anthony Horowitz: The Word is Murder

The Noirwich Crime Writing Festival was thrilled to welcome Anthony Horowitz back to Norwich for the release of his latest crime novel, The Word is Murder. Dan Struthers from Concrete, UEA’s independent student newspaper, reviews the event.


Many authors would kill to have the career that Anthony Horowitz has had and seeing as Horowitz is the master of murder, he’d probably be the first to know who it was and how they’d do it. This reputation as a writer of mystery and murder began with his early work on ITV in the 1990’s with Poirot and Midsomer Murders. Addressing the audience of Noirwich, the annual literary crime writing festival, he speaks proudly of the latter and even takes credit for “adding the words Midsomer Murder in to the dictionary”, pointing out that ITV wanted to call the series Barnaby after the main character. Having written for and overseen the first three seasons, he still sticks by his decision to move on as he felt that the alarmingly high death rate in the fictional county of Midsomer was becoming ludicrous. This however did not stop ITV from continuing the drama to this very day.

Horowitz speaks to the devoted crowd with warmth and good humour, as if he were hosting a friendly book club rather than on a stage promoting his new book The Word is Murder. As he continues to discuss his career, he is quick to shut down critics who labelled him an ‘overnight success’ after the Alex Rider series. He reminds us he had a career of over 20 years –  including his stint writing for TV, his severely underrated Diamond Brothers series and a collection of horror stories – before Alex Rider became a household name. To date, the Alex Rider series has sold 19 million copies worldwide, a number which Horowitz modestly bats away – “I’m sure it’s more like 16 million” – and has subsequently led to a long and fruitful career.

the Alex Rider series has sold 19 million copies worldwide, a number which Horowitz modestly bats away – “I’m sure it’s more like 16 million”

This success has allowed him to continue the tales of two British institutions, and two of his childhood heroes: Sherlock Holmes and James Bond. However, he admits when asked to pen a Sherlock Holmes novel he was unsure. “At first I was very reluctant, as a lot of these continuations are usually very cynical and I didn’t want to do that”. Eventually he wrote 2013’s House of Silk, unable to resist the temptation to write the world’s most famous detective created by one of his influential writing heroes, Arthur Conan Doyle. However, when discussing his new novel The Word is Murder he isn’t afraid to call out Doyle for “cheating” as he brings him to task for sometimes not allowing us to see the clues that let the reader figure out the mystery. Horowitz speaks with passion as he stresses the importance of giving the reader enough information so they can figure out the mystery themselves, as he claims to do in his new book…

The Word is Murder is perhaps Horowitz’s most unconventional and experimental novel as one of the main characters is…himself. He is quick to state that this is not him, the character is indeed named Anthony Horowitz and is an accomplished author but that’s where the similarities end. This Horowitz finds himself in the middle of a murder mystery which he must solve alongside an unconventional detective.

When justifying why he put himself in the narrative, Horowitz refers to a cancelled book he started about the process of writing which he eventually abandoned after deeming it “too dry”. Instead he put this insight into his writing process in The Word is Murder, a book as much about the whodunit as it is about how Horowitz writes. If this extremely postmodern device isn’t enough to sell the book, the first chapter begins with the gripping image of a woman walking into a funeral parlour to organise her own funeral as she believes she is in grave (no pun intended) danger. About the possibility of a film or TV adaption of his latest work and who would play himself, Horowitz replies with perfect comedic timing: “we’ll have to see if Clooney is free”.

Horowitz uses his charisma and a good measure of wit to play to the crowd, who he describes as a joy to talk to, unlike the internet which he describes as “a place filled with hate”. This extreme statement seems slightly hypocritical considering Horowitz’s own Twitter account of 72,000 followers, where most of the messages he gets are from genuine fans. Surely not just a place of hate then? With comments like this you cannot accuse Horowitz of holding back as he is brutally honest throughout, even describing how he was fired from the upcoming Steven Spielberg/Peter Jackson film, tentatively titled The Adventures of Tintin: Prisoners of the Sun. Growing up on Tintin, the author Hergé being a massive influence on him, Horowitz was thrilled to develop a sequel to the original 2011 film only to find out much later that he’d been dropped from the project. “That’s Hollywood, they’re too polite to fire you in person, I read about being fired much later” he recalls with a chuckle. He doesn’t seem bitter though, he even has a chapter in The Word is Murder where Spielberg and Jackson pop up and discuss him. He also discusses with this same honesty that he was given strict rules by the Ian Fleming estate as he took to writing the 2015 James Bond continuation novel: Trigger Mortis. While he doesn’t go into detail, Horowitz admits there was a ridiculous level of secrecy and limitations, even going so far as to say he wouldn’t be surprised if there was someone from the Fleming estate in the audience. Whether he was joking or not wasn’t entirely clear.

he is brutally honest throughout, even describing how he was fired from the upcoming Steven Spielberg/Peter Jackson film, tentatively titled The Adventures of Tintin: Prisoners of the Sun.

Horowitz seems very content, having written three of his favourite childhood characters: James Bond, Sherlock Holmes and Tintin (albeit not for long), a feat which not many can claim. Even though many will simply know him as the man who wrote the Alex Rider series, he seems to take genuine joy in writing the 15-year-old spy, having just released a long awaited sequel this year called Never Say Die with a teased sequel Nightshade hinted at too. The only time he seems genuinely flummoxed in the one hour is during the audience Q&A when he is asked whether he had considered writing anything that wasn’t a murder mystery. For a second he seemed baffled but then replied “well the Alex Rider series wasn’t…” before being interrupted by the same audience member who rebutted: “well, there were still murders”. It’s a fair point, as the majority of his work has played to his strength of murder, mystery and suspense – whether that be the perilous chronicles of a teenage spy, his cult ITV series Foyle’s War or his rendition of the world-renowned British detective. After a lengthy pause, Horowitz responded with “I guess, Granny or Gruesome Grange aren’t”, pointing to two of his earlier novels aimed at young children.

Anthony Horowitz is undoubtedly one of this country’s finest writers and is seemingly moving from strength to strength; revisiting his much loved Alex Rider series, leaving his mark on James Bond and Sherlock Holmes and branching out into his own original detective story The Word is Murder, which he hopes could spawn a new series of books. Even if his latest novel enjoys a fraction of the success of his previous work, it will still find a place in the heart of readers’ who already adore his fantastic career.

 

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