A Talk with Anthony Horowitz

from the purpureus Writers website

Last week I attended an event in London where the Royal Holloway purpureus Writers organised a small-scale discussion with author Anthony Horowitz.

With only about 10 participants, it was a very intimate and personal talk, where Horowitz shared his reasons for writing, view on the legacy of Sherlock Holmes and how he handled that in writing The House of Silk, and how to handle criticism (particularly pertinent for us finalists who just handed in our final creative work to be marked).

To me, Horowitz came across as only as arrogant as I think you must be to be a writer and also very genuine. He expressed repeatedly that he was only trying to be honest, and that intent definitelt came across in the talk. No fuss, just the way I like it. In my opinion, he seems to write for all the right reasons and shows a deep love for the craft in his varied and multifaceted writing endeavours. Although my only experience with his writing comes through Stormbreaker in my early teens, it was incredibly inspiring and reassuring to meet and listen to somebody who’s made it – somebody who makes a living from writing. Especially when there are enough people out there who will make sure you know how difficult it is to even get a deal with a publisher.

My favourite Horowitz comments in the talk:

1. “Nobody knows anything”

Although this fact hardly helps in having our work graded, it is worth thinking about. This comment originates from William Goldman where he refers to screenwriting, but how true isn’t it for writing in general? It’s easy to put critics, academics, and publishers on a pedestal as almighty knowers of everything and everything again. Wrong! They are people too, and art is as subjective as communications come. The authority to criticise our work at university obviously comes from the professors’ position as teachers, and it must be so for the sake of education, but in the external world this becomes more problematic.

While one reader might not care for one piece, there is another who does. How many stories haven’t we heard about literary classics which got rejected by numerous publishing houses before getting out to the public? Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, and so does quality in literary works.

2. He didn’t write off Rowling!

Having dabbled himself in the YA fiction genre with the Alex Rider series, Horowitz can hardly call the genre a commercialised sell-out in general, but I was very happy to hear him articulate Rowling as a writer worthy of the name. Meanwhile, it was not all praise and roses for Harry Potter and he said that the series got “less well written” as it went on, and that this ‘deterioration’ of quality is natural for established authors. Speaking from his own experience, he explained that when you’re unpublished, publishers tend to be severe and less enthusiastic but as soon as an author becomes widely read, then every word they write is magical. Fair criticism, and still handing Harry Potter the credit it deserves as a piece of classic fantasy literature.

Then again, he did make a distinction between “serious adult literature” and other kinds in asking us what we wrote…at which point I of course, as the only one, piped up that I did not indeed write “serious” literature, but instead YA fiction.

3. Every book has a shape

In a discussion on literary structure, with specific references to the ‘whodunnit’ criminal thriller , a genre that has come to dominate the literature and TV market, Horowitz explained his own method of structuring. Before writing, he prefers mapping out a skeletal roadmap of the novel, as it keeps him on a logical path and prevents him from straying from the important task at hand. This map is never how the final piece works out, but it gives a rough guideline at least. Yet he also stressed that each writer has their own method.

Within the same discussion, he went on to a meta-structural topic: how he views each novel and screenplay as a shape. This ‘shape’ is not the plot, nor the internal structure, but a more abstract concept of the organic life of the work. Sherlock Holmes, unsurprisingly, took the shape of a ringling maze. Another might be a road, or a circle.

If I had to offer my own view in this area, I’d say my own is a huge vegan BLT sandwich: many layers that hopefully come across as neatly and coherently ordered with plenty of tasty content. Visualising the screenplay, I only see a rain which is absorbed into nature, raise as clouds, and then recycled into rain again.

Think about it. Make it a creative exercise. What shape is your story?

***

I went away from this talk with new thoughts and a lot more determination. It was an interesting and revitalising feeling to be viewed almost as a ‘colleague’ for once. A lot of the time (especially at university) the writing environment can be rather discouraging and filled with projected inferiority.No more. For others to believe you’re a writer, you need to believe it first. Thanks to Anthony Horowitz, this objective seems more possible than ever.

N.

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