Interview with Anthony Horowitz: “Nowadays writers have to censor themselves”

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Jthere’s a bustle in Anthony Horowitz, master of the detective story, television writer, playwright and journalist, a whirlwind of ideas, juggling so many creative balls at once that it’s amazing he has such clarity of thought.

To describe the bestselling author as prolific is an understatement. Author of some 56 books, including the teenage spy series Alex Rider, three James Bond novels and several reimaginings of Sherlock Holmes, as well as television hits including The Midsomer Murders, Foyle’s War and Poirothe has already published three books this year – he was on a roll during the pandemic – and is now looking forward to doing a six-part TV series with his producer wife Jill Green.

Memorabilia related to Horowitz’s work adorn his desk – a human skull on his desk reminds him that time is running out, Tintin figurines because Tintin was his first inspiration, models from the Bond universe, favorite Sherlock Holmes books, a computer from the Stormbreaker film.

“I try to make sure that wherever my eye lands in my office, it’s something that reminds me of my job,” he observes.

Horowitz, 67, divides his time between his London home and his Suffolk hideaway, stopping to walk his dog at least two or three hours a day. He directs all of his work ahead of Jill, to whom he has been married for 34 years and with whom he has two adult sons.

“Jill reads everything I do first and is my best and wisest critic and is completely honest. What she thinks matters a lot to me. We’ve always had a marriage and a relationship based in part on work because we’re both very driven.

(Alamy/AP)

Today, as he’s in the process of moving to west London, he’s pressed into our interview to talk about his 56th bookThe twist of a knife, a cunning mystery in a locked room and fourth in the Hawthorne and Horowitz series.

Horowitz appears in the book as himself, accused of murdering a theater critic who gives his new play, mind games (which was actually a play he wrote), a bad review. But the inspiration, he says, did not come from his opinions for Mind games.

“It was a dinner with Saddam, my last piece, which I always say divided critics – it was 50:50. Half of them hated it and the other half hated it,” he quips.

Joking aside – and there are plenty of lighter moments in the latest novel – in recent weeks, Horowitz has expressed concern about how the so-called “cancel culture” is causing writers to fear what they write. He thinks well before elaborating today.

“These days, writers have to censor themselves. Before you speak in an interview, or at a literary festival, when you answer questions, and when you write a book, you always have to put a three-second delay in your mind so that what comes out of your mouth or on the page has that consideration.

“We live in a society where people seem to take offense much more easily than before, where the reaction is often a bit extreme. It’s the result of social media, which isn’t a great platform to review or criticize because it’s so black or white, yes or no, good or bad.

“There is no gray area on social media, which has fueled the society in which people are less willing to consider the nuances of an argument and immediately opt for one point of view or another, a digital binary choice, or, what’s worse, start having a yellowish opinion of the person they’re arguing with.

Horowitz has personal experience of this: “I’ve noticed on Twitter that if people tweet me angry or mean, they don’t know who I am. They have no idea what I really think. They have an idea in mind that is far from the truth.

And the results are dangerous, he argues: “Social media fuels a view of society that is often harmful at best and can be dangerous and violent.

“You see some pretty nasty and offensive arguments on social media at the moment, and we live in the shadow of what happened to Sir Salman Rushdie, which to me is tenuously linked.

“I am not saying that this anger on social media led to this terrible event. You have to think about freedom of speech issues, issues of religious intolerance and other issues, but nevertheless I suspect that whoever attacked Sir Salman had not read his book. (The Satanic Verses) and this overwhelming feeling of anger and violence takes us to dark places.

In an interview with the New York Post, the man who allegedly stabbed Sir Salman on stage at an event in New York on August 12 is said to have read two pages of Satanic verses. Hadi Matar, 24, has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault.

Presenting his argument more broadly, Horowitz continues: “I think writers are now generally afraid to offend.

“They have to stop to reflect in everything they do. The extremes are when people like Sebastian Faulks say he might even consider not writing a description of a woman in his books. What happens if this is the case? »

Horowitz’s children’s books, he says, are edited with some caution.

“My editors have been more nervous in editing my books. Issues of levels of violence, language and attitudes are being looked at more closely. I’ve had some of my books read for sensitivity. But it’s is the 21st century. People’s attitudes have changed and what didn’t offend people 40 years ago does now.

He takes comfort in the fact that the books he wrote 35 years ago are still in print, so he believes that if there had been offensive content, someone would have told him.

“There are very few things I regret – maybe weird things like making fun of vegetarians, which I did about 30 years ago. Now I barely eat meat myself- Your attitudes change, but because I’ve always focused on entertaining people rather than trying to upset them, there’s nothing in my books that I regret.

Author Anthony Horowitz. See PA Feature BOOK Anthony Horowitz. Photo credit should read: Alamy/PA. DISCLAIMER: This image should only be used to accompany the PA Anthony Horowitz introductory book.

What about James Bond, who might well be considered non-PC these days?

“When I write the books, I always hear Sean Connery and I see Daniel Craig. I’m perfectly happy to defend Bond. My Bond is a man of the 50s and 60s, so he lives by a different moral code than the one that we have now.

“I refute the idea that he is chauvinistic, sexist or misogynistic. I think he treats the women in the books very well and has great respect for them, but I admit that he has some of the attitudes that we We wouldn’t be celebrating in the 21st century, but that’s because the books were written in the 20th century. It was a different time.”

Horowitz points out that the type of contemporary murder mystery he writes focuses on intellectual ability rather than numerical discoveries.

“I’m not interested in forensics, computers or police analysis – I’m interested in a more intellectual and entertaining form of crime, reminiscent of Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. I like its rhythm.

“If you don’t have a cell phone, the information is not instantly at your fingertips. I love that detectives have to sit and think, rather than pressing a few computer buttons to find the answer. It makes reading more entertaining.

(Century/AP)

Never standing still for long, he and Jill are working on a six-part TV series and hope to create a TV adaptation of his novel. Moonflower Murders Next year. There’s no sign of him slowing down, though he keeps threatening to do less, but then gets a flood of ideas and struggles to say no to himself.

Future ambitions? “Write a better book – the next one has to be better.”

‘The Twist Of A Knife’ by Anthony Horowitz is published by Century, priced at £20. Available now

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