Man behind the murder

Updated: Nov 15, 2019, 09:34 IST | Dalreen Ramos | Mumbai

Praised for his gripping mystery novels, Anthony Horowitz, who is in the city for a literature festival, discusses an upcoming television adaptation of his work and why he cannot be a poet.

Anthony Horowitz (Pic/Atul Kamble)
Anthony Horowitz (Pic/Atul Kamble)

When I first meet Anthony Horowitz, he extends a heartfelt apology. He's 20 minutes late for our meeting, but I was prepared for it since the PR person had sent an alert well in advance that the best-selling author was stuck in Peddar Road traffic, which he reckons would put London to shame. Even after this ordeal, he reeks of enthusiasm. We're seated inside the Author's Lounge at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) for his first interview at Tata Literature Live! where he'll be participating in discussions and conducting a workshop. Time is only one of the many things, I begin to realise, that the novelist, screenwriter and journalist takes seriously.

We start by talking about a piece he wrote for a British publication on shopping for greeting cards in 2013, where on Valentine's Day, instead of buying his wife a card, he wrote her a sonnet. She hated it and he admitted that poetry wasn't his strongest suit. But what is it about poetry that unlike mystery, his forte, he doesn't understand? "I don't know the difference between a good poem and a bad one. So, when I read them, some poems come to my heart and they mean something to me. But I don't understand why that's so good," Horowitz answers. Then, from memory, he narrates a beloved Phillip Larkin poem: "This is the first thing that I have understood. Time is the echo of an axe within a wood." Although he gets the idea of the axe getting closer, he doesn't believe he could write that. "But if you ask me to write a mystery set in a wood in 10... 20... 30 thousand words, I can do that because I understand narrative, pace and suspense — all the mechanisms that make a novel work. Poetry to me is very mystical," he states.

Having known that he wanted to be a writer at the age of 10, the 64-year-old has written over 40 books, including Alex Rider, the teen spy series as well as some Sherlock Holmes and James Bond novels. Although a movie on the series released in 2006, with Horowitz having written the screenplay, it didn't fare well in the box office. A couple of months ago, the trailer for the TV adaptation of Alex Rider was released, notching over a million views. "I've only seen three episodes but I'm very happy. It is different from the film — it's more adult, darker and violent. But I wouldn't compare it with the film," he says. Horowitz also states that he doesn't ever think commercially, adding, "I think you have to divide the business of writing with the purity of writing. My whole life has been spent in a room, writing. Because of my success, the room might be bigger than it used to be. But that's the only difference."

Horowitz maintains he's happiest with a pen and paper. Before making his appearance at the festival, he spent two restful days by Juhu beach. "I took two days off, which was very rare for me. But I've just finished a novel which is 1,55,000 words long, and I'm exhausted," he explains. What's remarkable about listening to Horowitz is not just his ability to be concise, but also his effort to make every word he utters, understandable. While the photographer is busy trying to capture every angle of the writer's slim face, he expands on his writing process, quipping, "The idea [behind the novel] makes me smile. If I'm writing a murder mystery, it's the idea of why somebody wanted to kill — why this photographer here wants to kill me, for instance, or why I'd like to kill him when I see his work and look terribly old."

The polymath is keen on exploring Mumbai during his time at the literature festival, which concludes this weekend, saying, "It's a huge pleasure to meet Indian readers; it's a country full of voracious readers." So, do we get to read an Anthony Horowitz novel situated in the country anytime soon? "Oh, it's funny that I haven't yet written about India," he says, elaborating, "See, for somebody like me, India feels very difficult to understand. I look at the landscape and it feels like being in a strange, fragmented dream. So, the answer is, yes, I would like to write about India but it won't be easy."

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On November 15 to 17
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