Last night my sons and I saw the novelist Anthony Horowitz at a pre-launch event for his book, Scorpia Rising, the last in the British teen spy Alex Rider series, released in the U.S. today. Instead of reading, Horowitz talked about being a writer, peppered with plenty of puns and obvious half-truths, and took questions from the mostly teen and tween audience, answering in a lively prattle. At one point, he noted how much he'd disliked school and that he'd put every one of his teachers in his novels, where they each promptly met with a painful death. (Note: the event took place in a middle school with many teachers in attendance.)
But then Horowitz got serious for a moment, giving advice to the fledging writers in the room. To me though, his tips are just as relevant to writers of any age or experience. Horowitz, who also writes for several British television shows, and is currently working on an adult novel about Sherlock Holmes, told his fans there are five basic things one must do to be a writer (I'm paraphrasing):
First, read. Second, write. Third, go out and have fun, have adventures. (Do something illegal! Don't get caught.) Or else you will have nothing to write about except someone alone in a room typing. Fourth, believe in yourself and what you are doing. There will always be someone telling you that what you are writing won't work. Ignore them. Fifth, never stop. The difference between a successful and unsuccessful writer is the unsuccessful one stopped writing.
Horowitz also talked about the connection between the mental state of the writer and the experience of the reader: "Writing is telepathy. If you are bored and miserable while writing, the reader will be bored and miserable reading."
The kids asked such great questions, and Horowitz gamely answered every one:
- He writes "anywhere and everywhere," but his favorite places are at a secluded vacation house and in his London home office, where he has a view of St. Paul's Cathedral.
- "The best thing about being a writer is thinking of new ideas. The writing itself is not so much fun. Writing is hard."
- Best places/times to work out new ideas are while walking his dogs and while in a hot bathtub. 'Or in a hot bath with the dogs," he joked (I think).
- In teen adventure books, "First chapter: kill all the parents. It's impossible for kids to have adventures with parents around."
- He liked the movie Stormbreaker, based on the first Alex Rider book. But – "No movie is ever as good as the book."
- Don't ever let anyone tell you that reading is passive. It's one of the most creative things you can ever do. Your mind is at work all the time when you are reading.
- Though he'd published many books before the Alex Rider series shot to global success, when he wrote the opening line of the first (of 9) books in that series, he had a strong feeling his life might change.
- He writes first drafts by hand.
- How to get back at movie producers who decide not to greenlight a second film from your series: put them in the next book, with thinly veiled names, and have them roll around in a mud puddle--while on fire.
Horowitz stayed on for more than an hour, signing 100+ books, greeting every kid by name, posing for photos, shaking hands, answering questions at the signing table. Kudos to Watchung Booksellers (my local independent bookstore), for brining Horowitz to Montclair, where he completed a circle of sorts. Ten years ago, the bookstore hosted him when he was only a moderately successful YA author, and immediately after, the Alex Rider series exploded across the globe. Coincidence? Cause? That didn't seem to matter to the large and enthusiastic audience of young readers, parents, teachers and librarians last night. All in all, a pretty terrific way to spend a Monday night in the New Jersey suburbs.