Alex Rider creator Anthony Horwitz on Nightshade, Bond and Noireland
In advance of his appearance at the Noireland International Crime Fiction Festival in Belfast tomorrow, David Roy chats to veteran novelist Anthony Horowitz about his best-selling teen spy series Alex Rider and the privilege of penning new adventures for Ian Fleming's James Bond
"I AM very close to finishing Nightshade, the new Alex Rider novel," reveals author Anthony Horowitz when we call to discuss his appearance at the Noireland International Crime Fiction Festival in Belfast tomorrow evening.
"I'm about 15,000 words from the end."
This statement should thrill younger Horowitz fans anticipating the return of their favourite teen spy hero, who has starred in 11 best-selling – an estimated 19 million readers and counting – 'young adult' adventures to date, the most recent being 2017's Never Say Die.
Indeed, Alex Rider enthusiasts have plenty to get excited about at the moment: while Nightshade isn't due to hit bookshelves until next year, Alex Rider: Secret Weapon, a book of Alex Rider short stories, will be published this June.
There's also a new Alex Rider TV adaptation in the works, not that Horowitz is giving anything away – particularly with regard to who's set to play his most famous character.
"No cash or kindness will persuade me to reveal any names," cautions the London-born author.
"But what I can tell you is that I have met the next Alex Rider – and I'm very very happy."
As Horowitz explains, while his wife Jill Green is producing the new series on which he is an 'executive producer', he's actually "not that involved" in bringing Alex to the small screen.
"I'm very much watching from the sidelines," is how the writer puts it, a decision partly informed by his bumpy ride writing the screenplay for the 2006 film Alex Rider: Stormbreaker: the film bombed at the box office, killing off hopes of launching a cinematic Alex Rider spy franchise a la James Bond (more about whom in just a moment).
"'Bumpy' is exactly the right word to describe my experience of working on that film," says Horowitz, whose other screenwriting credits include iconic British TV fodder like Poirot, Robin of Sherwood, Boon, Midsomer Murders and Foyle's War.
"A lot of it was very happy and a lot of it was great and I don't think the final product was a catastrophe. But, that said, this time I made the decision not to write the series. I just thought it was better to get a fresh pair of eyes on it.
As for the aforementioned short story collection, Secret Weapon, it features three brand new 'bite-sized' Alex adventures.
"I'm really pleased with them and excited," enthuses Horowitz, who recently launched an innovative new series of adult thrillers starring copper-turned-private detective Daniel Hawthorne and a fictionalised version of himself with 2017's The Word is Murder and last year's The Sentence is Death.
"This was sort of my decision to return to Alex Rider and reinvest in the character, having given up writing him after doing Russian Roulette , which was meant to be the very last book.
"I only did it because I just found fresh excitement, adventure and fun in the character and in the world. Three of the biggest stories are brand new and I think one of them, Alex in Afghanistan, is one of the best things I've ever done with Alex.
"It has a piece of action in it which I think James Bond would give his eye teeth to emulate!"
On the subject of the late great Ian Fleming's iconic British secret agent, Horowitz's chart-topping follow-up to his acclaimed 2015 Bond debut Trigger Mortis is due out in paperback next month.
Set just prior to Fleming's original 1953 Bond adventure, Casino Royale, Forever And A Day became Horowitz's first adult number-one best-seller.
"It's only a few months before Casino Royale, so although he hasn't got his '007' license to kill certificate yet, he is fully formed," the author explains of his latest outing with the spy hero he grew up reading.
"What I found really interesting was just sort of filling in the gaps – from little things like why did he drink vodka Martinis, why did he smoke a certain brand of cigarette, to bigger things like what made him the sort of cold-blooded 'man with no name' he became?
"It was fascinating to just pave that little gap and imagine what it was that turned him into a killer."
He adds: "Best-seller lists are nice but they're not vital – more importantly to me, the real hardcore Bond fans were really happy with the book."
However, when asked if he'd like to have a crack at penning a big-screen Bond outing, Horowitz is quick to dismiss the notion.
"I think that's extremely unlikely to happen," he tells me. "I'm very happy writing the books – I'm not even sure I could write a Bond movie. They have their own writers and extremely good ones too. I as much as anyone am looking forward to what I think is going to be [mooted 'Bond 25' title] Shatterhand."
While Bond producer Barbara Broccoli has now apparently denied that Ernst Stavro Blofeld's alias from Fleming's You Only Live Twice will be appearing in giant letters on cinema marquees next year, lovers of the literary Bond like Horowitz were immediately onboard with the idea.
"I think that is a great title – anything that came out of Fleming's pen gets my vote," says the writer, who grew up devouring Bond's globetrotting escapades as a welcome distraction from an unpleasant boarding school existence.
Having also taken stewardship of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes for a pair of well-received novels, Horowitz is proud to be one of a select group of authors entrusted with reimagining their own childhood favourites.
"I made it quite clear to the Fleming estate that I wanted to write a Bond novel by mentioning it in every article and interview I did," he chuckles.
"I've always loved Bond and it was almost something I felt I was born to write. As for actually doing it once I got the job, it was quite daunting: when you're writing a character known and loved all over the world, you suddenly feel a great sense of responsibility.
"Added to which, Fleming is a fantastically clever writer: when people think of Bond they think of the films, but actually the books are astonishing. They are very different and beautifully written – so trying to walk in his footsteps or write in his voice is quite something, I can tell you."
:: Anthony Horowitz in Conversation, Friday March 8, The Europa Hotel, Belfast. Tickets £10 via Noireland.com