Flashback: Anthony Horowitz - Freshers 2019


Jonathan Wellington talks to the author and Nouse alumni about his current projects and his own experience of Freshers week

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Image by Office of Anthony Horowitz

By Jonathan Wellington

Anthony Horowitz is one of the University of York’s most notable alumni and, as a former writer of Nouse, one of our biggest claims to fame. With over 40 books under his belt, the likes of which include the best-selling teen spy series Alex Rider, he is also one of the UK’s most prolific and successful authors. Taking time out of his busy schedule of writing in Greece, Anthony admits our interview with him “couldn’t be worse timed”. Busy writing the sequel to murder mystery Magpie Murders, I ask Anthony what on earth compelled him to break from his writing and take this interview with lowly student paper Nouse. Anthony answers in an honourable way, saying “this article is aimed at young men and women who are beginning a fantastic journey, at York and beyond, and I sort of feel that if I, representing an older generation, can help in any way, then I should”.

With that we move to one of the main topics of the interview: sharing advice with all you lovely freshers. Anthony first gives the disclaimer that despite feeling obliged to take our interview request he “hate(s) giving advice”, arguing it makes him “feel pompous and old”. Despite this hesitation, Anthony draws inspiration from his current location of Crete and answers in Ancient Greek, with “sega sega”, which he describes as basically meaning “take it easy, one step at a time”. This advice is based on Anthony’s experiences as a fresher. When I ask about his first day here at York, he admits that when it comes to his first night as a student, he has “no memories at all beyond the third vodka”, as he confesses: “I clearly did not take my own advice”.

Moving away from his student drinking habits, we progress more towards his writing career, where Anthony gives the following advice to any budding authors or journalists: “Believe in yourself. Follow the voice inside your head. Don’t take advice from an author just because they’re successful.” He then reflects that: “I was exactly where you are once and nobody ever gave me any advice or even very much support, really. I was just determined to succeed and kept plugging on until I did”.

Regrettably, I then asked the world -renowned author how much his experience writing for this very student publication had gone on to help with his writing. The brutal answer: “Not an awful lot, to be honest”. Despite Nouse not necessarily having as big of an impact on his career as we may have hoped, there’s no denying that Anthony still holds some affinity towards student media, as he admits: “I can’t walk into the new media centre without feeling intensely jealous”. Moving more generally on to how the University has changed since his time as a student, Anthony claims that: “York is unrecognisable to me in terms of its expansion, its amazing facilities, its progressiveness”.

Moving past this praise however, Anthony reflects on the more negative ways in which the culture of university has changed. The author reckons “university fees have made a huge difference, if not to the culture then to the perception of what university is about. I thought it was a period (three years) in which to explore, to find yourself, to take a breath before you got onto the treadmill of life. These days, it often seems to be more about preparing yourself to get a good job, earning money... to pay off the debt. That’s a shame.”

Rather selfishly, I then turn the conversation towards my favourite books as a teen, the best-selling Alex Rider series. Despite previously saying that 2011’s Scorpia Rising would be the final installment, Alex Rider: Never Say Die, came out in 2017 and Alex Rider: Nightshade is expected soon. When I ask what it was that drew him back to the character, Anthony confesses “I really did mean to stop after Scorpia Rising. But what changed my mind was a sense that I had ended on a very dark note, that Alex was unhappy and that in a way I’d done a disservice to my readers”. He stated, “If a young adult author has one duty, I think, it is to be optimistic. So I wrote Never Say Die, a much more cheerful book, and that reminded me how much I liked writing about the character.” He describes the upcoming book, Nightshade, as being “quite an adult book with a very dark theme.” He hopes “some York students will read it” and adds “I loved writing it.”

The books are also currently being adapted into a television series. When I ask Anthony about it, he is full of praise, stating that: “Otto Farrant is brilliant as Alex and Brennock O’Connor (Olly - Game of Thrones) is also wonderful as his best friend”. He admits that: “Of course, I would say this, wouldn’t I!” but then clarifies that he “was actually quite worried about the TV series and I’m only writing this after seeing an assembly of episodes 1-3 and being blown away”.

Anthony describes the adaptation of his work as “dark, sophisticated, serious” before admitting that he “wishes the film of Stormbreaker had been more like it”. Before concluding the interview, the budding student journalist in me can’t resist getting a little bit political and asking Anthony, who describes himself as an “occasional journalist”, what his views are on the current state of the media and fake news culture. His response: “Crikey – do you want an interview or a whole book?” He continues: “Very briefly,” that in his opinion, “the concept of ‘fake news’ has been hugely destructive to democracy. The suggestion that if a newspaper is critical of a politician then it is probably lying is a simple and almost unanswerable way of deflecting that criticism. In a nutshell, ignore the message and attack the messenger.

“Sadly, news organisations have not behaved particularly well over the last decade (hacking etc). But right now, given the lamentable quality of our politicians, we need good journalism more than ever.”

Interview by Jonathan Wellington, with thanks to Anthony Horowitz and his team.