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Never Say Die

Anthony Horowitz

Alex Rider is trying to settle in to a new life in the US when he receives a mysterious email that sets him off on a search for an old friend. But danger awaits him in the deserts of Egypt and enemies are on his heels....

ANTHONY HOROWITZ tells us more about his latest Alex Rider book, NEVER SAY DIE!

Q: What's been keeping you busy since you wrote the last Alex Rider book, Scopria Rising, in 2011?

A: Well, there's my adult novel, Magpie Murders, which was a huge piece of work, my new crime series New Blood for the BBC, and I wrote a play Dinner With Saddam. I have a lot of ideas in my head at any one time - right now I have five books that I want to write....

Q: You have said that you didn't plan to write another Alex Rider adventure, so what drew you to writing a new book?

A: It happened by accident, really. Walker Books wanted me to polish up some stories for a new Alex Rider collection. The stories were written a long time ago and they needed sharpening and lengthening and I found myself writing two more Alex Rider stories, one of which, Alex Rider in Afghanistan, was one of the best I had ever written and I realised that there was a lot more to come from the character.

I also thought that I had left Alex in a bad place and that maybe that was the wrong thing to have done. Childhood is about looking forward and I wanted to bring Alex Rider back to somewhere better.

Q: The end of Scorpia Rising was very harsh with the death of an important character, Jack Starbright. Why had you made the ending so bleak?

A: I wanted to kill off Alex Rider's world and to bring the series to an end. I felt it was necessary for Alex to begin again and so I decided to send him to the US to stay with another family where he could be 'reborn' with new parents. Jack was collatoral damage within that decision. But I also know that when I wrote those final chapters, which are set in Egypt, a voice whispered to me to leave some wiggle room....

Q: How did writing this Alex Rider book compare with others you have written?

A: It was extraordinary, between deciding to write a new Alex Rider novel and finishing the first chapter was less than a week. I normally spend a month planning a new Alex Rider adventure but what was going to happen in this book just seemed obvious. I knew that an email would arrive, that Alex would run away to Egypt and meet the head of Egyptian intelligence and that he would be intercepted.

I didn't know who were the bad guys but then found that even that was built into the last book. One of the things I really like about the book is that the evil scheme that lies at its heart is, by Alex Rider standards, quite small. The bad guys aren't planning to blow up a whole country, or to take over the world, and it makes the story much more manageable. It meant I could focus on Alex Rider and make the book about him.

Q: The bad guys turn out to be twins - have we met them before?

A: Yes we have. I wanted to move slightly away from Scorpia and this is Scorpia's last bow. Giovanni and Eduardo do actually appear in an earlier Alex Rider novel. We see them around the table with the other bad guys and pretty much all of those characters have since died.

I liked the idea of having twins and giving them a vague mafia background. When I write a James Bond novel, the title and the villains are the hardest to make up. The villains have to be very believeable and you have to be careful to avoid stereotypes and there must be a fun element to them, there has to be a smile connected with them. The book might reflect the real world, that dark things happen, but there has to be an element of fantasy to the villains - they are evil but with a smile.

Q: What about the settings in this book - Wales, Egypt and the US. Have you travelled to all these places?

A: I do travel to every location in my books but not into outer space as Alex does in Ark Angel. And nor have I been to the abandoned coke works in North Wales that are in this book, it just wasn't possible to access them, so I used lots of images online to create the setting in the book.

The plot demanded somewhere that would be hidden, secret and that could be protected but I didn't want to go in with a high tech James Bond villain-style lair. This was a more ordinary crime. I remembered reading about the closing of the old coke works in north Wales and did some online research. It reminded me of a mine setting in an old Dirty Harry film and the images of the old conveyor belts and rubble and old industry buildings popped into my head, so that also helped develop the setting.

Q: Are you planning more Alex Rider adventures?

A: There is a collection of short stories to come and an inbuilt sequel to Never Say Die, called Nightshade; I have the plot already, it's in my head and I could start writing that tomorrow.

The book's focus will be Mrs Jones, the deputy head of MI6, and the fact that it's an adult character has been partly inspired by the television series of Alex Rider that's being developed for ITV. They have made the adult characters as interesting as the child characters, that's what they are trying to do with the series, and I thought I could do something like that with the next Alex Rider book and open up the world to adult characters.

Q: Will you write any more books for children?

A: I'm thinking of writing a trilogy for children which could be my last gasp in the children's book world. I'm in my 60s now and I feel like I'm getting ever further away from my audience so there was some trepidation in returning to it - but you can't work in the world of young adult fiction and then just turn your back on it when it suits you.

Q: Do you feel there are now more restrictions in writing for children, given recent newspaper reports that said you were 'warned off' introducing black characters, for example?

A: I didn't quite say that but we do live in a time where sensitivities are very much raised and we need to be more alert to people's sensitivities and arguments around every aspect of public life, that's where we are, but I think that is part of a much wider discussion about making books for children.

I am simply trying to be a classic writer for all children and what I've been saying for 20 plus years is that when we talk about literacy and reading and its importance, we have to cross all the boxes, whether that's illiteracy, gender, income and social wealth. Reading has to stretch to encompass all those things.

Q: How does your writing day go?

A: I started writing this morning at 7.30am, now I have a lunch appointment and then I'll take the dog for a walk and then I'm going to the theatre. But I'm at a desk pretty much every day and I write on a laptop. But for me writing isn't working hard, it's just my life.

My favourite place to write is probably at a tiny house we have in Suffolk on the edge of a river which has a view you wouldn't believe. I've written at least one Alex Rider book there.

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Teri Terry

Your reviews Anthony Horowitz

ALEX RIDER is back in NEVER SAY DIE (Walker Books) with a gripping adventure that takes the young...

Your reviews

Ella Queen of Jazz, I loved the direct style and brightly coloured, eye-catching pictures, the collage design and...