Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

'We Are All Heading towards Oblivion. What Will Save Us?': Feature

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

'We Are All Heading towards Oblivion. What Will Save Us?': Feature

Article excerpt

From Kindles for kids and silent reading hours to his own hardbitten adventure stories, author Anthony Horowitz has plenty of ideas about how to get children into books. After all, he tells Michael Shaw, today's young readers will deliver us from destruction.

Anthony Horowitz has a human skull on his desk. It is one of the items of inspiration scattered around his writing room in Suffolk, along with prop gadgets from Stormbreaker, the film of his first book featuring teen spy Alex Rider.

A packet of exploding "Bubble 07" bubblegum can be spotted, while the walls are dotted with posters for Tintin comics, a love of his long before he was asked to write the script for the next film.

But the most important artefact is the skull. "It reminds me to get on and write," he says. "Don't slouch, don't go downstairs for a cup of tea and a KitKat - keep writing because quite soon you're going to look like this."

Horowitz hardly seems to need the skull's encouragement. The 57-year-old is the author of a staggeringly long list of books for young people and adults, and if you have ever watched a detective programme on ITV, there is a decent chance his name was on the script.

Yet earlier this year - in between finishing his new book for young adults, Oblivion, preparing the latest series of his television drama Foyle's War, writing the first draft of his Tintin script, promoting his Sherlock Holmes book House of Silk, and a dozen other projects - he wrote something rather different. It was an eight-page report on literacy commissioned by then schools minister Nick Gibb. Horowitz set out a series of recommendations for the government, the most eye-catching of which was that every child, from 6 to 16, should be given an e-reader.

"It would allow teachers at the flick of a button to put great literature and great poetry into every home in the country," he says. "And, of course, e-books are the future. There will come a time when all children will go to school with some form of iTablet, so why not now?"

The "Kindles for kids" scheme could be funded using money from one of the fines levied against the banks, he suggests. His other recommendations included compulsory reading in the holidays and putting silent reading hours on the timetable.

"Reading cannot be the ornamental table in the corner," Horowitz wrote at the time. "It is the carpet, the floor and the foundations on which all education stands and somehow more time has to be found for it in the already overcrowded national curriculum."

So how did the Department for Education respond to this report? "It was met by silence," Horowitz says. "I was very disappointed that Nick Gibb didn't even have the courtesy to send me a two-line 'Thank you, go away' note afterwards, and I'm not at all surprised that he's no longer a minister."

Horowitz stresses that he was equally annoyed at the previous government, and the way politicians generally seem to pay lip service to getting young people to read for pleasure, then fail to take action. It is a topic he may expand on when he speaks later this month at the London Festival of Education.

"Reading is a muscle that needs to be exercised, and if you don't exercise it then you'll never read," he says. "It seems sad to me that so few children will ever in their lives discover the great pleasure that I had in reading literature at every level - not just the Fifty Shades of Grey or the James Patterson or the Dan Brown but writers such as Kazuo Ishiguro."

Reading gave Horowitz a refuge as a child during his time at a "rather unpleasant" prep school in North London. Today he looks fit and conspicuously tanned, but he tells a story of how, as an overweight child, he was picked last to play football by the team captains, after the headmaster's dog.

"My salvation was the library, reading, discovering I could lose myself in books - and also picking up a pen for the first time at the age of 8, scribbling my first story about Guy Fawkes," he says. …

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