Anthony Horowitz: ‘I don’t have breakfast. If I can hold off eating, I work better’

The novelist and screenwriter avoids the deadening effects of routine, and walks the dog when he needs a break

I try not to think in terms of writing days. Writing is so solitary, so repetitive, that if you allow it to become routine the whole experience can become deadening. So I don’t start at a particular time or write a certain number of words. I can be in London, Suffolk or – during the summer – Crete. I might be writing TV, books or journalism (I’m writing this article in a hotel in Los Angeles). I’m afraid that writing has more or less consumed my life. I never really stop.

Generally, I’ll start around 7am. I don’t have breakfast. If I can hold off eating, I find I work better. I live in Clerkenwell and have a purpose-built study on the top floor, with views of St Paul’s and the Old Bailey. The room is very long and narrow and everything in it relates in some way to my work – from the Tintin rocket which first inspired me when I was at school to the human skull that reminds me that time is short. I have a desktop computer and a laptop but I always write the first draft with a fountain pen. I like the feel of the nib on paper, the flow of ink, the sense of being part of a tradition that stretches back to my heroes: Charles Dickens, George Orwell.

I have about 10 different pens and choose the one that most suits the character I’m writing about. My favourite is a silver Caran d’Ache which writes incredibly smoothly. I also use Europa notepads. They come in different colours which again suit my mood and the quality is excellent. My only other fad is a very expensive, ergonomic chair. But then I spend a lot of time sitting in it.

Sometimes I won’t leave my desk for five or six hours, although I always take a break to walk the dog (Boss, a rescue dog from Battersea) or to go out for a light lunch. I love all the street food that has popped up all over Clerkenwell. I never suffer from writer’s block. If the words aren’t coming, I go out for a stroll. London is inspiring. I can walk down to the Thames – about 10 minutes away – and find myself instantly energised. I might pop into the Tate or simply sit down and watch the river traffic.

A perennial problem is what to do between paragraphs, when I want to take a break. In the old days, I used to smoke. A cigarette was a great way to reflect on what I’d done. Unfortunately, it was also killing me – I haven’t smoked for 30 years. For a time, chocolate biscuits were a nice alternative but they’re just as lethal in their own way. These days, I drink endless cups of green tea. I have one of those taps that provide instant boiling water – a must for the busy writer. I also have a grand piano downstairs and usually spend an hour a day playing Bach or Chopin. I find it soothing … from one keyboard to another.

I’m very lucky in that I’ve always loved writing. In fact I love it as much now as I did when I wrote my first book more than 40 years ago. It’s hard to explain, this sense of immersion, but when I’m sitting at my desk, nothing else really matters. I lose myself completely in my work and suddenly I’m with Alex Rider, leaping off a burning building or with my detective, trying to solve the crime. When characters talk, it’s as if I’m hearing them and feverishly scribbling down their words, rather than inventing what they say.

I do have a social life too. I’m out most evenings at the cinema or theatre. I see friends. My wife – Jill Green, a producer – gets in around seven and we’re often out together. We travel a lot. We go for hikes. In the end, all of this feeds my work. As I always tell young writers, you’ve got to have something to write about. You can’t just sit alone in a room.

Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders is published by Orion. To order a copy for £15.57 (RRP £18.99) go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.

Anthony Horowitz

The GuardianTramp

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