Anthony Horowitz Reads an Extract from Magpie Murders Transcript
So this is an extract from the very first page of Magpie Murders in which an editor – Susan Ryeland – is about to read the manuscript of the book.
I lit a cigarette. I began to read the book as you are about to. But before you do that, I have to warn you.
This book changed my life.
You may have read that before. I’m embarrassed to say that I splashed it on the cover of the first novel I ever commissioned, a very ordinary second world war thriller. I can’t even remember who said it but the only way that book was going to change someone’s life was if it fell on them. Is it ever actually true? I still remember reading the Bronte sisters as a very young girl and falling in love with their world: the melodrama, the wild landscapes, the gothic romance of it all. You might say that Jane Eyre steered me towards my career in publishing, which is a touch ironic in view of what happened. There are plenty of books that have touched me very deeply. Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Ian McEwan’s Atonement. I’m told that a great many children suddenly found themselves in boarding school as a result of the Harry Potter phenomenon and throughout history there have been books that have had a profound effect on our attitudes. Lady Chatterly’s Lover is one obvious example, 1984 another. But I’m not sure it actually matters what we read. Our lives continue along the straight lines that have been set out for us. Fiction merely allows us a glimpse of the alternative. Maybe that’s one of the reasons we enjoy it.
But Magpie Murders really did change everything for me.
Anthony Horowitz on Magpie Murders Transcript
Magpie Murders is both a whodunnit and an examination of whodunnits. It looks at the relationship between the author, the detective and the reader, and asks the question ‘why do we read murder stories at all?’ And it is, at the same time, a murder story and it’s two murder stories for the price of one.
I had the idea for Magpie Murders about fifteen years ago, and it came actually from reading Sherlock Holmes. I was very interested in the fact that Conan Doyle created this amazing character and hated him so much that he kicked him off the Reichenbach falls. And that set me thinking about writing a book about a whodunnit writer and his relationship with his main character.
What really excites me about this book is the fact that it’s me, it’s my book, for once I’m not hiding in the shadow of Ian Fleming or Conan Doyle or anyone else. It’s not a continuation novel, it’s a book I’ve wanted to write for a very, very long time. And what excites me in particular is that so far nobody has guessed the ending. That matters to me a lot.
Magpie Murders is a novel about a novelist, about a writer called Alan Conway who is the bestselling author of a series of books; the Atticus Pund detective series. And the first thing to say about Alan Conway is he is not based on me at all, in fact he is a complete swine, he is not a very pleasant man. And the more we learn about him the more we realise how very unpleasant he is. And part of the fun of the book for me has been one writer looking at another, looking at the whole mechanism of writing, and what it means to be a bestselling author. In his case, I’m afraid, he is very far from grateful.
You have no idea how much work went into this book, just planning it. I think I must have spent a whole year planning and thinking about it and making notes before I even wrote the first word. The trick was to make sure all the clues were on the page. You can actually guess the whole thing pretty much from the first page in the book. But at the same time it had to be incredibly complicated in its construction. Easy to read, complicated to write. At the end of the day I felt like one of those turfing engineers when I got to the end of the book, with these two cables, each one of which had 150 wires, multicoloured wires coming out, and they all had to connect somehow. And I’m happy to say that with a little bit of cutting and trimming they did.
A lot of my books do need research, particularly the James Bond books or the Sherlock Holmes books which require 19th century knowledge. One of the joys of writing Magpie Murders was actually it didn’t need a great deal of physical research. I had to look up poisons and stuff like that, and it’s set in the 1950’s, part of it is, and I was born in 55 so I have some vestigial memory of it, but in fact at the end of the day this is not a research heavy book. It’s plot, it’s mystery, it’s characters that really matter.
Certainly I’ve always been a great fan of what has been called the Golden Age of detective fiction, by which I mean Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ellery Queen and many others, and I wanted to bring those values into the book. Even the title – Magpie Murders – in a way reflects Agatha Christie’s habit of using folk songs and verses as the structure of her books. And I do hope that the book is, in its way, a love letter to that type of writing. It has a nasty twist on it, it does modernise it and go in a very unexpected direction but that’s where it began.
I’ve always loved Agatha Christie, I’ve read all her books of course, I’ve adapted many of them for television, and this book – Magpie Murders – certainly owes a great deal to Agatha Christie. In fact one of the nicest things in it for me is the fact that he grandson Matthew Pritchard actually turns up as a character in the book. We had a fantastic lunch together talking about his grandmother and I then put him in, as I say, as a character. What is is not, is an Agatha Christie pastiche, it is not a parody or an homage, it’s not a continuation novel, but it uses a great deal of the techniques that she really invented and examines them then gives them a very modern and unexpected twist.