In the third Hawthorne book from Anthony Horowitz, there has never been a murder on Alderney… Until now.
“MY PUBLISHERS, PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE, have offices on the Vauxhall Bridge Road, the other side of Victoria. It’s an odd part of London. Considering that the River Thames is at the top of the road and Tate Britain is just around the corner, it’s surprisingly shabby and unattractive, full of shops that look as if they should have gone out of business decades ago and blocks of flats with too many windows and no views. The road itself is very straight and unusually wide, with four lanes for the traffic that rushes past like dust in the vacuum tube of a hoover. There are side streets but they don’t seem to go anywhere.
I don’t get invited there all that often. Producing a book is a complicated enough business, I suppose, without the author getting in the way, but actually I look forward to every visit. It takes me about eight months to finish a book and in that time I’m completely alone. It’s one of the paradoxes of being a writer that, physically, there ’s not a huge difference between the debut novelist and the international bestseller: they’re each stuck in a room with a laptop, too many Jaffa Cakes and nobody to talk to. I once worked out that I’ve probably written more than ten million words in my lifetime. I’m surrounded by silence but at the same time I’m drowning in words and it hardly ever leaves me, that sense of disconnection.
But everything changes the moment I walk through the swing doors with the famous Penguin logo up above. I’m always amazed how many people work there and how young so many of them seem to be. Like writing, publishing is a vocation as much as a career and I get a sense of a shared enthusiasm that would be hard to find in most other businesses. Everyone in the building, no matter what their level, loves books – which has to be a good start. But what do they all do? It embarrasses me how little I know about the actual process of publishing. What’s the difference between a proofreader and a copy editor, for example, and why can’t one person do both jobs? Where does marketing end and publicity begin? I suppose it doesn’t matter. This is where it all happens, where a thought that may have begun years ago in the bath or on a walk is finally turned into reality. When people talk about the ‘dream factory’ they usually mean Hollywood, but for me it will always be Vauxhall Bridge Road.
So I was happy to find myself there on a bright June morning, three months before my new novel, The Word is an invitation Murder, was due to be published. I’d been asked to come in by my editor, Graham Lucas, who’d surprised me with a telephone call.
‘Are you busy?’ he had asked. ‘We ’d like to talk about publicity.’ As always, he went straight to the point.
Advance proofs of the book had already gone out and apparently they had been well received – not that I’d have heard otherwise. Publishers are brilliant at keeping bad news from authors.
“I had never thought of the book as a collaboration and I wasn’t sure I liked the idea of sharing the stage – any stage – with him.”
‘What time?’ I asked.
‘Could you manage Tuesday? Eleven o’clock?’ There was a pause and then: ‘We also want to meet Hawthorne.’
‘Oh.’ I should have expected it, but even so I was surprised.
‘We think he could make a serious difference to the sales. After all, he is the coauthor.’
‘No, he ’s not. He didn’t write any of it!’
‘It’s his story. We see you as a team.’
‘Actually, we ’re not that close.’
‘I think the public will be very interested in him. I mean . . . in the two of you together. Will you talk to him?’
‘Well, I can ask him.’
‘Eleven o’clock.’ Graham hung up.
I was more than a little deflated as I put the phone down. It was true that the book had been Hawthorne’s idea. He was an ex-detective who worked as a consultant to the police, helping them with their more complicated investigations. He’d first approached me to write about him while he was looking into the murder of a wealthy widow in west London, but I’d been reluctant from the start, mainly because I preferred to make up my own stories. Certainly, I had never thought of the book as a collaboration and I wasn’t sure I liked the idea of sharing the stage – any stage – with him.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that this could play to my advantage. I had now followed Hawthorne on two investigations – and ‘follow’ is the right word. Although I was meant to be his biographer, he never actually explained anything of what he was doing and seemed to enjoy keeping me several steps behind him, always in the dark. I had missed every clue that had led him to Diana Cowper’s killer and because of my own stupidity I had almost got killed myself. I had made even more catastrophic errors on our next case, the murder of a divorce lawyer in Hampstead, and I wasn’t entirely sure I could write the second book without making myself look ridiculous.
Well, here was a chance to redress the balance. If Graham Lucas was going to have his way, Hawthorne would have to enter my world: talks, signing sessions, interviews, festivals. It would all be new to him, but I’d been doing it for thirty years. Just for once, I’d have the upper hand.
I had met him that same afternoon. As always, we sat outside a coffee shop so that he could smoke.
‘It’s eleven o’clock next Tuesday,’ I said. ‘It’ll only be half an hour. They just want to meet you and talk about marketing. When the book comes out, you’re going to have to gear yourself up for joint appearances at some of the major festivals.’
He’d looked doubtful. ‘What festivals?’
‘Edinburgh. Cheltenham. HayonWye. All of them!’ I knew what mattered most to Hawthorne so I spelled it out for him. ‘Look, it’s very simple. The more books we sell, the more money you’ll make. But that means getting out there. Do you realise that there are about a hundred and seventy thousand books published in the UK every year? And crime fiction is the most popular genre of all.’
‘Fiction?’ He scowled at me.
‘It doesn’t matter how they describe the book. We just have to make sure it’s noticed.’
‘You’re the author. You go to the meeting!’
‘Why do you have to be so bloody uncooperative all the time? Do you have any idea how difficult it is writing these books?’
‘Why? I do all the work.’
‘Yes. But it’s a fulltime job making you look sympathetic.’
He looked at me with eyes that were suddenly offended. I’d seen it before, that occasional flicker of vulnerability, reminding me that he was human after all. Separated from his wife and son, living alone in an empty flat, making Airfix models in some echo of a doubtless traumatic childhood, Hawthorne wasn’t as tough as he pretended to be, and perhaps the most annoying thing about him was that, no matter how difficult he was, I still found him intriguing. I wanted to know more about him. When I sat down to write, I was as interested in him as in the mysteries he set out to solve.
‘I didn’t mean that,’ I said. ‘I just need you to come to the publishers. It’s really not that much to ask. Promise me that you will.’
‘Half an hour?’
‘All right. I’ll be there.’
But he wasn’t.”
Extracted from A Line to Kill, out now.
YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY