The subject of this week’s article is someone who – if you do not know of him yourself – your children, or children you know, likely will. As it turns out, Michael Rosen – who we looked at the tail-end of last year – is not the only famous writer in modern times to have been raised in Harrow. Anthony Horowitz, now a hugely successful author known for the likes of Foyle’s War and the Alex Rider young adult book series – having been handed the keys to such treasured literary franchises like Sherlock Holmes and James Bond – was born and raised in Harrow in a way that, perhaps even more so than Rosen, has irreversibly shaped the writer that he is now known as.
Born in 1955 into a wealthy Jewish family, Horowitz lived a luxurious life when it came to sheer commodities. His childhood home White Friars – which may have links to the glassworks that had been based in Harrow in the nineteenth and twentieth century – was a huge. Since having been demolished, in its place are now some sixteen five-bedroom houses. With such a large house, a staff and servants were inevitably needed, and so Horowitz was raised in an environment where there was a near-constant capacity for assistance.
However, it would be wrong to say that this was the basis for a life of luxury. Indeed, whilst in interviews Horowitz has said he feels his upbringing left him overcoming an advantage as a writer – since adversity and hardship is, for so many, the perfect catalyst – Horowitz is arguably overstating the easiness of his childhood. Even before his school experience that, it would seem, permanently scarred him – Horowitz’s life at home was rife with difficulties.
His father, Mark Horowitz, for one thing, governed the house in a Victorian and somewhat ruthless fashion. Cold and distant, Mark Horowitz was rarely there for his children, and when he was, he was rarely affectionate. At dinner, for example, the elder Horowitz would have his children ‘sing for their supper’ – meaning they were required to provide intelligent and witty conversation; something which put much pressure, and unnecessary pressure at that, on the young Anthony. Perhaps most crushing of all, however, was Mark Horowitz’s lack of faith in his son’s talents – at one point telling Anthony that he would never make it as a writer; the only thing that the boy had ever wanted to do.
Beyond his father, life at home was also plagued by his grandmother – who Horowitz has described as having been genuinely evil, so much so that the woman provided the perfect template for the eponymous grandma in Horowitz’s later book Granny. Purportedly, Horowitz and his two siblings (who he was scarcely close to) even danced on the grave of the woman when she eventually passed away, so cruel was she.
The only source of comfort for Horowitz at this time, it seems, was that of his mother. Unlike her husband, Anthony’s mother was warm and loving – and it was through her that he would find the means of escape from the often harsh reality in which he lived. Some of Horowitz’s most treasured childhood memories are of his mother’s bedtime stories. Often, these would recount the plots of recent horror movies – from which Horowitz’s love of the genre, for which he has written much, can be seen to have started. But more than this, Anthony’s mother can be seen as the origins of the successful writer that is now known today. Between distant, cold, or else simply cruel family members, his mother and his mother’s stories was the young Horowitz’s only escape.
From the age of eight, Horowitz would become set on a career in writing, and in the years to come, he would only become more so – asking for a typewriter from an early age, and writing his first play before the age of 10; whilst always carrying with him a notepad so that he might write down every idea that came to him. Horowitz’s mother was the start of all of this. Even in the present, his mother can be seen to still have a catalysing influence on his writing – with his mother having given him a human skull (which he, in his fascination of horror, had asked for) as a present for his thirteenth birthday; a skull which he still has, and which, he says, reminds him to always finish each story he writes, since one day he will be a skull too.
However, before Horowitz could enter into the career he had always wanted, he had to endure his years in education. With the 1960s having been a time when corporal punishment in schools was still legal, Horowitz has described his time at school as having been a ‘brutal experience,’ one that left him with ‘self-loathing and a deep sense of being a failure.’ Nevertheless, this experience only pushed the fledgling author further into his writing – it becoming a much-needed retreat from the stresses of his life. Horowitz would even tell his stories to the other children at the school, often getting in trouble for dong this after lights out.
Now, decades on, Horowitz remains this storyteller – save for his audience is now much larger than the dormitories of his childhood. Much of this childhood, however, has found its way into his stories – such as with his aforementioned grandmother, or with the teachers he came to loathe; a number of his villains having been named after them. Far from his childhood being without adversity, then, Horowitz’s childhood in Harrow can be seen to have been formative in a number of ways.
Had he never experienced the rigid isolation of his home at White Friars, and never the torment of his time at school, Horowitz would not have needed the escapism that writing provided. More than this, though, without his mother’s care, he would never have learnt of this escapism to begin with, and the world would have been robbed of one of its greatest modern writers.
Without Harrow and Anthony Horowitz’s time in it, safe to say, the writer now world-famous would not be quite, if at all, the same.
Written by Harry Turner.
Image Credit: tweedlandthegentlemansclub.blogspot.co.uk