From page to screenThere’s a sheet of paper stuck to the window of my studio – a list of deadlines. This is what I’m doing in the next few weeks. Alex Rider 4: My new children’s book, variously entitled Eagle Eye, Eagle Strike, Game-slayer or Never Play Dead. The title is the hardest part. Alex Rider 1: Stormbreaker – I’ve been commissioned to write the screenplay and I’m 50 pages in. Alex Rider 3: Skeleton Key – my American publisher has demanded extensive changes to the last book as he thinks the CIA agents aren’t sympathetic enough.
Murder in Mind 3: I’m writing two episodes for the series I created for the BBC. The Killing Joke: My first adult novel, if anyone will actually buy it. My agent wants me to rewrite the second half. Magick: A new television series I’ve written for Jill Green, the producer to whom I’m also married. I’m on the third draft of the first episode and she wants it by Friday. For as long as I can remember I’ve been working at this pace – about 10 hours a day, often seven days a week. I have a studio at the bottom of my garden here in Crouch End, north London.
The studio – somewhere private for me – was the reason we moved here in the first place. Curiously, until I created Alex Rider, my teenage spy, I was virtually unknown all over the world – with the exception of Belgium, where I have always been very well regarded. Indeed, I once thought my epitaph would have to read: “Big in Belgium”. Everything has changed with Alex. We’ve sold so many copies that suddenly, it seems, I have a name. But there has always been a positive side to obscurity. What other writers are lucky enough to work in so many fields – books, television, cinema, theatre – and so many genres?
Next year, for example, my second feature film, The Gathering, comes out. This is not a cheerful children’s adventure but a very dark and violent horror film. The problem with being well known as a writer is that you are inevitably well known for a specific sort of writing – and suddenly you’re pigeonholed. Fame may open financial windows, but I would have said it closes creative ones. I am, and always have been, a compulsive storyteller. Everything that happens to me, everything I see or read about, suggests a story.
The Gathering was inspired by seeing a bad accident on the A12 (it was the people slowing down and watching that interested me). Two years ago, I briefly lost my dog while walking in the park; the result is a two-part thriller, Menace, to be shown later this year on Channel 5. It is probably the love of story that has led me to children’s books. It’s a genre that allows me to concentrate on pace, adventure and surprise, all of which excite me, rather than description, philosophy or profound character analysis, which largely don’t.
I have always found television writing and children’s books very similar in this respect. If you’re writing for a primetime, mainstream audience, pace and energy have to be your first considerations. It doesn’t surprise me that a great many children seem to be perfectly comfortable watching adult TV. I sometimes think of television – a series of joined-together pictures – as a massively oversized comic strip. I do have certain rules. I never work on two major projects in one day – a TV episode and a children’s book, for example.
It’s important to keep all the different ideas compartmentalised. I always take at least one day off when I finish a script. I never start writing until I’ve worked out a very detailed structure. But when I do write, I work extremely quickly. William Goldman, who is something of a hero of mine, recommends this approach in Adventures in the Screen Trade, but my own refinement is never to deliver anything to producers or publishers too soon. If they think you’ve done it too quickly, they’ll appreciate it less. · The latest Alex Rider book, Skeleton Key, is published by Walker Books.