Young readers vote Horowitz the kidlit king

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The Independent Culture

Kidlit has a new king. Anthony Horowitz, crowned yesterday at a ceremony in London, has emerged as the winner in a nationwide poll of 25,000 of Britain's most discerning and unforgiving literary critics - children.

Mr Horowitz, 48, who has written a dozen children's books since his first, Enter Frederick K Bower, was published in 1979 when he was 23, has won this year's Red House Children's Book Award for Skeleton Key, which was published last summer.

The book, the fourth in a series following the adventures of 14-year-old MI6 spy Alex Rider - described as "James Bond in Nike trainers" - has been a huge commercial success, at one point selling more than 4,000 copies a day.

"I don't write books to win prizes," Horowitz told The Independent on Sunday last night, "but naturally I'm delighted to have won this one.

"I've number five in the series planned. It's going to be called Scorpio, with Alex exploring his darker side - working for the enemy." Horowitz told The Independent on Sunday that his research is due to start soon, in the best Bond tradition, with visits to glamorous locations in Italy and France.

After Scorpio, Horowitz is to publish one further Alex Rider adventure. "None of Alex is me," he said yesterday, "but this is me as I wish I had been at that age."

Horowitz's first two books in the series, Stormbreaker and Point Blanc, have sold more than 250,000 copies each, with a strong fan-base now established in that key media market, the United States. Promotion to the lower reaches of the J K Rowling league seems certain, a fact that will not have escaped the notice of Horowitz's publisher, Walker Books.

Unlike Rowling, Horowitz has a long track record as a writer that predates his Alex Rider books and is not confined to publishing. He is one of the most prolific creative forces working in Britain today - a one-man industry that, as well as writing 12 children's books, has been turning out top-drawer television and film scripts for years.

His small-screen oeuvre to date includes episodes of Midsomer Murders, Murder in Mind, Murder Most Horrid, Foyle's War, Poirot, Anna Lee and Robin of Sherwood, and the TV plays The Last Englishman and The Man Who Didn't Believe in Ghosts. This year sees the release of The Gathering, a horror film starring Christina Ricci, for which he has written the screenplay.

Voting for the Red House Children's Book Award was channelled through book groups and the internet. Previous winners have included Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1998), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1999), and Eat Your Peas by Kes Gray (2001). Last year, the prize was won by Malorie Blackman for Noughts and Crosses.

Mr Horowitz, who is married with two sons, lives and works in north London, where he was born.

He acknowledges that his current children's books are influenced by Ian Fleming, and the stage of glamour, exoticism and megalomaniacal menace created for the James Bond novels (Alex Rider's love interest is called Sabina Pleasure). However, unlike Bond, Agent Rider never kills anyone.

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