I don’t know about you, but for me, the year has been disappearing faster than the finger food at a cannibal’s picnic. I mention cannibals because I’ve just finished editing my new series of horror stories…but we’ll get to that in a minute.
First of all, I’ve been all over the planet since January, starting with the last days of my holiday in Kenya…which is where, by coincidence, Alex Rider is also heading.
I started on the wonderful island of Lamu (no cars, just donkeys and amazing beaches, turtles, beautiful old dows and much too much to drink). Then I went on two safaris. The first was brilliant. I saw cheetahs stalking their prey, herds of elephants, giraffes…and I got so close to crocodiles that I could have taken the cover photograph for my new book. The second safari was less good. I saw lots of flies. Anyway, I wrote all about it for the Mail on Sunday. Some of you may have seen the piece.
I hadn’t been home for a week before I was off to Cairo for a book fair organised by the British Council. My recent photo competition showed me standing in front of the famous pyramids on what was an unforgettable visit. I arrived at first light, half an hour before they opened – but for some reason I was still allowed in. For the next forty minutes I was there almost entirely on my own. Just me, my guide – and the pyramids! He showed me into some tombs far underground. I saw statues and paintings thousands of years old…an entire boat that had once sailed before Christ was even born. If I had hairs on the back of my neck, they would certainly have risen. Actually, maybe I do have hairs on the back of my neck. I’ve never looked.
After Egypt, a couple of weeks at home, then off skiing in Switzerland. (By the way, if you’re thinking that I don’t seem to have been doing much work, my notebooks and computer come with me everywhere). I’m not a great skier but this year the conditions were perfect. Fresh snow, loads of sunshine and even though it was half term, not too many crowds. You may have noticed that I’ve opened an account with TWITTER – it’s shorter than these blogs and more immediate. I filed quite a few reports from the slopes.
Two days after Switzerland, it was another book fair, this time in Dubai – which will feature strongly in the fifth volume of the POWER OF FIVE series. It’s a bizarre place, a major city which doesn’t seem to have any sensible reason to exist, certainly not in its desert setting. The oil has run out. The tourists are running away. The whole place could all too soon be run down. I’ve got great ideas for a nightmare sequence to be set there.
That said, the festival was a lot of fun. The writers were all treated like royalty and I liked hanging out with so many famous authors, some of them (including an incredibly foul-mouthed but much loved children’s writer) were nothing like I’d imagined them. Notice how discreet I’m being. No names. “What goes on tour, stays on my tour,” as my son put it.
Five days in Dubai, then straight back to Orford, in Suffolk – which is where I’m writing this now. I may have mentioned this before, but Orford is quite simply the most beautiful place in the world. There’s a great expanse of silver water, the River Alde, right outside my window. A scattering of boats. Gulls and cormorants wheeling overhead. It’s a miracle really I get any work down at all. I could just stare out of the window all day.
But I have been hard at work.
This week I visited the John Innes Centre in Norwich which is one of the main centres for the study of genetically modified crops. I got shown round the whole place, given lunch (including their own Norwich Bio Centre Blend coffee…modified for a better taste?) and, best of all, I was able to tell them the plot of CROCODILE TEARS and it works!!! It’s really important to me that the Alex Rider books should be based on scientific fact. I wonder if my readers know anything about GM crops? Well, they will soon…
After that, it was off to the nuclear power plant, Sizewell B, which is just up the coast from Orford. The people there really were incredibly kind, particularly as I’d told them that I planned to blow up a power station in the new book. They kitted me out in safety helmet and goggles and showed me round…not everywhere of course. But I did see the vast turbines in the turbine hall, and the very deadly, spent fuel sitting in a bright blue swimming pool in the storage chamber. They wouldn’t let me anywhere near the reactor though.
And it turns out that it’s much harder to blow up a power station that I had originally thought. There are so many safety measures that you can’t even walk down a staircase unless you’re holding the rail. The reactor is contained in a building with concrete, steel-reinforced walls 1.3 metres thick. And just to be on the safe side, that building is in another building so even if there was an explosion nobody would really notice.
This is all extremely annoying. My idea – a cleaner with a floor polisher packed with high explosive – has gone out of the window. Of course, there are no windows at Sizewell B. I’ll have to think again.
Which brings me back to where I began.
I’m five chapters in to CROCODILE TEARS and so far I think it’s going well. At least, I’m enjoying writing it which is always a good sign. I’ve finished the entire Scottish sequence (set around Loch Lochy) and now I’m back in London.
At the same time, I’ve completely finished my next book, out on Halloween and now named: MORE BLOODY HOROWITZ. I hope you like the title. It was dreamed up by my eighteen-year-old son, Cass. Walker Books showed me the cover last week and I think it looks great. Expect cannibals, a deadly game show, a robotic nanny that goes out of control, a haunted Sat Nav system…and more.
Now I’m off to Aldeburgh with Dreary (the dog). The best fish and chips in England.
Suffolk – March 6th 2009