Anthony Horowitz’s Diary: Dinner with Saddam, anyone?

I’ve written a comedy about Iraq. Theatre producers please form an orderly queue

19 July 2014

9:00 AM

19 July 2014

9:00 AM

I have written a play, but a month after it was sent to half a dozen theatres, I have heard nothing. Either they’re being slow or they’re so shocked that they cannot bring themselves to respond. The play is called Dinner With Saddam and takes place in Baghdad on the evening of the Allied bombardment. It’s a comedy. Is it even possible, I wonder, for an English writer to portray an Arab family in a humorous way without laying himself open to charges of racism? And when all things are considered, was it good or bad timing to send the play out just one day before the Isis forces launched their first bloody attack?

But I cannot see any way to write about the horror of Iraq except through comedy. Tony Blair cropped up on Radio 4 this week in his role as Middle East peace envoy — and that’s a joke, isn’t it? My jaw drops as I hear him arguing that the 2003 war had absolutely nothing to do with the vacuum of power and the collapse of internal security which has led directly to the disastrous situation in which Iraq now finds itself. I remember the US ambassador to the United Nations, Madeleine Albright, arguing that the deaths of up to half a million children as a result of sanctions was ‘a price worth paying’. She wasn’t being serious, was she? And then there’s the continued non-appearance of the Chilcott report. I once had a conversation with one of the members of that committee who promised me that they had finally nailed the truth. Chilcott has become a gag in both senses of the word.


There are three more episodes of Foyle’s War on the way — we finished them this week. In this season, we touch on the IG Farben trials and the construction of Monowitz, a concentration camp designed and built simply for business. One episode opens in Mandatory Palestine and looks at a bizarre plot, hatched within the British government, to restrict ‘trespass’ — the illegal emigration of Jews. Finally, we examine one of the war’s greatest scandals — the quite unnecessary deaths of SOE agents sent into France and Holland. The more I write this show, the more passionate I become about it, and although we’re thought of as a mystery or a detective series, it’s actually the true, often unknown stories of the second world war (and now the Cold War) that fascinate me. Is there any other way I would be allowed to tell them on primetime ITV?

Meanwhile, I’m racing around promoting Moriarty, my new Sherlock Holmes novel which comes out in October. Last month it was booksellers in Paris, this week a discreet clutch of critics in Clerkenwell. Holmes and Watson do not actually appear this time — the story begins the day after the confrontation at Reichenbach Falls, drawing on the many inconsistencies that can be found between ‘The Final Problem’ and ‘The Empty House’. These inconsistencies only exist, of course, because Doyle had decided to kill off his most famous creation but then had to go through various contortions to bring him back again — largely to pay the bills for Undershaw, his home in Surrey. It’s good news that the house, where Doyle wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles, is now protected by a charitable trust after nearly being turned into flats.

I was recently the guest of another charity and found myself high up on the roof of the Royal London Hospital with amazing views of the city. Actually, I was astonished that London’s Air Ambulance — which is on call 24 hours a day — is a charity, receiving only minimal funding from the NHS. If you are involved in a crash on, say, the M25, they will be with you in eight minutes. These mainly young, entirely dedicated people deal with 2,000 trauma victims a year and yet they have just one helicopter in operation and have to fundraise for a second. Extraordinary. As I stood high up in the brilliant sunshine, a falcon landed on a nearby rooftop and began to rip apart what looked like a dove. In a novel, it would be a symbol of something. As it was, it struck me how many secret dramas there are being played out daily in this great city of ours.

And finally to Orford where the church warden has kindly agreed to give me a resting place in the lovely cemetery of St Bartholomew’s Parish Church. I am 60 soon and need to think about these things. Surely lovers of Alex Rider will need somewhere to lay their flowers in years to come. Am I depressed about this? Not a bit of it. One of my books, Oblivion, opens at a ruined church where a magical door opens — a portal to another world. The scene was based on St Bartholomew’s and the spot I have chosen is right beside the actual door. How many authors have been buried in their own story? Frankly, I can hardly wait.

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Anthony Horowitz is a novelist and screenwriter. He is author of the Alex Rider series and has written a new Sherlock Holmes novel, Moriarty, which will be out in October.

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