If you thought the only Jewish connection to the new film Stormbreaker was the presence of actress Alicia Silverstone and Stephen Fry, then think again. The action blockbuster, which follows the adventures of teenage spy Alex Rider, is in fact based on a series of novels by Jewish author Anthony Horowitz.
Born in 1956 in Stanmore, Horowitz had a colourful childhood – describing himself as a "miserably unhappy and overweight child", he began writing when he was a child, with many of his tales inspired by his experiences at a strict boarding school in North London. He also became a huge fan of James Bond movies – which comes as little surprise, given that the character of Alex Rider appears to be the teenage equivalent of 007. He was also inspired by the bedtime stories his mother would tell him.
"She'd come in at night but she didn't read to me, she told me horror stories from films," he recalls. "The Fly was my favourite." He also received a rather unusual Barmitzvah present from his mother, in the shape of a human skull, which she bought from a medical shop in Holborn.
His father, a wealthy businessman, died when Horowitz was 23, having transferred the family fortune to a secret Swiss bank account without actually telling anybody the details. To this day the money remains undiscovered despite his mother's best efforts to find it.
These days Horowitz, who lives in North London with his wife and two teenage sons, is one of the country's most prolific writers. His impressive body of work includes creating the ITV series Foyle's War (his wife, Jill Green, produces the show), as well as penning episodes of Midsomer Murders, Agatha Christie's Poirot and the BBC comedy Murder Most Horrid. Among his other books are Granny, a dark tale inspired by his own Jewish grandmother, who he hated. "She was a truly horrible woman," he says. "I decided to write about her when I was at her funeral – a very happy day."
However Horowitz, who visited his grandmother every week after his mother died until her own death, claims he did her a favour. "I made her amusing," he says of the character in the book, "which she certainly never was in real life."
His other books include two volumes of short stories, Horowitz Horror and More Horowitz Horror, and the Diamond Brothers series, which follows the adventures of two teenage private detectives (Just Ask For Diamond, a film based on the first novel in the series, was released in 1988).
But it's the Stormbreaker series of books for which he is best known – so far there have been six books charting the adventures of Alex Rider, with a seventh, Snakehead, on the way. The third book in the series, Skeleton Key, won him the Red House Prize for Children's Book Of The Year in 2003. The award – the only one in the country voted for entirely by children – has previously been won by the likes of Harry Potter author JK Rowling. However, Horowitz is remaining non-committal on how long the series is likely to continue. "In the sixth book, Ark Angel, Alex is 14 years and seven months old, and I have always said I'll stop writing the books when he turns 15," he says. "Book seven is in the pipeline – the story is developing nicely, but we'll have to see where Alex ends up before I decide on any more."
Stormbreaker (cert PG) is now out