Apparently Anthony Horowitz, author of Foyles War and the popular Alex Ryder series of teenage spy novels, is bemused at being told by a US editor that ‘it’s inappropriate to draw from experiences other than his own’. In other words, he must write only about Jewish gentlemen currently in their sixties.


It is true that Jane Austen’s brilliant works were based on acute observation of her milieu, that Dickens had first-hand experience of the darker side of Victorian London, and that Tolstoy’s own father, as a veteran of The Patriotic War of 1812, would have shared his experiences with his son.

But what is this blinkered editor thinking:

  • That J K Rowling is a secret wizard?
  • Surely Hilary Mantel lives in contemporary England, not Tudor London?
  • Neither Pat Barker, nor Sebastian Faulks were born during World War I, so how did they re-create its tragedies so vividly in Ghost Road and Birdsong?
  • Likewise, Helen Dunmore wasn’t in Leningrad in 1941, yet somehow managed to write The Seige with power and sensitivity.
  • Jacqueline Wilson transported herself successfully into London’s eighteenth century Foundling Hospital with Hetty Feather
  • Jessie Burton succeeds in ‘impressively evoking the oppressive society of the Dutch Golden Age’ in The Miniaturist.
  • Sarah Perry uncovers a fantastical tale set in 1893 in The Essex Serpent.
  • Francis Spufford magicked eighteenth century New York into rivetting re-existence with Golden Hill.
  • David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas surely tops them all, with a narrative ‘circling the globe and reaches from the nineteenth century to a post-apocalyptic future’.

I am as bemused as the talented Mr Horowitz. Maybe these writers are simply all wizards.