Hi, folks! So all of us here at Women and Words are doing this thing this month called “blogging the alphabet.” What that means is each of us is assigned specific letters of the alphabet throughout the month of April. So since I was assigned “A” on this, the first day of April (April! A!) I have to blog on a topic that starts with “A”.
The challenge, we thought, would be coming up with readerly/writerly topics that started with specific letters. And it’d be fun, too.
So I thought about it and the most obvious “A” word, in this instance, is “Author.” But I decided okay, how about an author whose NAME starts with “A” who has had some influence on me?
Well, ta-da! Today I’ll blog about Agatha Christie!
So if you wanna know what I’m even going to ramble on about, CLICKIE MORE! WOOOO!
Agatha Christie is perhaps the grande dame of the whodunnit. As a ‘tween and teen, I read every single mystery she wrote. She is the best-selling author of all time, and I say “is” because even though she is no longer with us, her books CONTINUE to sell. Over two billion copies of her works have sold worldwide, translated into 45 diffierent languages. Some people don’t realize that she also wrote plays, one of which, “The Mousetrap,” is the longest-running play in theatrical history.
Born Agatha May Clarissa Miller in Devon, England in 1890, Christie’s imagination revealed itself early during her childhood. Reputedly shy, she seemed to have had some difficulties expressing herself openly, so she created all kinds of games to keep herself occupied. She first turned to music as a form of self-expression and then, as we all know, to writing. In 1914, she married Archie Christie, a fighter pilot in WWI. She worked as a nurse during the war, and while her husband was off doing pilot things, she came up with the idea to write a detective novel while employed at a hospital. So she did, and a year later, she had her first novel written though she didn’t publish it until 1920.
That novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920), introduced the world to the fabulously eccentric and retired Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, whose famous “little gray cells” triumphed numerous times over various bad guys.
Poirot would appear in over 30 of Christie’s novels over the years, but Christie also introduced us to another sleuth, Miss Jane Marple, who appeared in HER first adventure, The Murder at the Vicarage, in 1930 (though Marple had appeared in short stories Christie published earlier). Marple, an older “spinster,” lived in the village of St. Mary Mead, and exemplified the “cozy style” of mysteries — quaint village where nothing ever happens until something scary does. Generally, it’s not a dark, gruesome, psychological murder but instead retains a flavor of “cozy,” with a limited cast and delightful twists and turns in the whodunnit style. This type of fiction personified the “golden age of fiction” in England during the 1920s and ’30s.
Christie’s personal life got a bit messy in 1926, when Archie asked for a divorce because he had fallen in love with another woman. Agatha, already upset over the death of her mother, literally disappeared in December of that year, and the entire country of England followed the news, trying to determine where the now-famous writer had gone. Archie, for obvious reasons, was suspected of foul play and two of Christie’s contemporary authors, Dorothy Sayers and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, were brought in to help search for her. Eleven days later, she was recognized at Harrogate, and her husband went to pick her up and bring her home.
Christie never elaborated on what actually happened, and instead referred to the incident as “temporary amnesia.” Speculation still abounds, however, that she may have initiated the entire plot as revenge against Archie for his errant ways, though others have since thought that perhaps she was completely devastated by Archie’s request for a divorce and was at a loss as to what to do. In 2006, her biographer Andrew Norman posited that it was actually a “fugue state” — an “out-of-body” experience brought on by extreme stress. Norman found evidence of this rare but increasingly recognized state of mind in medical records and he posited that Christie was in a “kind of trance” for several days.
Regardless, the episode no doubt contributed to an air of mystery about the woman who wrote so many of them. Four years after the incident, she married Max Malloran, a young archaeologist she met on a trip to Mesopotamia. The two of them traveled extensively together, and some of those adventures ended up in Christie’s work, like Death on the Nile (1937), a Poirot mystery.
Christie, known for her mysteries and the movies made of some of them, wrote other genres, as well. She published six romances under the name Mary Westmacott; nonfiction work, including a book titled Come, Tell Me How You Live, which documented her archaeological travels with Max, and several other collections of poetry and short stories, some with religious themes.
So there’s yer quick-n’-dirty intro to Christie’s work. As an author (A!), she inspired my writing because Christie was also a fabulous craftswoman. She drew her settings and characters from the world around her, accurately infusing her observations into the plots of her work. Historian C.V. Wedgwood said of her, “Her social settings, her characters and her dialogue are always accurately observed. There is no better all-round craftsman in the field.”
I spent hours reading Christie, and hours re-reading some of my favorites, and even then, I marveled at how tightly woven her plots were, at how subtle her twists and characterizations. Christie could use a character quirk to carry a subplot, and it was from her writing that I started paying special attention to the characters that would later inhabit my own work, and the ways they spoke and interacted on my pages.
During her life, Christie said that she was never sure when an idea for a novel or story would hit, but many came from odd moments involving the mundane acts of, for example, looking in the window of a hat shop. I call those “visits from the Muse.” Some people have asked me how ideas pop into my head, and I say that any moment of any day can be a story extended into a novel. Like Christie, I’m fascinated by human interactions and how things work. Unlike Christie, I have formal training in anthropology and archaeology (though that doesn’t necessarily make me special), and I’m sure that when Christie was traveling and working with Max, she no doubt honed her skills at observation and applied them to her writing. Also unlike Christie, I don’t work out all the details in my head. Christie kept numerous notebooks, and would spend hours getting everything figured out in her head — the clues, the details, the plot twists — before she ever actually wrote it down, though she admitted that “nothing turns out quite the way that you thought it would when you are sketching out notes for the first chapter or walking about muttering to yourself and seeing a short story unroll.”
Indeed. So Agatha Christie, I salute you. Many thanks for the hours and hours of entertainment and delving into craft, character, and clues that each of your plots and plot twists provided me during the years when I wondered what it might be like to write a book.
And, for some funsies, here are 75 facts about Christie that reveal a bit about the woman she was and the things she did during her life.
So, happy reading and happy writing!
Oh, and you can visit me HERE.