The Mystery Writer: What was Agatha Christie’s secret?

Beginning a new novel, she said, was three or four weeks of agony, pain, and despair when she could not write a single word,

Agatha Christi began it all in 1920 with a nice quiet little mystery novel called The Mysterious Affair of Styles, and within its pages, she gave the world one of its most enduring, if not endearing, detectives, Hercule Poirot, an ingenious, egocentric little man who solved murders, he said, with the little grey cells in his brains.

In her first book, Agatha said of him: “He was hardly more than five feet four inches but carried himself with great dignity. His moustache was very stiff and military. Even if everything on his face was covered, the tips of moustache and the pink-tipped nose would be visible. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible; I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound. This quaint dandified little man had been in his time one of the most celebrated members of the Belgian police.”

Hercule Poirot made his way into thirty-three of her novels, one play, and more than fifty short stories. In time, she came to detest his arrogance, confiding in her diary that she found him to be “insufferable” and referring to the celebrated sleuth as “an egocentric creep.”

She much preferred Miss Jane Marple, based on her grandmother. As she said, “Both Jane and Gran “always expected the worst of everyone and everything, and was, with almost frightening accuracy, usually proved right.”

For Agatha Christi, beginning a new novel, she said, was three or four weeks of agony, pain, and despair, a period when she could not force herself to write a single word. She said it was like being possessed with paralyzed hopelessness. In her first novel, she wanted to base her murderer on an acquaintance but found she couldn’t.

She said that not even in her imagination could she envision him ever murdering anyone. So she kept her notebooks close at hand and wrote down descriptions of characters by watching people in trams, trains, and restaurants. Everyone was a potential murderer. Everyone was a potential victim.

Agatha wrote with simple, everyday language, and she relied heavily on dialogue. Plots, she pointed out, just came to her in the oddest of places, usually out of the blue, and would rattle around in her head for long periods of time. As she said, it was always quite strange to “feel a book growing inside of you, building up all of the time.”

The Absent Spring, for example, settled in in her head for almost seven years and then suddenly fell into the place. She wrote the first and last chapters on the same day because she did not want anything to disrupt her train of thought.

She sat and wrote without ceasing or sleeping and finished the novel in three days. Why not? Agatha said that the characters were already there, waiting in the wings, ready to come onto the stage when their cues were called. They came on the run.

Agatha Christie always began with the same writing process. She would decide on the method of the murder. She would pinpoint the murderer. She devised the motive. And finally, she allowed the characters to wander into her consciousness, and, of course, those characters, especially the suspects, were given motives, as well. She kept her ideas scribbled down in a notebook, but, alas, Agatha had a bad habit of losing her notebooks.

Her formula, at least for her time, was a successful one. Her novels have sold roughly four billion copies, and her estate claims that her works rank third among the world’s most widely published books – behind only William Shakespeare and the Bible. Her novel, And Then There Were None became her best seller with 100 million copies sold.

Agatha Christie, during World War II, wrote, she said, the last cases for Hercule Poirot, Curtain, and Jane Marple, Sleeping Murder. The manuscripts were placed in a bank vault and were to be released only after her death.

She got tired of waiting, and both novels were released in 1974. In Curtain, she did what she had wanted to do for a long time. Agatha Christie killed off her insufferable little egomaniac, Hercule Poirot, at Styles. She would have nothing more to do with him.

He was the only fictional character to ever have his obituary printed in The New York Times.

Linda’s cozy mysteries were inspired originally by the work of Agatha Christie. Please click HERE to find Tarot Terrors on Amazon.

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