I am cheating a bit here. On September 10, 2010 I posted the following on the New Hampshire Writers’ Network blog, for which I am a contributor. Why the repost?
Because Barbara Ross wrote a blog post on Maine Crime Writers about Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks, and she wrote about Dame Agatha’s process. Having written a thesis about Agatha Christie, I spent a lot of time dissecting her work. And, while always a fan, I became an admirer of her craft. I think she is too often dismissed, her broad character strokes being taken as a lack of ability rather than the manipulation of the reader into making assumptions.
And so, as we are adding to conversations via this blog, I decided to repost “Lessons from Agatha Christie”
LESSONS FROM AGATHA CHRISTIE
Happy Birthday (a day late) to Agatha Christie. She was born 120 years ago, and died in 1976. And yet–who had to ask who she was? Even if you aren’t a mystery reader, you’ve heard of her. She is still one of the top selling novelists of all time.
I’ve spent a lot of time pondering Dame Agatha’s craft. In 2009 I got my master’s degree, and my thesis was on Agatha Christie, her use of point-of-view and how it contributed to the genre. Trust me when I say, in order to get this topic approved I had to read a lot of critical essays, biographical materials, genre reflections, novels and short stories. And as a bonus I learned a lot about the craft of writing. These are some of the lessons Agatha Christie taught me:
Shake it up. Agatha Christie created several series characters–Hercule Poirot (with Hastings), Miss Marple, Tommy and Tuppence. She also wrote stand alones. She wrote short stories. She wrote plays. Most of her work was in the mystery genre. But, she didn’t keep repeating the same book. Instead she shook it up. Used different points of view. Took reader’s expectations and shook them up.
Be professional. In her autobiography, Agatha Christie reflected on writing The Mystery of the Blue Train, her least favorite novel. She was recently divorced, and writing had become her vocation, her means of supporting herself. She wrote about the challenge of writing when you don’t want to, and the importance of meeting deadlines.
Work on your own terms. I love that Agatha Christie wrote the final book for Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot years before she was done writing the series. It was as if she knew she needed to write those books while she was still at the top of her game. Curtain is a brave way to end a series character, and it allowed her to end Poirot’s story on her own terms.
Just do it. By all accounts Agatha Christie was a very shy woman. She was famous in her own lifetime, which must have been uncomfortable. But she just kept going. She kept writing, stretching both herself and the genre.
And so Happy Birthday Agatha Christie. Thanks for the hours of reading enjoyment, and the writing lessons. I’m trying to decide which novel to reread in honor of your birthday. Which would you chose?
J.A. Hennrikus is the Executive Director of StageSource. She is a mystery writer who has her story “Her Wish” published in DEAD CALM, an anthology by Level Best Books. She is a huge social media fan, and tweets under @JulieHennrikus. She wrestles with allusions of athleticism, is an avid theater goer and a proud member of Red Sox nation. Her website is jahennrikus.com