Saturday, September 19, 2009

Lessons Agatha Taught Me.....

Hello, All! I'm honored to host all of you for a stop on the Agatha Christie Week Blog Tour. Agatha has been a mentor and teacher of mine for a long time...

I was introduced to Agatha Christie when I was a teenager, and became a fan when I received a copy of Mrs. McGinty’s Dead for my fifteenth birthday. I still have that book. Later, when I decided to write, too, I realized what a role model Christie has been for me. I’ve learned many lessons from her characters, style and sense of time and place that I try to use in my own writing.

Christie had the genius of creating ordinary characters that appeal to the reader. Their appeal is in their everyday quality which lets the reader identify with them. We can understand, for instance, why a starstruck fan like Heather Badcock would be so excited to meet her film idol, Marina Rudd, in The Mirror Crack’d. We can sympathize with the sense of grief and loss that Betty Barnard’s parents feel at her death in The ABC Murders, and we get a sense of the kind of person Betty was. Her sister Megan describes her as flirtatious, fun-loving and a little flighty, but not promiscuous. We’ve all known people like that, so it’s easy to identify with Betty and her family. It’s also easy to identify with Elspeth McGillicuddy’s frustration when the police don’t believe that she saw a murder being committed in 4:50 from Paddington (AKA What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!). Nobody likes to be thought of as deluded or a liar; we believe Elspeth as a character because she reacts much as we would.

Christie’s style was polished, especially in later novels, but not stilted. Her blend of authentic dialogue and vivid descriptions engage the reader right away. That blend is especially effective in creating suspense. One of her most suspenseful novels is And Then There Were None (AKA Ten Little Indians). In that novel, Christie’s descriptions of the worsening weather and rising tension on Indian Island, together with the crisp, natural-sounding dialogue, makes for an unforgettable experience in the use of style to create mood. Another thing I admire about Christie’s style is her ability to evoke a sense of horror and suspense without being graphic. While I’m not squeamish, I can truly appreciate a writer who’s able to describe a murder and its aftermath without gratuitous gore. For instance, in Funerals are Fatal (AKA After the Funeral), one of the characters is murdered with a hatchet. While Christie certainly tells the reader what happens, it’s not done in a gory way. In fact, Christie must have realized that about herself, because she specifically wrote A Holiday for Murder (AKA Hercule Poirot’s Christmas and Murder for Christmas) for her brother-in-law, James, who complained that there wasn’t enough blood in her murders. Even in that novel, though, which describes a particularly gruesome murder, Christie doesn’t overdo the violence. I admire that.

I also admire Christie’s sense of time and place. As Christie fans know, she was the wife of an archeologist and spent time in the Middle East. She puts that experience to good use in novels such as Murder in Mesopotamia, Death on the Nile and Appointment With Death. We really see the exotic places in those novels, and we can experience what archeologists do and how they live because Christie’s writing creates such a clear sense of place and time.

I try to incorporate believable characters, a polished style and a sense of time and place in my own writing, because Agatha Christie taught me that that’s what good mystery writing is about. I will, of course, never be “the next Agatha Christie.” No-one could be. That’s OK with me, though, because Christie also taught me not to aspire to be someone else. In Lord Edgeware Dies (AKA Thirteen at Dinner), Poirot says that he wouldn’t want his friend, Captain Hastings, to be like him – an “inferior Poirot” is how Poirot describes it. Rather, he should be “the supreme Hastings” – the best Hastings he can be. I hope someday to be the “supreme Margot.” Thank you, Agatha Christie, for that and all your lessons.


  1. What a lovely post Margot. I read all your posts with a sense of great anticipation, and so far I've not been disappointed. Many thanks for taking part in the blog tour.

  2. Thank you, Kerrie, for the kind words : ). And thanks for honoring my blog with a spot on the tour! I've thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

  3. A very interesting post Margot. I have attended talks recently by two very different crime writers, people from the opposite ends of the crime writing spectrum, and from hugely different social backgrounds, but the one link was they both spoke about Agatha Christie.
    Her reputation as an inspiration for other writers far from diminishing as the years go by seems to be growing.

  4. I think you have a good point, Uriah -
    Agatha Christie continues to influence and inspire new generations of writers, and every time one of her novels is re-released in a new edition, more people discover what a great writer she was.

  5. I've only recently rediscovered Christie through Kerrie's reading challenge, and so far, what I'm rediscovering, I'm liking. She still holds up, and for all the reasons you mention here.

  6. I think a lot of people are rediscovering Christie as new editions of her books come out. Kudos to Kerrie for reminding us of how great an author and inspiration Christie really was : ).