On the trail of Agatha Christie

In the Janie Juke mystery series, my protagonist, Janie, refers to her passion for Agatha Christie novels.  In particular, Janie loves the stories featuring Hercule Poirot and has learned many of her investigative skills from him.  As she tackles the mysteries occurring in Tamarisk Bay, she draws on many of Poirot’s techniques to follow the trail of evidence to solve the crimes.

So, I’ve been following my own trail!  With the wonders of the internet it’s easy enough to discover the facts and figures about Christie’s incredible writing career.  For example,  I learned that Poirot featured in thirty-three of her novels, whereas Miss Marple featured in just twelve.  This was despite the fact that Agatha herself described Poirot as an ‘insufferable’ man.

The statistics of Christie’s writing career are astonishing – her novels have sold more than a billion copies in English and a further billion or more in translation (in 103 languages).  In fact, a Wikipedia article suggests her books are second only in popularity to the Bible and Shakespeare.

But it was a story of another trail altogether that helped me to learn a little more about Agatha Christie, wife and mother.  In 1922, aged 32, she accompanied her first husband, Archie, on a ten-month voyage around the world – South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and Canada.  Archie had been invited to join a trade mission to promote the British Empire Exhibition, due to take place in 1924.  Agatha was determined to go with him, even though it meant that her two-year-old daughter had to be left behind, in the care of Agatha’s sister.

The Grand Tour is a wonderful collection of photos, newspaper cuttings, journal entries and letters and has been edited by Agatha Christie’s grandson, Mathew Pritchard.  Agatha frequently wrote home to her much-loved mother, telling her of all the fascinating places they visited and the interesting people they met.

Reading through the letters and anecdotes has given me a wonderful sense of Agatha as she was then, observant, intrigued, ready to take on new challenges.  Here is one snippet that made me smile:

‘I made a lot of discoveries about fruit.  Pineapples, for instance, I had always thought of as hanging down gracefully from a tree.  I was so astonished to find that an enormous field I had taken to be full of cabbages was in fact of pineapples.’

(from The Grand Tour, edited by Mathew Pritchard, published 2012)

Once they arrived in Honolulu she was determined to try her hand at surfing and with perseverance started to master the sport:

‘After ten days I began to be daring…The first six times I came to grief …[but] Oh, the moment of complete triumph on the day that I kept my balance and came right into shore standing upright on my board!’

(from The Grand Tour, edited by Mathew Pritchard, published 2012)

There are so many wonderful snippets in this book and it is easy to see how the things she experienced during her travels influenced her writing, helped shape her characters, her settings and her plotlines.

As authors, we are encouraged to ‘write what you know’ – well, a trip around the world certainly helped the famous ‘Queen of Crime’ to expand her knowledge, so that nearly one hundred years on we are still enjoying the benefits.

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