I’m continuing to follow the trail of Agatha Christie! (while channelling Janie Juke, of course!)
I have come across a fascinating book, entitled: Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks. The author, John Curran, had the great fortune to have ‘unfettered access’ to all of Agatha Christie’s papers, as well as the hospitality of her grandson, Mathew Pritchard. Curran then spent some four years delving into over Christie’s notebooks – over seventy of them. He has done an excellent job, as the book is littered with excerpts from the notebooks, all of which give the reader real insight into the vibrant mind of the ‘Queen of Crime’.
It seems that all Christie needed in order to capture an idea was a blank page – it didn’t matter whether that page was within the cheapest exercise book, or, as Curran puts it: ‘hard-backed multi-paged notebooks with marbled covers’ which seemed to be ‘more worthy recipients’.
My feeling is that the notebooks became a reflection not only of Christie, the author, but also of Agatha, the wife and mother. Scattered in amongst her exciting ideas for novels and short stories are the more mundane essentials of everyday life, such as shopping lists and reminders for hair appointments. It seems that there was little rhyme or reason to the order in which she made her notes. Curran explains:
‘In only five instances is a Notebook devoted to a single title. [otherwise, the] …use of the Notebooks was utterly random. Christie opened a Notebook […], found the next blank page and began to write. It was simply a case of finding an empty page, even one between two already filled pages. And, as if that wasn’t complicated enough, in almost all cases she turned the Notebook over and, with admirable economy, wrote from the back also.’
(from ‘Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks’ by John Curran, published 2010)
For anyone who likes to gain an insight into Agatha Christie, the author, this book is a delight. You can see how her mind was working when, for example, she devised the fatal seating plan for Sparkling Cyanide. She plays around with various positions for each of the main characters, until she settles on the one that works best for the storyline.
From other notebook snippets we see how she devised her characters. She tries out names and brief descriptions, amending her ideas later on within the same notebook, or even another notebook. There is a similar process for her scene plotting, where she allocates letters (for example, A to L) but then moves scenes around until she reaches the one that, in her mind, will work best.
Having read through Curran’s fascinating book, what struck me most was Christie’s ability to juggle with so many storylines, characters, settings and plot twists and turns – with what looks to the outsider as little order or organisation. It seems that she was literally bursting with ideas. It is no wonder that she was such a prolific author and that her books continue to be just as popular more than forty years after her death – and almost one hundred years since the publication of her first crime novel: The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
Which brings us back full circle to Janie Juke’s first mystery: The Tapestry Bag, where snippets from this first of Christie’s novels provide Janie with a subtle helping hand.
More about Agatha Christie soon!