Agatha Christie’s secrets

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!

Feeling inspired

So much has happened over the last few weeks, all of which has helped to inspire my writing.

First off I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Denmark with my two writing buddies!  Spending hours talking and thinking about books is my idea of heaven, plus we got to see a beautiful country in stunning weather – a dusting of snow on the ground, but bright blue skies and no wind.  Perfect walking and talking weather.

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Returning from all that mental stimulation I was pleased to be able to throw myself into drafting the manuscript for Book 3 in the Janie Juke mystery series.  In Book 3 we meet Janie’s Aunt Jessica, who has been travelling abroad for the last few years.  She is returning from Italy and so my favourite country has once again been in my thoughts.  Just like in Lost Property, Book 3 has references to the Second World War, but getting the period detail correct is critical.

As every author knows, research is a fun part of the writing process, but can often be tricky.  Pinning down the right resource, or finding someone who knows the answers can often prove difficult and time-consuming.  So, I was very grateful to discover that my cousin (who lives in Rome) was able to provide me with wonderful stories, told to her by her parents, who lived through the Second World War.  What’s more, one of her grandchildren has been set the task of interviewing his 90-year-old great-grandmother to find out what she remembers about that time.  I can’t wait to hear the results!

My Italian cousin has proved to be a wonderful support, and not just with the new book. Over the past few weeks she has been steadily translating The Tapestry Bag into Italian! She says it has been a labour of love and she’s been enlisting every member of her family to check the translation.  So, I am hoping that later this year I will be able to publish an Italian edition of The Tapestry Bag, followed (hopefully!) with Italian versions of the other books in the series.

My final boost of inspiration during February is to see my five star reviews on Amazon continuing to increase in number.  There are now SIX for The Tapestry Bag and THREE for Lost Property.  It’s so encouraging to know that readers are enjoying the books and I am really grateful for all the support.

But for now, it is back to my drafting – hopefully it won’t be too long before it’s finished.  I’ll keep you posted!

Spending time with friends

I first met Janie Juke in February 2017.  I was walking my Scottie dog, Hamish, along a Spanish beach and she came into my head.  But back then I didn’t know her name, I didn’t know that she would be a mobile librarian and I hadn’t met any of her family and friends.

Since then Janie has become a friend.  I have discovered a little of her likes and dislikes, her fears and insecurities.  I’ve enjoyed getting to know her dad, Phillip, who is a blind physiotherapist and her husband, Greg, who is her soulmate and stalwart supporter.  But I’ve still got a lot to learn about Janie and about my writing craft.

Anyone who has tried their hand at writing fiction will understand that moment when your character takes on a life of their own.  As an author you think you are in control, but once the words start to appear on the page, you discover that you are not.  Well, that’s how it feels to me.

So far, Janie has had two major adventures.  In The Tapestry Bag, Janie is desperate to track down a friend who has gone missing.  By solving that mystery she realises that she has skills as an amateur sleuth and in the early chapters of Lost Property she is surprised to learn that those skills can earn her money.  Just like many young families in the 1960s (or now, for that matter) any opportunity to bolster their financial coffers is grabbed with both hands.

3D 008 sml

The Janie Juke mystery series is set in the late 1960s.  I have loved the chance to look back at that era when The Beatles were breaking the mould of popular music.  Medical advances were coming thick and fast.  Attitudes were changing to sex, crime, women’s rights and family life.

In Lost Property Janie meets Hugh Furness, a Second World War RAF pilot.  She learns something about life during the Second World War, and the years immediately following it.  Researching this era has given me a taste for it and I’d like to spend a bit more time with Hugh.

So what happens next?  Well, I know there is a lot more I have to learn about Janie and her family and friends.  I’m pretty certain she is going to take me on more adventures and I hope you will come along with me…it’s going to be a busy 2018!

 

Following in Virginia’s footsteps

It would be nice to think that all there is to writing is putting the words on the page.  But even some of our greatest writers have done much more than that.  Let’s look at Virginia Woolf as an example.  She wrote, but she also collaborated with the Bloomsbury Group, ‘that intellectual group of writers and artists’.  She even got involved in publishing her own novels via the Hogarth Press, which she founded in 1917 with her husband Leonard.  An early example of self-publishing perhaps?

V-Woolf

One hundred years on and it seems to be more important than ever that when you decide to be a writer you need to also make a commitment to learn several ‘add-on’ occupations.

Tell someone you are a writer and they may imagine you spend your days enjoying the solitude of a log cabin or cosy study, letting your creativity explode onto the page.  Then it’s just a case of tidying it all up, doing a spell-check and sending it off to a publisher.   Isn’t that what fiction writing is all about?

If you are a writer, or if you know a writer, then you will have a clearer idea of the reality of the situation.  Continue reading Following in Virginia’s footsteps