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Re-release: Agatha Christie (part 1)

While we take a short break for the holidays, we are re-releasing some of our earlier episodes. Up first is our very first episode: Agatha Christie.


Agatha Christie, An Autobiography (1977) Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making (2009) John Curran

Agatha Christie’s Murder in the Making: Stories and Secrets from Her Archive (2011) John Curran

Women of Mystery (1992) Martha Hailey DuBose

For more information

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Music: Signs To Nowhere by Shane Ivers – www.silvermansound.com


This transcript is generated by a computer and there may be some mis-spellings and strange punctuation. We try to catch it before posting, but some things slip through.

SarahOkay, welcome to the Clued in Mystery podcast I’m Sarah.
BrookAnd I’m Brook. And we both love mystery.
SarahHi Brook. How are you doing?
BrookI’m awesome. How have you been, Sarah?
SarahYeah I’m okay.
BrookI know I’m so excited we finally are at our first episode. We’ve been planning this now for a few months and the day is here.
SarahYes, I’m I am very excited. So let’s get to it should we kick off with a little bit of bio on Dame Agatha
BrookYes, absolutely um so I am only going to highlight the basics here because besides being the queen of crime Agatha led a very exciting and eventful life. Um, some of those things we’ll probably want to revisit in later episodes. But um. So, if this wets your appetite for more check the show notes where we’ll list our references. So today in broad strokes, Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born September 15, 1890, in Torquay in England’s Devonshire Coast. She was born into a well-to-do but not wealthy family. Her parents enjoyed a really close and loving relationship Agatha even said that she had a perfect childhood, which I thought was really sweet. She was not allowed a traditional education and. She actually taught herself to read at the age of 4 that’s how important words and stories were to her. She wanted to learn to read her family lived in Ashfield house and Agatha spent many solitary hours in the large house and on its grounds and gave her a lot of time to expand her imagination and it’s where she created this cast of imaginary friends and this group they said stayed with her most of her life. She had this group of imaginary friends. I love this about Agatha because I too was a kid that had imaginary friends.
SarahSo did I.
BrookYes, I love that I but I I also thought it was so interesting because Agatha had like 8 or 9 right? These huge cast of imaginary friends and I had 2. And I thought of course she did. She loves these multi character stories. Um, so isn’t it. Yes, I thought it was really interesting and we might have to talk. Maybe we’ll need to talk more about that part of her life and how it impacted the way that she wrote her stories later. We might have to do some research Sarah after her father’s death Agatha’s mother would sometimes let out Ashfield house as a means to increase their income. Ah so by this time Agatha and her mother were the only ones at home. She her older siblings had already grown up and so she and her mother would travel and stay in a less expensive location while the house was being rented out and I thought. You know vrbo favor pioneers in this ah vrbo style. Um, and it was also the beginnings of Agatha’s love of travel and people watching she would see how different people interacted because she was put in all these different situations. So I thought that was. We see that come up in her writing the way that strangers interact or maybe they’re not strangers as a teen Agatha did some dating but she was truly swept off her feet in 1917 when she met Archibald Christie at a dance. He was charming and dashing and he was a military pilot and um biographers say that they had a passionate and yet stormy on-again off-again engagement and you know as a fiction author you have to think u-oh what kind of foreshadowing do we have here. Stormy relationship. Their daughter was born in 1919 and sadly Archie was stationed away for most of the first three years of their marriage so they spent most of that time apart. Um though Agatha was writing poetry and. Different types of pros in as early as her teens. She didn’t begin mystery fiction until maybe around 1915 and this was after her sister Madge dared her to try it. She I can I have a sister so I can imagine this conversation went something like ah i. You couldn’t possibly do that. Um, the story became The Mysterious Affair at Styles and was eventually published in 1920 and as foreshadowed by that rocky start Agatha’s marriage to Archie ended in one 26 and this was truly a failure to Agatha you know she had seen her parents have this very close and sweet marriage and she wanted that too and thankfully she was destined to have that type of love in her life. She later met Max Mallowan a few years later and they enjoyed a long and happy relationship including lots of trips to Egypt and exotic locations that were perfect settings for writing murder mysteries and max was with Agatha when she died peacefully in their home in one seventy five at the age of.
SarahThat’s amazing I love that she started writing mysteries because her sister dared her to.
BrookI know. Isn’t that funny? And that it was a popular type of story. You know they were reading them. It’s probably serialized stories and you can just imagine the conversation over the dinner table like I’d like to try that And. Ah, sister, you know, daring her too.
SarahWell and there are a couple of references to Sherlock Holmes in some of her some of her work so you know I imagine that there was some influence there and certainly that speaks to the popularity of genre when she was writing right.
BrookFor sure for sure. That’s kind of in my mind when I’m imagining this. I’m thinking that they were probably reading a Sherlock Holmes serialized story because that was the big name when they were young girls.
SarahYeah I bet cool. Um, so I also love that she was influenced by traveling around with her second husband and um, that experience of of being with her mom when they were renting out their house and you know having various people coming through I absolutely can see that. In in her writing because so much of it is about people who are traveling or you know if you think of a murder on the orient express or you know Death on the Nile like that’s part of the story right? That it’s these group of travelers.
BrookExactly and the idea that she was getting the opportunity to see um you know various different kinds of people put together in a ah situation. That’s not um. Typical for them and then to watch the interaction between these different types of people like she was having those experiences really young and you’re absolutely right now when you look at the stories she wrote you can just see it and um, yeah, it was. It was really interesting to learn more about her past and. And see how it influenced the stories that she wrote.
SarahSo I’m more familiar with her Poirot stories. I think if I’ve read more of the mysteries that feature him, but I know um you know her other just got a couple of other detectives I know Miss Marple, who I you know I don’t know if this is this is right or wrong. But I ah I kind of envision her as Miss Marple.
BrookI wondered about that too for sure and.
SarahDid you see any did you learn anything about where she came up with Poirot as ah as a character was he one of her imaginary friends that she carried with her?
BrookI didn’t see anything specific about that. The imaginary friends are a group of 8 girls and I believe it’s 8 she was about 8 or 9 when she came up with this little cast of and they’re very distinct. You know. I almost got in my head. The idea of the little women. You know how they’re kind of like these stereotypical ah types of girls that were her besties that she had with her and 1 of the quotes said that she even she was she would find herself even in her sixties if she saw a dress in a shop or something and she’d think to herself. Oh that would be perfect for and this imaginary friend character. That’s ah in her in her mind so she definitely carried it through but they were all girls. So um I don’t have any idea where Poirot came from. And I think it’s interesting I also read a quote that she said that he bugged her like she would get annoyed by him and it it made me laugh because we do all have characters that. They become such real people that you have to be true to who they are but sometimes they get under your skin.
SarahYeah, that’s so funny. I think I’ve seen something a similar or maybe the same quote. Um that yeah she he she kind of grew tired of him. But um, yeah, that’s. Yeah, fascinating. Um, and you know I sometimes.
BrookHave you read much have you read any of her like Tommy and Tuppence or Parker Pyne? Because I’m like you I probably am the most familiar with Poirot and Miss Marple.
SarahBut yeah, so I um, haven’t read any of the Tommy Tuppence but I read one of the Parker Pyne short stories and I am not going to remember which one it was right now. Um, but. And I so I I liked um I like her short stories the Poirot short stories the um I liked the Parker Pyne short story that I read Miss Marple short stories and then some kind of standalone short stories that didn’t feature any of her.
SarahAh, but yeah I mean she’s she produced a lot of a lot of work I mean I think we could probably spend days talking about all of the all of the things that she did and and I think like a really broad. Spectrum of things like some of the short stories that I read were almost um, like psychological thriller and I would say um and then there were none was kind of was was more of a psychological thriller than a you know, detective mystery in the way that Miss Marple stories are right?
Brook100%. Yeah, and I find myself leaning sometimes towards that style and I find it fascinating that she was able to do such a good job writing the puzzle mysteries. You know, a set of clues that leads to the solution and at the same time be just as right just as high level of a psychological thriller I. Because I to it to me. There are really 2 separate sets of skills and she could do it all.
SarahExactly and that’s I think that’s really maybe one of the things that makes her continue to be someone that people read and really enjoy right? because she you know captured. All those different styles of mystery that that people like and I guess really was one of the pioneers in that right.
BrookFor sure right? And when we talk about a body of work. You know 66 novels over one ah hundred and thirty short stories over 12 plays dozens of movies and film app. Adaptations during her lifetime. You know she was involved in so much of the production and um, you know, choosing locations choosing actors. She really was very involved in a lot of the movie and Tv adaptations the longest running West London’s west end. Play ever with mousetrap I mean she it’s her body of work is immense.
SarahYeah, it’s incredible I mean I can’t imagine producing all of that.
BrookExactly and it was um, it’s very it gives me a lot of hope as somebody who started being serious about writing ah a little later in life. I Guess you would say um you know she was still very productive clear into her seventy s and so. That is like I think she was able to continue to create these fascinating stories clear into her later years and that just gives me a lot of hope there’s a lot of years left for me.
SarahYeah that’s ah, that’s a really good point. Um, that yeah, you don’t have to have achieved success at you know, 25 there’s lots of time. Um, and you know I think well. So. Her first styles was um, published in yeah Nineteen Twenty right um and so she was 30 then I guess um so she yeah she.
BrookRight? Yeah, exactly.
SarahShe yeah. So That’s ah, that’s a good career.
BrookAbsolutely yes and also when she was writing styles and this is one thing I like I like about liked about learning about her um like her work and her life was that you know she’s a mom she was working another job. She was. You know she had all the same responsibilities that a lot of us do hoping to do some creative work on the side and she would she just literally found little short snippets of time to write her Stories. You know she’s credited with the quote about the best time to and I’m paraphrasing but the. Best time to work out. A plot point is when you’re washing the dishes and um, you know in a lot of ways she was just like a normal working Mom who was doing her fun hobby of riding on the side and then like look what happened and um. I Like that about her I feel like she’s always in her interviews and in her um in her autobiography everything She just seemed like ah, a real normal person I know that that probably sounds like such a silly thing to say but we put her. Ah we you know we think of her as this. Genius Author which she is but she was really down to earth.
SarahSo I I really like that I mean I think I agree that the best time to work out a plot point is when you’re kind of not really focused on it right? So yeah, doing the dishes or cleaning the sink or whatever folding laundry is is um. I know I’ve worked out a couple of things doing that. Um, and it’s nice. It’s nice to be reminded that um that yeah she had you know a family and and other responsibilities. She just wasn’t you know, spending all of her time. All of her.
SarahTime writing. But you know when you think about everything that she produced you. You have to imagine that she spent a lot of time writing um to to do that.
SarahYeah, you know when I’ve been to prepare for this episode we were I read you know number or reread and read some new stories to me and I think the and listening to some audio versions and reading some of her stuff. Um I think there were a couple of things she um, talked a lot about how characters look um and I’m thinking of Deadman’s folly actually. Wasn’t so much how the character looked but how one of the characters. You know everybody else was talking about how dumb this character was um and you know it. It came up so frequently that I was like okay, well obviously this is a key point to the to this story right? And and it ultimately was.
SarahUm, and same thing there was in one of the other stories that I read and I can’t remember which one it was right now. But.
SarahThe story. Um, and so you know I think she so there were some not so subtle clues but also some very subtle ones right? and and sort of finding that balance between like. This is really something that you need to know reader and I want to make sure that you understand how important this is versus the you know thing that’s mentioned once um, almost in passing that proves to be the the thing that you Know. Recalls that and and that solves the mystery for him right? And and I think she she she did both of those things and that’s I think pretty satisfying as a reader because it it isn’t for me. It isn’t It isn’t so fun to be able to solve everything.
SarahRight? away like I want that mystery. That’s why I’m reading this is because I want that mystery not not because I want to prove how. I would have become a police officer if that was what I wanted to do?
BrookFor sure. Yeah, those are really good points and sometimes her some then you start to question yourself because. Sometimes those things that she brings up a lot like the beauty of the woman or or sometimes it’s and the ugliness of a person. So then you start to question yourself like okay is this sleight of hand is she just trying to make me think that this person is guilty because they’re so ugly because. You know that? or so you start to question your own um thought processes and then like you said then there’s the one off comment that you might miss. But of course the sleuth is never going to miss that and. And she always does play Fair. You know every clue is there for you. You can go back and find oh yeah, she did mention that and um, but yes I I completely agree sometimes she is able to find that balance so well between the stuff that she makes completely obvious. To the reader and then the stuff that’s just thinly veiled and you have to read closely to get the to get the clue.
SarahAnd I really appreciate that. Um you know I was thinking about how particularly in the Poirot stories. We see everything from his perspective even if it’s not him narrating like you know. Couple of the stories. It’s Hastings for narrating you know first person. what happened um but there isn’t anything that I can’t think of any examples of where there’s a scene that happens that um. And we don’t get to see we. We don’t get to know what Poirot knows right? where he where he’s discovered something that you know without us realizing it um or without us having had this the same opportunity to discover it I guess is probably.
BrookRight. Ah. Right? right? But what does happen is he sees something that we as the reader or realizes something that we as the reader don’t but we see everything he does So it just highlights you know his intellect and his.
SarahSay that and so I appreciate that.
BrookAh, skills at deduction. But yes, you’re right? We have the same information that the sleuth does and that’s so important because that’s a very unsatisfying story to me is when you get to the end and the sleuth says well you know I know it can’t be so and so Because. You know last night this happened and you’re like wait that didn’t happen on the page. That’s not fair that doesn’t make that a satisfying reveal to me but she never did that she always played fair.
SarahYeah I agree. Agree with that. Um, another thing that I found really interesting about her writing is that she isn’t consistent in terms of the narrator. So sometimes it’s like I said Hastings first person kind of recounting the story and. Sometimes it’s um, it’s third person right? It’s you know none of the characters are the narrator. Um, so I thought I I thought that was interesting because I I get the sense that.
BrookUm, yeah.
SarahI mean I don’t know how readers feel about that I don’t that doesn’t bother me at all as long as that’s not changing within a book right? but to um, have the first couple of books be narrated. You know by the detective. And then um, subsequent books narrated for third person that doesn’t that doesn’t really bother me I think and clearly that’s there’s very good precedent for that.
BrookSure she definitely does pull it off I probably fall a little bit more in the camp that like I don’t mind whether it’s third or first but I sort of want that sleuth stories to be told from that point of view. Um I have. Feel like if it’s gonna be third then it then that that series should be third and if it’s gonna be first. That’s just a personal preference but Christie pulled it off and I think probably the reason that I have that preference is because there are so less. Killed writers that don’t pull it off and I think you know oh darn you should have just stayed first person because you wrote so well in first person and then this third fella little flat but gosh the queen of crime doesn’t have that problem. She can pull it off no matter which point of view. She’s writing in which I don’t know how she does that I feel like most of us have a voice that is better 1 way or the other but she definitely can make it work either way.
SarahYeah I mean I’m not going to be changing up the narrator in in the books that I’m writing but I have been thinking about you know if I were to do a different series maybe doing that in first person just to um. Just to see how that goes because I actually find myself I’ve done this a couple of times where I’ve been writing a scene and then I’ve it’s supposed to be in third person but I slip into first um and then so then I have to go back obviously and and change that. But.
BrookAnd this is interesting to hear about it’s interesting to hear that you do that because see I write in first my series right now is in first and I feel like you like there could be a time where I want to do something third and.
SarahI think it is a ah, very different mystery.
BrookAnd sometimes when I’m doing my outlining to try to figure out where this story goes I do those in third you know I am I see it from the outside looking at and then so I think there are there’s ah, a process there where you cause you have to see the story maybe from. All the different sides. So. It’s interesting that we both do that? Um, maybe in just the story building process. But yeah, so interesting.
SarahCool. Well I think this was a really interesting introduction to Agatha Christie and I look forward to the next episode where we will talk a little bit more about some of her. Um. Some ah more about her books and some of the tropes that she um, kind of popularized and yeah, just to do a little bit of a deeper dive into her.
BrookThat sounds great Sarah I look forward to it and there’s ah so much more that we have to talk about with Agatha Christie and her contributions.
SarahWe’d love to hear what you think. You can reach us at hello@cluedinmystery.con or on social media @cluedinmystery. Take care.