I blog on Live to Write/Write to Live every two weeks, sharing the blog with another group of fabulous women. Over on LTW/WTL, we are all different types of writers, but my topics frequently are about the mystery genre. I published this post on September 16, 2010. I hope you enjoy it.
Happy Birthday (a day late) to Agatha Christie. She was born 120 years ago, and died in 1976. And yet–who had to ask who she was? Even if you aren’t a mystery reader, you’ve heard of her. She is still one of the top selling novelists of all time.
I’ve spent a lot of time pondering Dame Agatha’s craft. In 2009 I got my master’s degree, and my thesis was on Agatha Christie, her use of point-of-view and how it contributed to the genre. Trust me when I say, in order to get this topic approved I had to read a lot of critical essays, biographical materials, genre reflections, novels and short stories. And as a bonus I learned a lot about the craft of writing. These are some of the lessons Agatha Christie taught me:
Shake it up. Agatha Christie created several series characters–Hercule Poirot (with Hastings), Miss Marple, Tommy and Tuppence. She also wrote stand alones. She wrote short stories. She wrote plays. Most of her work was in the mystery genre. But, she didn’t keep repeating the same book. Instead she shook it up. Used different points of view. Took reader’s expectations and shook them up.
Be professional. In her autobiography, Agatha Christie reflected on writing The Mystery of the Blue Train, her least favorite novel. She was recently divorced, and writing had become her vocation, her means of supporting herself. She wrote about the challenge of writing when you don’t want to, and the importance of meeting deadlines.
Work on your own terms. I love that Agatha Christie wrote the final book for Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot years before she was done writing the series. It was as if she knew she needed to write those books while she was still at the top of her game. Curtain is a brave way to end a series character, and it allowed her to end Poirot’s story on her own terms.
Just do it. By all accounts Agatha Christie was a very shy woman. She was famous in her own lifetime, which must have been uncomfortable. But she just kept going. She kept writing, stretching both herself and the genre.
And so Happy Birthday Agatha Christie. Thanks for the hours of reading enjoyment, and the writing lessons. I’m trying to decide which novel to reread in honor of your birthday. Which would you chose?