Celebrating Agatha Christie Week

We’re in the middle of a weeklong commemoration of Agatha Christie, and it’s worth highlighting some of the more notable celebrants. John Curran, who sifted through Christie’s notebooks and archives in order to edit the recently published AGATHA CHRISTIE’S SECRET NOTEBOOKS, picked his top 10 novels by her. Many of the usual suspects are listed (THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD, AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, etc.) but a couple of surprise entrants made the list, like ENDLESS NIGHT (1967):

Working-class Michael Rogers tells the story of his meeting and
marrying Ellie, a fantastically rich American heiress. As they settle
in their dream house in the country, it becomes clear that not everyone
is happy for them. A very atypical Christie, this tale of menacing
suspense builds to a horrific climax and shows that even after 45 years
she had not lost the power to confound her readers. The best novel from
her last 20 years.

Meanwhile, Val McDermid wrote an essay in the Guardian earlier on this week about how the publicatino of the SECRET NOTEBOOKS uncovered parallels to her own approach to writing:

Seventy-three of Christie's notebooks survive. They're not a
collection of identical, leather-bound, hand-tooled books with
Florentine endpapers and heavyweight paper. They're a miscellaneous
jumble of school jotters, pocket-sized pads and shorthand notebooks. A
bit like my own diverse selection, currently comprising: spiral bound,
plastic covered with a snap fastener from Dynamic Earth; a small black
pocket-sized pad with an elastic band to keep it closed; an A4 Pukka
Pad; a leather-bound notebook bought in a tiny shop in Siena. One lives
on my desk, one by my bed, one in my backpack and the other floats
around, turning up where and when I least expect it.

So while
academics may puzzle over the reasons why notes pertaining to a
particular novel of Christie's appear in more than one notebook, I
understand the phenomenon perfectly; it happens to me all the time. An
idea for a plot twist or a great line of dialogue or a character's name
or a telling incident comes in its own good time. When I fear losing
it, I scribble it down in the nearest notebook – so one novel's notes
end up in several places.

Furthermore, it can take years for an
idea to ferment into a full-blown story. Some of Christie's notes for a
specific book span years. I know that feeling. On occasion, it's taken
me a dozen years or more from the first seed to the point where I'm
ready to start writing. And as with Christie, my original idea can
evolve through several possible shapes before it settles into what
feels right. If we're lucky, the finished book should feel inevitable
to the reader – as if no other outcome were possible. The reality is
that writers try on lots of possibilities before we find the one that

In other words, it’s worth stressing that the path from conception to publication does not often follow a linear structure – and if anything, thwarts linearity at most every turn. But scholars will only grow further puzzled when sifting through digital archives of authors who pass on decades from now, combing through emails, text messages, and IP addresses in order to create some meaningful order out of process-based chaos. I don’t envy them. But so it goes…