Reading: Agatha Christie’s Autobiography

Reading: Agatha Christie’s Autobiography

I’m afraid I don’t have much to add to the brilliance that is Agatha Christie’s autobiography. Instead, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite quotes from my reading, particularly those pertaining to writing. I hope they encourage and inspire you as they have me!

“The whole point of a good detective story was that it must be somebody obvious but at the same time, for some reason, you would then find that it was not obvious, that he could not possibly have done it. Though really, of course, he had done it.”

“You start into it, inflamed by an idea, full of hope, full indeed of confidence (about the only times in my life when I have been full of confidence). If you are properly modest, you will never write at all, so there had to be one delicious moment when you have thought of something, know just how you are going to write it, rush for a pencil, and start in an exercise book buoyed up with exaltation. You then get into difficulties, don’t see your way out, and finally manage to accomplish more or less what you first meant to accomplish, though losing confidence all the time. Having finished it, you know that it is absolutely rotten. A couple of months later you wonder whether it may not be all right after all.”

“I wrote quite a lot of poems from time to time. A sudden excitement would come over me and I would rush off to write down what I felt gurgling round in my mind.”

“Like all young writers, I was trying to put far too much plot into one book. I had too many false clues–so many things to unravel that it might make the whole thing not only more difficult to solve, but more difficult to read.”

“I myself always found the love interest a terrible bore in detective stories. Love, I felt, belonged to romantic stories. To force a love motif into what should be a scientific process went much against the grain. However, at that period detective stories always had to have a love interest–so there it was.”

“When one starts writing, one is much influenced by the last person one has read or enjoyed.”

“I had had some nice reviews for The Mysterious Affair at Styles, but the one which pleased me best appeared in The Pharmaceutical, Journal. It praised ‘this detective story for dealing with poisons in a knowledgeable way, and not with the nonsense about untraceable substances that so often happens. Miss Agatha Christie,’ they said, ‘knows her job.”

“I never approached my writing by dubbing it with the grand name of ‘career’. I would have thought it ridiculous.My mother-in-law could not understand this. ‘You write so well, Agatha dear, and because you write so well, surely you ought to write something–well–more serious?’ Something ‘worth while’ was what she meant. I found it difficult to explain to her, and indeed did not really try, that my writing was for entertainment.”

“Some of my books satisfied and pleased me. They never pleased me entirely, of course, because I don’t suppose that is what one ever achieves. Nothing turns out quite in the way you thought it would when you are sketching out notes for the first chapter, or walking about muttering to yourself and seeing a story unroll.”

“I never had a definite place which was my room or where I retired specially to write. This has caused much trouble for me in the ensuing years, since whenever I had to receive an interviewer their first wish would always be to take a photograph of me at my work. ‘Show me where you write your books.’‘Oh, anywhere.’‘But surely you have a place where you always work?’But I hadn’t. All I needed was a steady table and a typewriter. I had begun now to write straight on to the typewriter, though I still used to do the beginning chapters and occasionally others in long-hand and then type them out. A marble-topped bedroom washstand table made a good place to write; the dining-room table between meals was also suitable.”

“I must behave rather as dogs do when they retire with a bone: they depart for an odd half hour. They return self-consciously with mud on their noses. I do much the same. I felt slightly embarrassed if I was going to write. Once I could get away, however, shut the door and get people not to interrupt me, then I was able to go full speed ahead, completely lost in what I was doing.”

“Plots come to me at such odd moments: when I am walking along a street, or examining a hat-shop with particular interest, suddenly a splendid idea comes into my head, and I think, ‘Now that would be a neat way of covering up the crime so that nobody would see the point.’ Of course, all the practical details are still to be worked out, and the people have to creep slowly into my consciousness, but I jot down my splendid idea in an exercise book.So far so good–but what I invariably do is lose the exercise book. I usually have about half a dozen on hand, and I used to make notes in them of ideas that had struck me, or about some poison or drug, or a clever little bit of swindling that I had read about in the paper. Of course, if I kept all these things neatly sorted and filed and labelled it would save me a lot of trouble. However, it is a pleasure sometimes, when looking vaguely through a pile of old note-books, to find something scribbled down, as: Possible plot–do it yourself-Girl and not really sister–August—with a kind of sketch of a plot. What it’s all about I can’t remember now; but it often stimulates me, if not to write that identical plot, at least to write something else.Then there are the plots that tease my mind, that I like to think about and play with, knowing that one day I am going to write them. Roger Ackroyd played about in my mind for a long time before I could get the details fixed.”

“When I began writing detective stories I was not in any mood to criticise them or to think seriously about crime. The detective story was the story of the chase; it was also very much a story with a moral.”

“One of the pleasures of writing detective stories is that there are so many types to choose from: the light-hearted thriller, which is particularly pleasant to do; the intricate detective story with an involved plot which is technically interesting and requires a great deal of work, but is always rewarding; and then what I can only describe as the detective story that has a kind of passion behind it–that passion being to help save innocence. Because it is innocence that matters, not guilt.”

“This seems to have taken me a long way from detective stories, but explains, perhaps, why I have got more interest in my victims than my criminals. The more passionately alive the victim, the more glorious indignation I have on his behalf, and am full of a delighted triumph when I have delivered a near-victim out of the valley of the shadow of death.”

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