Saturday, September 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, Agatha Christie: John Curran Guest Post

Today is Agatha Christie's birthday, so I invited John Curran, award winning Christie expert and archivist to guest post. John's new book Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making just came out 9/11/12 from William Morrow.

John Curran/AGATHA CHRISTIE: MURDER IN THE MAKING (William Morrow): John Curran examines the unpublished notebooks of the world’s bestselling author to discover more about the techniques she used to entertain generations of readers. He shows how more than 20 of her novels draw on personal materials and letters. And he rounds out the study with a look at the last notebook and uses his knowledge of Christie to speculate about the book she had in mind, based on the notes for an unwritten final story. 

John Curran:

As you read this I will be attending the Agatha Christie Festival in Torquay. Every year throughout the week that includes her birthday – 15th September – fans from all over the world gather to celebrate the life and work of the Queen of Crime in her birthplace on the beautiful Devon coast in south-west England. She spent her idyllic childhood here in Barton Road, where a plaque commemorates the fact, and lived here in the house, sadly demolished, called Ashfield until her marriage in 1914. She spent her honeymoon in The Grand Hotel, which now has an Agatha Christie suite, beside Torquay railway station and, of course, in 1938 she bought Greenway House just outside the town.

During the week you can get the train, just like Hercule Poirot in The ABC Murders (1935), to Churston, scene of the ‘C’ murder and walk to Greenway House. Or, less energetically, you can take the steam-train and alight at the newly opened Greenway Halt station and walk a shorter distance. Fans can follow the geography of Five Little Pigs (1943), possibly sitting on the rampart in the Battery where Elsa Green posed for the doomed Amyas Crale; and visit the boathouse where the body of Marlene Tucker is found in Dead Man’s Folly (1956). And for completeness you can cross the river Dart by the ferry at the end of Greenway Road, mentioned in the opening sentence of Ordeal by Innocence (1958): ‘It was dusk when he came to the ferry.’ In the house itself you will see the dinner-gong (‘Dead Man’s Mirror’) and visit the drawing-room where Poirot took afternoon tea in Dead Man’s Folly before leaving by the French-window near the magnolia tree (‘Magnolia Blossom’). You can see the revolving bookcase – in fact, you can see two of them – that played such a vital role in Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case (1975), the Harelquin figures that inspired The Mysterious Mr. Quin and visit Poirot’s bedroom (actually Agatha’s) during the course of Dead Man’s Folly. In the grounds and garden you can admire the tennis-court which offered a clue during Mrs. Oliver’s Murder Hunt and see the gate-lodge, scene of the final poignant encounter at the close of that novel.

Further afield in Torquay readers can take tea, while admiring the spectacular panorama of Torbay, on the terrace of the Imperial Hotel, where Nick Buckley met Hercule Poirot in the opening pages of Peril at End House (1932) and where, later, Miss Marple stayed with her friend Dolly Bantry during The Body in the Library (1942) and, where, at the end of her career, the elderly detective from St. Mary Mead explained the ramifications of Sleeping Murder (1976). Although the house itself is no longer standing, it is still possible to walk along the headland to the site of ‘End House’. And while no-one nowadays roller-skates on the pier as Agatha did as a young woman it is still possible to stroll along it and follow it up by a visit to the nearby Pavilion where, after a Wagner concert Archie Christie asked Agatha Miller to marry him. Nearby is the only official bust of Agatha Christie on public display, unveiled by her daughter in her mother’s centenary year, 1990, and now appearing in photo albums of Christie fans all over the world. A short walk further along the seafront will bring you to the Princess Theatre, where this year Murder on the Nile will be playing, and where an unobtrusive Agatha Christie sometimes crept into a seat during the run of one of her plays.

After a short climb you can attend, as part of this year’s Festival, a Service of Thanksgiving in the church where Agatha was baptised. Slightly further afield you can visit the church where Agatha regularly worshipped and to which she donated the Miss Marple short story ‘Sanctuary’ to pay for the magnificent stained-glass window behind the altar.. About an hour’s drive away is the stunningly situated Burgh Island whose geography exactly matches that of the island and Jolly Roger Hotel in Evil under the Sun (1941) and where Agatha was a frequent visitor. The tennis–court that supplied some alibis, the bathing beach where the suspects swam and the terrace from which Hercule Poirot watched them, as well as Pixy’s Cove, are all still almost exactly as Agatha described them. If you time your visit properly you can walk from the mainland across the sands, as did Linda in the book, for lunch in the art-deco hotel and return afterwards by the sea-tractor back.

Although she lived for most of each year in Wallingford in Oxfordshire, the town where she was born celebrates its most famous daughter throughout the year but most especially during this week in September. She may have spent only her summer months and holiday periods in Greenway House but the house itself, the grounds and surrounding county attest to the importance of Torquay and Devon to her.


JR: To celebrate Dame Agatha's birthday today, you might also want to pick up: AGATHA CHRISTIE: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY (William Morrow): In a new edition of the 1977 edition originally published in the U.S. by Dodd, Mead, and Company.  Agatha Christie sheds light on her past including her childhood in Victorian England, her volunteer work during World War II, her rise to success, her working habits, the inspiration for her most famous characters―Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple—and the places and people that influenced her.  The trade paperback edition includes 24 pages of photographs in black and white and in color, a special code to download newly discovered voice recordings of Agatha Christie dictating parts of this very book. Finally, there’s an introduction by Mathew Prichard, Agatha Christie’s grandson, explaining how he found the tapes used to make the recordings.

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