Sunday, 20 September 2009

Agatha Christie a celebration

Agatha Christie week (13 to 20 September) has sadly just finished and a wide range of events were organised to celebrate the life of the Queen of Crime. Highlights included new radio productions; unpublished short stories; plays and debates. And of course a reading and discussion of Murder on the Orient Express in the book club.

Of all the events that took place during the week long celebration I managed to attend two of the events. The first event took place at Southbank Centre in London on Wednesday 16 September In front of an audience of over 100 fans best-selling authors and Christie aficionados Kate Mosse, Val McDermid and Jasper Fforde debated her work and discussed their favourite Christie novels. Simon Brett chaired the panel. The audience at this event was wide ranging not only in age but also in gender. It is quite clear that despite the fact that it is said that a lot of men refuse to read books written by women this is not the case when it comes to Agatha Christie. Her fan base is clearly covered by both sexes.

The discussion about the Queen of Crime ranged from why she still has such phenomenal sales figures, to the influence of Agatha Christie on their own writing; her ability to reach such a wide audience. However, it was fairly noticeable that only one member of the audience dared raise a point of criticism about Agatha Christie and her works. The point in question was the fact that at times she did not play fair with her readers. This criticism was highly defended by all the members of the panel. As the various panellist’s pointed out not only did the writing do what it set out to do but also her dialogue was often brilliant, her characters reflected a good grasp of human nature and she was not in the least bit snobbish. The age old question of the genre being snubbed by the more literary types was also discussed not only in relation to her own work but also in general. The panel also took questions from the audience where amongst the questions they were asked was if they had to write a story featuring a Agatha Christie character which one would it be and why. Amongst the responses received from the panel members was that of Kate Mosse who declared that she would not be able to do so and Val McDermid who declared that she would like to write a prequel to The Mysterious Affair at Styles where she could write about Hercule Poirot and why he left the Belgian Police Force. It was also unanimously agreed that Joan Hickson was the archetypal Miss Marple while David Suchet of course was considered to be the best screen version of Hercule Poirot.

It was a lively, good natured panel, which was clearly enjoyed by all in attendance.

The second event that I managed to attend was the book launch of John Curran’s highly anticipated Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making. This took place on 17 September at Goldsboro books in Cecil Court. Present at the launch were not only the author but also Agatha Christie’s grandson Matthew Pritchard. It was in 2004 that the discovery was made of 73 notebooks at her home Greenway House. The notebooks not only contained secrets about her novels but two unpublished Poirot stories were also found. The two stories are also re-produced in the book. John Curran is not only a Christie expert but also a friend of the estate. In the Secret Notebooks Curran answers a number of questions in the book relating to Agatha Christie and her stories.

Earlier during the week John Curran had picked in the Guardian his top ten novels by Agatha Christie. This can be found here. Author Val McDermid also wrote an essay on the parallels that her writing has with that of Agatha Christie.

Next year will mark the 90th anniversary of Hercule Poirot and the 80th anniversary of the appearance of Miss Marple in a novel. Miss Marple first appeared in a short story whose published appearance was in issue 350 of The Royal Magazine for December 1927 with the first printing of the short story The Tuesday Night Club. This later became the first chapter of The Thirteen Problems in 1932.

For someone whose first crime novel was Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles I hope that next year they will bring out all the stops to ensure that the 90th anniversary of Poirot and the 80th anniversary of Miss Marple are well celebrated.

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