Saturday, 11 December 2010

Agatha Christie: An Autobiography

Being a novice writer reading about the life of a professional writer is always hard going and endlessly fascinating and slightly queer. I repeatedly switched from wanting to take notes to wanting to give up writing to wanting to tell Agatha Christie what she was doing wrong. What she did wrong, by the way, was to not write in the way she writes here when she's writing about Poirot.

Because, and maybe this shouldn't be surprising, this is a brilliantly written book. I've read a fair amount of Christie--all the Poirot short stories, and half a dozen of the novels--and she doesn't write like this in them. I loved them, of course, but not in the same way I loved this memoir.

So. I have made it a personal mission now to track down at least one of Christie's Mary Westmacott novels. These were her more 'literary' works, or at least I imagine they are. They are certainly free of detectives. They are also, more importantly, the works she was most proud of, and most personally connected with. She wrote one of them in three days, even bunking off war-work for one day, and thought it the best thing she ever did. She was basically crazy. And I basically have to read that book.

Writing came accidently to her, as a career. She reckoned she could do it, but only as a challenge to her sister. She got involved in it, but only in the way her grandmother had got involved in embroidery--an abosrbing craft to fill the evenings. Even when she'd published half a dozen novels, she didn't think of it as a job, didn't put 'writer' down on her passport forms, and didn't see the cheques from the publisher as a genuine source of income.

It's hardly fair, I thought to myself, that this author, of such natural prose yet crafted plots, this gifted storyteller who is both loved and acclaimed, took to it so easily. So casually. Without fuss. When I want to do it more than anything else, and (occasionally) work really hard for it... et cetera, et cetera. Clearly, real writers are naturals, and I'm kidding myself that I can get there just by trying.

But the flipside of that thought is, if she can be this good by accident--imagine how good I can be on purpose!

Of course, the first thing you do when reading about a successful author is to isolate the similarities between their life and your own. Me and Agatha were both youngest children, who grew up in places they loved, with a large, loving family. We were both left to our own devices, extremely happy on our own, inventing worlds to play in and people to populate them, which I hear isn't the normal way of going about things. I don't know about that.

But that's what Mrs. Christie puts down much of success in writing down to, so... you know. Quid pro quo, or quad erat demonstratum, whichever is more plausible (I have a biography of Latin sitting on my shelf, so I'll find out soon).

Childhood A led to Huge Success.

Ben also had Childhood A.

Therefore Ben will suffer from Huge Success in later life.


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