Crime writers are peculiar creatures. At the recent and totally wonderful Harrogate Crime Writing Festival (I’ve already booked for next year), author Mark Billingham said that if you wanted to see blood on the carpet, go to a Romance Writers Convention. Crime writers seem to be the sweety-pies of the publishing world.
It therefore shouldn’t be at all surprising that the best-selling crime writer of all time, the woman who has despatched more bodies than the only two books that out-sell her (the Bible and Shakespeare), was a modest middle-class lady from Torquay who became a Dame of the British Empire.
Every September her home town of Torquay indulges in a Christie-Fest, and I attended my first one this year. It was a good year to go, as her holiday home at Greenway, just outside Torquay, had been opened to the public by the National Trust for the first time a few months earlier.
The guides at Greenway said some fans had complained that there wasn’t much of Agatha Christie at Greenway. What nonsense! There is everything of the real Agatha Christie at Greenway – the family woman who retreated there every summer and at Christmas to relax and enjoy a normal life. True, she did little writing at the house, but here are many of her possessions, her ceramics collections, her piano, family photos, fascinating things like the menu for her 80th birthday dinner, and, above all, shelves and shelves and shelves of books.
At the top of the staircase, down the corridor from the Christie ‘Thunderbox’ (as Agatha called it), is an attractive and large revolving circular bookcase. It is packed to the gills with hundreds of Agatha’s paperbacks, mainly English editions of her works from the 1950s and 1960s, by the look of it. No wonder at one time she owned eight houses – she would need them just to store her own copies of her own books, which have been published in almost 60 different languages around the world. Her most popular book, And Then There Were None, still sells about 4 million copies a year.
If anyone deserves a Festival, it’s Dame Agatha. In addition to the chance to visit Greenway, there are book launches, readings, films, talks, tours, and presentations of some of her stage plays. I saw Spider’s Web, and it was excellent – I’d no idea she could be such a funny writer too, as well as being a master of stagecraft. Whodunnit? Why Dame Agatha did, this extraordinary ordinary lady from Torquay.