Sophie Hannah talks about Agatha Christie’s influence on her writing

Category: Book club

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This month’s Killer Reads Book of the Month is the first Poirot mystery, THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES.

You can join the debate on GoodReads here: http://bit.ly/1wWAv3F

When my agent first suggested to me that I ought to write a new Hercule Poirot novel for Agatha Christie’s publishers, I knew two things straight away: that this might be the most exciting creative challenge I could ever undertake, and that I would not want to write a continuation novel for any other writer, not even one that I loved.  I’ve always been a huge fan of Iris Murdoch, for example, but to try to write a novel featuring one of her characters wouldn’t have worked for me at all.  It would have been too contrived.  I’d have felt like an actor playing one half of a pantomime horse, out of synch with the other half and in an ill-fitting costume.

The idea of writing a Poirot novel did not feel like that at all – which, if you think about it, is rather odd.  Why didn’t it?  Why did it feel so natural and possible?  I think it’s because Agatha Christie’s influence is such an integral part of my writerly DNA, and always has been.  She was my main influence, and the writer who made me fall in love with mysteries.  I discovered her early – at twelve – and I’d read every word she’d published by the time I was fourteen.  I was hooked.  And a pattern had been firmly set up in my mind, the blueprint for what I believed an ideal detective story ought to be: an intriguing, structurally ambitious mystery – far more interesting and puzzling than simply ‘Here’s a corpse – who killed it?’; a super-clever detective who reliably and brilliantly solves every last puzzle at the end; an abundance of clues, indecipherable when we first encounter them, but making perfect sense once we’ve heard the detective’s explanation; the apparently impossible being shown to be possible; the combination of a fun, hooky read with psychological insight and an awareness of the depths of darkness in every human psyche.

When I set out to write crime fiction, I didn’t think to myself, ‘I’m going to model myself on Agatha Christie’ or ‘I am going to be a crime writer in the Christie tradition’.  Nevertheless, the Queen of Crime’s example must have been strong in my mind, because I wrote mystery novel after mystery novel that opened with what I thought of as ‘an Agatha-ish beginning’.  What I meant by this was: something so puzzling appears to be happening that readers cannot begin to speculate what might be going on, and fear that the only way the idea can be made to work is by resorting to the supernatural.  So, in my novel The Dead Lie Down (which is called The Other Half Lives in England), a man confesses to the murder of a woman who isn’t dead.  No matter how hard the police try to convince him that he can’t possibly have killed her because, look, there she is, alive and well and claiming never to have heard of him, this man continues to insist that she can’t possibly be still alive, because he killed her – yes, that very same woman – several years earlier.  My novel Kind of Cruel starts with a woman arrested for murder because she uttered the words ‘Kind, Cruel, Kind of Cruel’ in a confidential hypnotherapy session and those same words were the only clue found at the scene of a brutal murder – but how could detectives have known that the heroine said these words to her therapist in a private therapy session overheard by nobody?

The trick is to show, slowly and logically, how what appears to be impossible is in fact eminently possible.  Agatha Christie pulls it off brilliantly in Sleeping Murder, Murder on the Orient Express, And Then There Were None, Sparkling Cyanide and many other of her novels, and I try to do it in the crime fiction that I write.  I didn’t realise until I was asked to write a new Hercule Poirot novel that, from my very first attempt at crime fiction when I was a teenager, I had been trying to write like Agatha Christie in so many ways.  Being asked to do so openly and officially, and taking up that challenge, felt like a sort of literary coming out of the closet – a closet full of old paperback editions of Agatha Christie novels, the ones I collected as a teenager.  After coming out of it, I wanted to crawl back in and reread all those wonderful books!

Follow Christie on @queenofcrime and Sophie @sophiehannahCB1

 

Celebrate World Book Night with Agatha Christie

Category: Books

World Book Night 2014 is officially celebrated today, with a call for the public to inspire more people fall in love with reading. 12,500 copies of 20 specially printed World Book Night titles, totaling 250,000 books, will be given by a network of volunteer reading enthusiasts and institutions.094209-FC3D

Very excitingly, After the Funeral, one of Agatha Christie’s bestselling novels, has been selected as one the 20 WBN titles in the UK, Ireland and the US.

The WBN edition of After the Funeral features an exclusive introduction by Sophie Hannah, bestselling crime writer and author of the new Hercule Poirot mystery publishing in the September 2014.

In the introduction Sophie writes: ‘For me, as a psychological thriller writer, Agatha Christie is and will always be the gold standard – a lifelong inspiration whose every inventive tale demonstrates exactly how it should be done. It was Christie who made me fall in love with mystery stories at the age of twelve and, rereading her work now, at the age of 42, I still believe that she cranks up the excitement and the intellectual puzzlement like no other’.The WBN edition of After the Funeral  features an exclusive introduction by Sophie Hannah, bestselling crime writer and author of the new Hercule Poirot mystery publishing in the September 2014.Very excitingly, After the Funeral, one of Agatha Christie’s bestselling novels, has been selected as one the 20 WBN titles in the UK, Ireland and the US.AFTER_THE_FUNERAL

Listen to Sophie Hannah talking about ‘After the Funeral’ and her fascination for non-transferable motifs in this exclusive video:

Visit the World Book Night website to find out more about how to take part in the event. The 20 World Book Night 2014 titles are ordered randomly to inspire you every time you come back to this page:  http://www.worldbooknight.org/books/2014-book-list

Gorgeous new covers for Agatha Christie’s bestselling mysteries

Category: News

Some of the best Agatha Christie murder mysteries have been released today with a striking new cover design. Following the stunning new cover interpretations of Murder on The Orient Express, The Mysterious Affair at Styles and Curtain, these gorgeous new jackets will be a great addition to your Christie library.

Which one is your favourite? Leave us a comment to enter the prize draw to win a full set!

 

Cat Among the Pigeons

cat among pigeons

Unpleasant things are going on in an exclusive school for girls – things like murder… Late one night, two teachers investigate a mysterious flashing light in the sports pavilion and they stumble upon the body of the unpopular games mistress. Schoolgirl Julia Upjohn knows too much and without Hercule Poirot’s help she could be the next victim.

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The Labours of Hercules

the labours of hercules

In appearance Hercule Poirot hardly resembled an ancient Greek hero. Yet – reasoned the detective – like Hercules he had been responsible for ridding society of some of its most unpleasant monsters. So, in the period leading up to his retirement, he made up his mind to accept just twelve more cases: his self-imposed ‘Labours’. Each would go down in the annals of crime as a heroic feat of deduction.

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Death on the Nile

Death on the Nile

The tranquillity of a cruise along the Nile is shattered by the discovery that Linnet Ridgeway has been shot through the head. She was young, stylish and beautiful, a girl who had everything – until she lost her life.  However, in this exotic setting nothing is ever quite what it seems…

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Evil Under the Sun

evil under the sun

It was not unusual to find the beautiful bronzed body of the sun-loving Arlena Stuart stretched out on a beach, face down. Only, on this occasion, there was no sun… she had been strangled. Ever since Arlena’s arrival at the resort, Hercule Poirot had detected sexual tension in the seaside air. But could this apparent ‘crime of passion’ have been something more evil and premeditated altogether?

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Dead Man’s Folly

dead mans folly

Sir George and Lady Stubbs, the hosts of a village fête, hit upon the novel idea of staging a mock murder mystery. Despite weeks of meticulous planning, Ariadne, the crime writer who was in charge of organising the murder hunt, calls her friend Hercule Poirot for his expert assistance. Instinctively, she senses that something sinister is about to happen…

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Mrs McGinty’s Dead

mrs mcgintys dead

The old children’s game now seemed rather tasteless. The real Mrs McGinty was killed by a crushing blow to the back of the head and her pitifully small savings were stolen. Suspicion falls immediately on her lodger, hard up and out of a job. Hercule Poirot has other ideas – unaware that his own life is now in great danger…

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*Terms and Conditions apply. This competition is promoted by HarperCollins Publishers (“HarperCollins”), 77-85 Fulham Palace Road, London, W6 8JB. Closing date for entries is April 13th 2014 at 24:00 GMT. The winner of the competition will be selected at random from all entries and notified on this site no later than April 20th 2014.