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

Agatha Christie Festival 2013

Category: News

Last month Laura, our Agatha Christie Brand Manager, expert and all-round Christie fan, attended the Agatha Christie Festival! Here’s Laura’s roundup of what took place…

The international bestselling crime writer, Sophie Hannah, who is to write a new Agatha Christie novel, appeared at the famous Agatha Christie Festival this year.

Discussing Christie’s legacy and the new project with Sophie were Mathew Prichard (Agatha Christie’s grandson), David Brawn (HarperCollins) and John Curran (author Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks).

Sophie Hannah and Mathew Pritchard at the Agatha Christie Festival

The panel discussed extensively the new novel which will feature Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective who Agatha Christie introduced to the world in her first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, published in 1920. Written with the full backing of the family, this is going to be the first ever Agatha Christie continuation novel.

The panel explained the reasons behind the decision to authorise a new novel and Sophie Hannah gave a few tantalising hints into the setting and the characters within the new mystery which will be published in September 2014.

Mathew spoke about the importance of creating a new publishing event to bring Agatha Christie to a new generation of readers. The theatre adaptation of The Mousetrap is for him a continuous reminder of his grandmother’s legacy, but when 2 years ago he found out that David Suchet was going to film the last four Poirot movies he felt it was the end of an era. This gave him the idea to find other avenues to keep Agatha Christie’s content relevant to new fans.

Simon Brett Kate Moss and David Brawn discussing Christie legacy

A different panel with Simon Brett, Kate Moss and David Brawn focused on Agatha Christie’s legacy on contemporary crime writers and authors in general. Kate Moss defined Agatha ‘the very first author that was mine’. And Simon Brett, talking about Sophie Hannah’s new Poirot said: ‘I envy her, but I can’t think of anyone who could do it better’.

– Laura, HarperFiction