We’re now easing our way into September (a celebration for those of us who love fall; my sympathies to anyone who adores summer), which means it’s time for another Agatha Day! This one is all about how her murder-y writer’s mind worked.
“Plots come to me at such odd moments: when I am walking along a street, or examining a hat-shop with particular interest, suddenly a splendid idea comes into my head, and I think, ‘Now that would be a neat way of covering up the crime so that nobody would see the point.’ Of course, all the practical details are still to be worked out, and the people have to creep slowly into my consciousness, but I jot down my splendid idea in an exercise book.”
Context: In this section, Agatha is reflecting on the creation of Miss Marple, her second significant detective hero. She lists various Marple mysteries, along with some of her other books. Then she mentions Peril at End House, acknowledging that it left so little an impression on her that she has no recollection of even writing it. She admits it’s possible she thought of the plot long before she wrote it, which she says is a habit a of hers. That leads into this specific quote.
Why I Chose It: Quite simply, I relate to this quote so much. Sometimes I think I’m fully engaged with what I’m doing—washing dishes, for instance—and the next thing I know, I’ve created a full murder plot centering on a chipped dinner plate.
For creative people, inspiration is everywhere. I never know what will be the spark that will set my imagination ablaze, engulfed in flames of creative ideas. Sometimes it’s remarkably inconvenient. It’s difficult to explain to your dinner companions (back when I used to hang out with people in person) why you’re suddenly staring off in the distance with a sadistic smile. But I’m fortunate to have some incredible friends who know my creative side and happily engage with my brainstorming. (My sister-in-law even volunteered to play a corpse once so I could try dragging her along the beach.)
And also like Agatha, I often end up with ideas dwelling and growing within my mind for so long that I can’t even trace the source of them. Some of my manuscripts are linked to specific, striking moments of “What if…”, while others are based on ideas with origins I can’t specifically recall. And like Agatha and so many other writers, I try to capture those ephemeral ideas by scrawling phrases in various notebooks. Maybe I’ll come back to them one day. Maybe they’ll stagnate and fade into unused potential. Maybe I’ll read a line and have no idea what on earth I was talking about.
What matters is that I embrace the ideas when they come and chase them down, sometimes completely surprised by where I end up. It’s encouraging and humbling to know I share that trait with such a literary giant in the world of mystery.
Happy Agatha Day! This month’s quote talks about some characteristics that are just as important now as they were in Agatha Christie’s day.
“I think I admire loyalty almost more than any other virtue. Loyalty and courage are two of the finest things there are. Any kind of courage, physical or moral, arouses my utmost admiration. It is one of the most important virtues to bring to life. If you can bear to live at all, you can bear to live with courage. It is a must.”
Context: This quote lies toward the beginning of a passage where Agatha is writing about life after her divorce. She and her daughter’s nanny quite amusingly divided Agatha’s friends into two categories: the Order of the Rats and the Order of the Faithful Dogs. Agatha admits that there were quite a few people she thought would be in one category who showed themselves to belong squarely in the other. That leads into this quote.
Why I Chose It: Because of what Agatha went through with her very dramatic divorce, she realized some friends were not really friends at all. But it helped her identify her true friends and value them even more, and to identify acquaintances who were proving themselves to be true supporters. The fact that Agatha considered loyalty and courage the most important virtues to possess is particularly revealing. I think you can learn a lot about a person based on what they value in the people around them.
Loyalty and courage are still incredibly powerful and pertinent virtues to have today. On their own, each is a positive trait, but when they are paired together, they can produce a powerful ally, advocate, and friend. May we all strive to be people of great loyalty and courage, now more than ever.
Happy Agatha Day! It feels a little like we’re in a strange, alternate world right now, doesn’t it? I hope you’re all hanging in there and treating yourselves well. This month’s Agatha quote feels especially appropriate for this time.
“Life is really like a ship — the interior of a ship, that is. It has watertight compartments. You emerge from one, seal and bolt the doors, and find yourself in another. My life from the day we left Southampton to the day we returned to England was one such compartment. Ever since that I have felt the same about travel. You step from one life into another. You are yourself, but a different self.”
Context: This paragraph opens a new section where Agatha is talking about how it felt to return from an exciting but grueling international tour for her first husband’s job. She muses about how strange it can feel to return from such a trip, how foreign your old life can seem after such a long period of being abroad.
Why I Chose It: For me, it really does capture what it’s like to go through something and then “return” to your previous life. You’re not the same person. It has echoes of the title of the Thomas Wolfe book, You Can’t Go Home Again. And while Agatha was referring to traveling, it’s so applicable to any life journey. When you go through something, it changes you, shaping you into a modified version of the person you were. As she says, “You are yourself, but a different self.”
We’re all going through something major right now, and we’ll come out of it changed. For some people, it will be in minor ways, and for others, they will feel like they have become entirely different people. But what I find especially hopefully is that through implies movement, forward progress. Eventually we will arrive somewhere else. One day, we’ll emerge from this compartment, and we’ll seal the door behind us, moving forward as different selves. Until then, hold onto the hope of that day with as much strength as you can summon and be kind to yourself and to each other.
Happy Agatha Day! We have made it through March, although it sure seemed to last forever. I thought about skipping a quote this month, but then I remembered that Agatha had some things to say about the state of the world that are perfect for what we’re all going through right now. It’s a longer quote, but it’s absolutely worth a read.
“There is at least the dawn, I believe, of a kind of good will. We mind when we hear of earthquakes, of spectacular disasters to the human race. We want to help. That is a real achievement; which I think must lead somewhere. Not quickly — nothing happens quickly — but at any rate we can hope. I think sometimes we do not appreciate that second virtue which we mention so seldom in the trilogy — faith, hope and charity. Faith we have had, shall we say, almost too much of — faith can make you bitter, hard, unforgiving; you can abuse faith. Love we cannot but help knowing in our own hearts is the essential. But how often do we forget that there is hope as well, and that we seldom think about hope? We are ready to despair too soon, we are ready to say, ‘What’s the good of doing anything?’ Hope is the virtue we should cultivate most in this present day and age.”
Context: This paragraph follows Agatha’s musings about life after WWII. Having lived through both world wars, serving as a nursing assistant and then a pharmacy assistant in the first, and returning to work again in a pharmacy during the second, she saw a lot of tragedy and pain. To her, it seems war is pointless. What’s the purpose of winning one war if another is bound to follow? And yet, in spite of the things she has seen, she’s hopeful—hopeful that society is improving, that the future will be brighter than the past.
Why I Chose It: I think it’s a particularly insightful observation. And I agree with what Agatha says—so much attention is given to faith and love. People cling to faith and adore love, but much less consideration is given to hope. Often we look at hopeful people as being unrealistic or out of touch. But it takes great strength to be hopeful, especially in the face of tragedy. And the pain we feel for the suffering of others means we are connected, we care even though we may not know them. To feel that pain or fear and still hope—that is pure and beautiful strength. Cultivate hope, my friends. It’s more powerful than you think.
Happy March! I hope you’re all staying healthy and enjoying the weather as we move toward spring. This month I’ve chosen a rather illuminating quote about Agatha’s career ambitions in the world of writing.
“I personally had no ambition. I knew that I was not very good at anything. Tennis and croquet I used to enjoy playing, but I never played them well. How much more interesting it would be if I could say that I always longed to be a writer, and was determined that someday I would succeed, but, honestly, such an idea never came into my head.”
Context: This quote falls after a paragraph where Agatha is musing about her older sister’s literary pursuits. Madge began writing stories before Agatha and was in fact published in Vanity Fair multiple times, something she gave up once she got married. She later went on to write several plays, one of which was produced by the Royal Theatre.
Agatha also mentions that Madge was a talented actress. And, amusingly enough, in the line before this quote, reflects, “There is no doubt that Madge was the talented member of our family.”
Why I Chose It: Before I read her autobiography, I thought Agatha Christie must’ve been someone with great ambition, given everything she accomplished. So it was surprising to me to discover that writing was something she came to gradually, falling into it rather than doggedly pursuing it.
This quote also shows her humility, how she never imagined she would become a prolific author and a legend of the mystery fiction world. Whatever her assessment of her own capabilities, I think we can all agree that Agatha was truly talented in her own right. And even though she originally had no plans to establish herself as a writer, I’m so very grateful she did.