It’s the first Wednesday of December, so it’s time for an Agatha Day! (You’ll notice I skipped November. We all needed a little break in November, given *gestures to the state of the country last month*.) This month’s quote highlights a feeling I think every creative person knows well.
“It is an odd feeling to have a book growing inside you, for perhaps six or seven years knowing that one day you will write it, knowing that it is building up all the time to what it already is. Yes, it is there already — it just has to come more clearly out of the mist. All the people are there, ready, waiting in the wings, ready to come on to the stage when their cues are called — and then, suddenly, one gets a clear and sudden command: Now!
“Now is when you are ready. Now, you know all about it. Oh, the blessing that for once one is able to do it then and there, that now is really now.”
The Context: In this quote, Agatha is talking about when she wrote Absent in the Spring, a book published under her pseudonym, Mary Westmacott. She refers to it as the book that satisfied her the most, saying she had always wanted to write it and that it had been clear in her mind—all except the background, which came to her later, after finishing Death Comes as the End.
As sometimes happens when a book has been growing inside a person, when it was finally ready, Agatha wrote it quickly—in three days, actually. She even called in sick to her job at the hospital so she could finish it. (Relatable, am I right?) She wrote until it was finished, and then collapsed and slept for an entire day. Then she woke up and ate a huge meal. (Again, so relatable to any writer!)
Why I Chose It: I think it’s incredibly revealing to learn about the book an author considered the most satisfying to write. And I know exactly the sensation she’s referring to in this quote. Like most writers, I hold a lot of ideas in my mind. Some are ready to be explored, while others need time to simmer. And so I’ll let an idea sit and develop until one day, it’s ready. It practically bursts out of me, the setting clear, the characters fully formed, the concept holding the whole idea together. It’s utterly intoxicating. Releasing a new book from inside myself is the most satisfying feeling I know, and Agatha captures that feeling so accurately here.
It’s time for another Agatha Day! Usually this day falls on the first Wednesday of the month, but I pushed it a day due to the Vice Presidential debate. (On that note, please vote. I’m sure you’ve been seeing that reminder everywhere, but it’s so important. You have a voice. Don’t let anyone muffle it.)
In other news, the weather here in VA has turned beautifully crisp and I’m loving it. And while I love to write in every season, fall is my absolute favorite and seems to stir up extra creativity in me. While spring might be the season that represents new beginnings to most people, for me, it’s fall. And so today I’m sharing a quote that represents the beginning of something incredible for our dear Agatha Christie.
“Fired with all this [discussion of detective stories], I said I should like to try my hand at a detective story.
“‘I don’t think you could do it,’ said Madge. ‘They are very difficult to do. I’ve thought about it.’
“‘I should like to try.’
“‘Well, I bet you couldn’t,’ said Madge.
“There the matter rested. It was never a definite bet; we never set out terms — but the words had been said. From that moment I was fired by the determination that I would write a detective story. It didn’t go further than that. I didn’t start to write it then, or plan it out; the seed had been sown. At the back of my mind, where the stories of the books I am going to write take their place long before the germination of the seed occurs, the idea had been planted: some day I would write a detective story.”
The Context: Agatha is talking about her childhood and how her older sister, Madge, introduced her to detective stories through the tales of Sherlock Holmes, followed by The Leavenworth Casewhen Agatha was eight. She talks about how they used to love discussing their favorite mystery stories, and that memory leads into the statement that opens the quotation.
Why I Chose It: Everyone wants to know where the greats in every field began. When was the moment they decided to pursue that dream? And here we get a glimpse at it. Young Agatha, when talking about the detective stories she so deeply loves, wonders if she can write one. She’s immediately met with discouragement from her sister, which likely only strengthened her resolve. As Agatha points out, she didn’t start right then, but the seed was planted. The idea was there, and over the years, it would grow.
As they did for Agatha, the seeds of my own ideas and choices are planted long before they become anything. Some seeds just die in the dirt like some of my houseplants. Others lie dormant until one day they burst to life. Sometimes I don’t recognize the moment a seed is planted until the plant begins to grow and I trace its roots back to their origin. Sometimes the moment seems so insignificant and small, like this conversation Agatha had with her sister. It’s funny to read that conversation with the knowledge of the mystery legend Agatha Christie became.
Who knows what seeds might be within you, waiting for their chance to break through the surface? Who knows what seeds of ideas and inspiration you may plant in the hearts of others?
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.