Who has had an influence on you?
AGATHA AND ME
AGATHA AND ME
A few years ago, there was a best-selling book and popular movie called, Julie and Julia, about the influence famous Chef Julia Child unknowingly had on a young woman’s life. It’s a familiar theme, since most of us have our heroes. And mine has always been Agatha Christie.
I remember my first Christie. I found it in the high school library when I was in the eighth grade. It was the title that intrigued me: Mrs McGinty’s Dead, apparently taken from a macabre British children’s rhyme—many of her titles are from nursery rhymes. It wasn’t Christie’s iconic character Hercule Poirot that interested me, it was the plot and the clever way she put clues right out in the open for the reader to see, but of course, the reader overlooks them. She fooled me, and I loved it! From then on, I was hooked, and read every one of her books I could get my hands on. (I liked them all, except for two rather dark ones: And Then There Were None and Endless Night.)
I like to give talks about mysteries and recently I explained that I began writing mysteries myself because I ran out of Agatha Christies. Of course, there are other mystery/suspense authors I enjoy: Mary Stewart, Patricia Wentworth, Charlotte MacLeod, Rex Stout, Georges Simenon, among others. But when it comes to plotting, Agatha’s the champ.
I’m such a fan that I have seen all of what I consider the best portrayals of my favorite Christie characters, Miss Marple, played by Joan Hickson (Christie actually predicted that she’d play Marple one day!) and David Suchet, who WAS Poirot in a series lasting 24 years!
Alas, Dame Agatha and I never met. I understand that she was rather shy and found the adoration of her countless fans embarrassing. There’s the first similarity between us. Not that I have countless adoring fans, but I am a teensy bit shy. I am an American and she was half-American on her father’s side. She had a sister and a brother, as do I. She read voraciously as a child, and enjoyed the works of children’s author, E. Nesbit. What a coincidence! So did I!
Here’s where our paths diverge somewhat: she helped nurse injured soldiers during WWI--and I wasn’t even born yet. She became an expert on drugs and medications (ie. poisons), a knowledge that she used to good advantage in her books. I take the occasional ibuprophen and am proud that I know how to spell it.
Agatha’s first marriage ended in a breakup. I’ve been luckier. I’m still married to my first husband. Her second marriage to archaeologist Max Mallowan, I’m pleased to say, was a long and happy one. She accompanied him on many of his digs in exotic foreign places and used the atmosphere that she soaked up in some of her stories. I have accompanied my husband to many conventions around country and have manned his company booth. We even traveled out of the country to a convention in Toronto. I soaked up what I could and incorporated a French-Canadian character nicknamed the Millionaire from Montreal in my Miss Prentice cozy mystery series. Granted, Toronto and Montreal are rather different cities, but still—hello, Canadian!
The Great Lady and I converge again when it comes to photographs. The older I get, the less I like pictures of myself. Agatha felt the same. She even went so far as to complain that the unretouched publicity photos of herself taken at age fifty-nine made her look seventy. I am always disappointed in my photos, but I do take advantage of the miracles of modern cosmetics. They do wonders (not to mention Photoshop)!
I am by no means trying to claim that my work compares to hers. What I am saying is that the key to good writing, in my opinion, is to read good writing. It’s how you learn to use the language, to plot, to create three-dimensional characters and make your readers happy.
Agatha Christie wrote her first full-length mystery because her sister dared her to. I issue a similar challenge: read, read, read what you enjoy and take a crack at writing. You might might be surprised at what you can accomplish.
Ellen Kennedy, aka E.E. Kennedy is the author of the Miss Prentice Cozy Mystery series. Leave a comment below, along with your EMAIL ADDRESS, and you will be entered in a drawing to win an eBook copy of the Miss Prentice mystery of your choice!