Good Reading : March 2009
writing life 1 in the library with the dagger In another from our series of extracts from Secret Lives of Great Authors by ROBERT SCHNAKENBERG we learn about bird-hating, hedgehog-loving crime queen, Agatha Christie. AGATHA CHRISTIE SEPTEMBER 15, 1890 – JANUARY 12, 1976 NATIONALITY: ENGLISH ASTROLOGICAL SIGN: VIRGO MAJOR WORKS: THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES (1920), THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD (1926), MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1934) CONTEMPORARIES & RIVALS: DOROTHY L SAYERS, NGAIO MARSH, MARGERY ALLINGHAM LITERARY STYLE: STRAIGHTFORWARD, WITH A FLAIR FOR THE UNEXPECTED TWIST WORDS OF WISDOM: ‘NEVER DO ANYTHING YOURSELF THAT OTHERS CAN DO FOR YOU.’ THE QUEEN OF CARPAL TUNNEL? Although she ranks as one of literary history’s most prolific authors, Agatha Christie never once set pen to paper. She was afflicted with a learning disability called dysgraphia, which prevented her from writing legibly. As a result, she had to dictate all her novels. Here’s hoping the poor typist got combat pay! AND PETA’S ‘WOMAN OF THE YEAR AWARD’ FOR 1907 GOES TO … As a young woman, Christie prided herself on being handy about the house. In her autobiography, she admits that she once successfully chloroformed a hedgehog that had gotten tangled up in her tennis net in order to set it free. ITCHING ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS Dame Agatha wrote one of her most famous novels, Murder on the Orient Express, in room 411 of the Hotel Pera Palace in Istanbul, Turkey. Dubbed ‘The Agatha Christie Room’, it has been preserved in her honour. One aspect of the Orient Express journey that she may not have wanted to 50 goodreading i MARCH 2009 commemorate was her sleeping car on the Paris to Istanbul train. She was bedevilled by bedbugs throughout the ride. THE CASE OF THE DISAPPEARING AUTHOR Christie’s greatest mystery may have been the one she acted out in real life. In December 1926, the then thirty-six-year-old writer mysteriously disappeared for eleven days. Police suspected foul play, although her philandering first husband, Archibald Christie, seemed to have an airtight alibi: he was canoodling with his mistress at the time of her disappearance. Tipped off by a nosey waiter, the authorities eventually found Agatha holed up in a Yorkshire hotel under an assumed name. She initially claimed to be suffering from amnesia, although years later it was revealed that the entire incident was part of a plot dreamed up by an enraged Agatha to force Archie to give up his mistress. Whatever her intentions, the scheme didn’t work. The couple divorced two years later. The 1979 film Agatha, starring Vanessa Redgrave as Agatha and Timothy ‘007’ Dalton as Archie, was a fictionalised re-enactment of this bizarre episode. THANKS FOR CLEARING THAT UP Dame Agatha listed her likes and dislikes in her autobiography. For the record, her major turnoffs included ‘crowds, being jammed up against people, loud voices, noise, protracted talking, parties, especially cocktail parties, cigarette smoke and smoking generally, any kind of drink except in cooking, marmalade, oysters, lukewarm food, grey skies, the feet of birds or indeed the feel of a bird altogether’, and, finally and most emphatically, ‘the taste and smell of hot milk’. Secret Lives of Great Authors by Robert Schnakenberg is published by Quirk, rrp $24.95.