Tag Archives: Agatha Christie

End of year miscellany

I did that sitting up in the middle of the night thing again. We’d finished watching the Agatha Christie two-parter Witness for the Prosecution on BBC, and I’d blogged about it on CultureWitch. I claimed I didn’t really know the story, and then – midsleep – I wondered why it all felt so familiar, and how come I knew what the plot twist was going to be?

Elementary, my dear Watsons. I’d seen it before. Quite some time ago, although not as far back as 1957, which is when the film was made. And then I remembered something else. The Retired Children’s Librarian had watched it and she mentioned she’d not come across the book, and I made it my mission to find the book for her. But could I find a single copy of Åklagarens Vittne anywhere? I could not. Some second hand bookshops even had waiting lists for it.

Apparently I gave up at that point, and then I forgot the whole thing.

Forgetting is not something St Hilda’s alumni do. I was incredibly pleased to watch Val McDermid and Adèle Geras succeed all the way in the Christmas University Challenge, winning by beating the lovely Leeds team. But Uzbekistan, Adèle? It was the middle of the Pacific!

Never mind. We got a women only team winning, even beating another women only team in the semifinals.

And then. Then Daughter let her ancient parents accompany her to see Rogue One in the cinema. Oh dear, the amount of eye-rolling that had to be done when it turned out we’d not understood any of it. The Resident IT Consultant was silly enough to ask. I was going to play it cool and say nothing if I could help it.

I saw the first Star Wars film back when it was new, when you didn’t have to keep track of all the numbers of sequels and prequels. I didn’t get it. It was nice enough, I suppose, but I could never work out why they did what they did, nor who was good and who was bad. That Darth Vader chap seemed nice.

But I quite liked getting out of the house, if only to sit in a tightly packed cinema, with a constant stream of little children squeezing past on their way back from the toilets.

I suspect we won’t be invited again, though.

Dangerous book covers

And possibly dangerously murderous contents as well.

I rarely pay all that much attention to the more salesy emails I receive. No time, and no interest in buying lots of books. Especially if I don’t get round to reading them.

But there was this one yesterday, from the big bookshop chain. I have deleted it for my own safety, but I will admit to having looked more than once at the books they offered for Christmas.

I mean, they weren’t actually suggesting I buy these books to give to others, were they? I was more thinking I’d love the books for myself. But that’s a most selfish way of looking at Christmas.

What they had were a handful of crime novels, all with the most enticing covers. That’s the thing really. Some of the books may easily have been bad inside, but oh those dark, snow covered, often retro style houses, where murder is about to happen or has happened – in style, obviously – well, it’s just too hard to resist. Hence the email-deleting. Or else…

It’s the faux Agatha books, or perhaps even some real ones, that are so dangerous. Sometimes it feels as if I could sit and do nothing else but read snowy Christmas murders (as though that was a nice thing).

One Christmas, when I was 17 or thereabouts, I received The Secret of Chimneys (Hemligheten på Chimneys). I have no recollection whether Christmas featured in the story, or if it was my Christmas, all mixed up with a fancy house and all the people therein, murdering each other and stuff, but I so wanted to pack a suitcase right then and simply pop over to England.

Because that’s what it’s like, yes? All that snow, the pretty lights and the red of the holly berries. And the blood.

Murder on the Caledonian

I mean drinks. Of course I do. There was no murder.

After I arrived at King’s Cross, which was not Euston, I then had to travel home again. After I’d done what I came for. To confuse matters, I travelled home from Euston.

Rather than spend the night in a hotel (I find I’m going off hotels) I suggested to Son we should book ourselves on the Caledonian Sleeper, and travel in style. I’m keener now, since discovering the beds have new mattresses and pillows, as well as duvets and duvet covers. The beds are still narrow, but the rest is fine.

We had an interconnecting door between our ‘rooms.’ Son was awfully excited by this and had to take a photo. (I hasten to add that he is so young and I am so old, that both of us qualify for a third off the fare, which is how you make this affordable. Before you think I’m rich, or something.)

He then invited me for a bedtime drink in the Lounge. It was very civilised and straight out of Agatha Christie. (Until the Americans turned up.)

While Son had something I’m glad mother-of-witch couldn’t see, I had tea. Or it would have been tea had the lovely barman not forgotten the teabag. But that just added to the jollity, and with teabag, the tea tasted like nectar. (Well, it had been a long day.)

There were a few other passengers drinking, chatting politely to strangers across the aisle. Someone ‘old,’ who looked like they came straight from the opera, and a white-shirted beautiful young man who could have starred in any Poirot you care to mention.

So there we were, enjoying our Agatha-ness and the sophistication of sleeper travel. No one was being murdered or anything.

When in walked a party of Americans, maybe ten of them. I love Americans, but these were so very American, somehow. Loud, dissatisfied with what they found, ordering American whisky and not liking there was none. Suggesting there ought to have been soft music in the background. (Wouldn’t have been enough of a sound barrier.) Taking photos of each other and wanting to put them on Facebook, asking if there was wi-fi.

Thank goodness there was no wi-fi.

There could have been murder. (I’m hoping they went to Glasgow. I didn’t see them – or hear them – in the morning.)

The author crack’d

Well, what do you do? You have an event, some distance away from where you live. And you discover you are pretty ill on the day. You have that stomach bug your child got a day or two ago.

Authors are hardworking people for the most part. They don’t want to let people down, so obviously you work out how (if) you can somehow stagger to this – sold out – event tonight and deliver what you have agreed to do. (Even if it ‘kills’ you.)

The thing is, it’s the killing, or seriously affecting, other people you need to think about. Not whether you can stay upright for long enough to get through an event.

Someone on social media recently started a discussion on this very subject and after the first comments of encouragement, the sensible brigade stepped in and told the author on no account was he/she to travel. Reminders were posted on the effects their noble suffering could have on the audience, the organisers, people on the train there, and so on.

(This is the problem with a society that allows for no weakness. Far too many people believe that you should stretch yourself that little bit more; come into work with a sniffle or a temperature. But it’s not just the discomfort or danger for the patient to be considered. It’s everyone else. Is the office really benefitting from X passing on what they are suffering from to most of the others?)

And no amount of disappointment because you didn’t get to see your chosen author that evening can make up for hundreds more people falling ill, potentially seriously, if they are vulnerable.

It made me recall Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side. It’s one thing to innocently go out before you know you’ve caught a virus. Quite another to go out when you know.

The author stayed at home. And the organisers found a – very attractive – replacement. So there was not even the need for them to turn away a venue full of literary fans. They got an event, and if they contracted any vomiting bugs, it wasn’t from our original author.

Sophie Hannah on her second Poirot

Despite Edinburgh’s trams trying really very hard to keep me from Sophie Hannah’s event at Blackwell’s on Thursday evening, they failed. I steamed in just as Ann Landmann was pressuring everyone to move closer, saying there – probably – wasn’t going to be any audience participation to worry about. I was just pleased to be so late but still find someone had kept Bookwitch’s corner on the leather sofa for me. That’s all I cared about.

Ann at Blackwell's

Ann was busy stroking Sophie’s new Poirot novel, Closed Casket, suggesting what a good Christmas present this lovely, shiny book would make, hint, hint. (And it would, were I the kind of person who gives people presents.) The rest of you, pay attention! Buy Closed Casket for everyone.

I have heard the background to how Sophie was given the lovely task of becoming the new Agatha Christie before. I was interested to see how much she’d be able to vary it. It was about half and half; some the same, some new.

She put most of the blame on her crazy agent, who doesn’t do reassurance terribly well, and thinks it’s OK to tell her she is ‘brilliant, etc’ when she needs to be comforted. (As an aside I reckon Adèle Geras [Sophie’s mother] was quite correct in feeling her daughter should have been made head girl at school. Sophie is a very head girl-y kind of person.)

Basically Sophie got the job (Agatha Christie, not head girl) through good timing, and also by having plenty of experience of Dragon’s Den. Whatever that is. And you ‘can’t say no to Agatha Christie’s grandson.’

Sophie Hannah

The idea for Closed Casket, which incidentally is another four-word idea [like Murder on the Orient Express], describing how the novel ends, came when she had an argument with her sister. As Sophie now ‘blames’ her Christie fixation on her father Norm’s cricket book collection, I feel we have much to thank the Geras family for.

She doesn’t know if her book is any good, but she does know that her idea is. It’s the best and simplest idea ever, and she is very fond of this book. It has an Enid Blyton style character in it, and if the first chapter is anything to go by, I can see this will be a fun book to read.

Sophie doesn’t write chronologically, and in this case she was so tired that she began with the easiest chapter. Chapter 23. The house where the murder takes place was found by extensive time spent on Rightmove until she happened upon a house in Ireland that fitted the bill. So no, nothing to do with Irish politics in 1929.

Sophie Hannah

As she doesn’t know how many Poirot books there might be, Sophie is eking out the years between 1928 and 1932, not letting much time pass between her first two mysteries, just in case. Hitherto every generation has discovered the world of Agatha Christie, but not the current one. That’s partly the reason the Christie family needed something new to offer potential readers, and the idea appears to have been successful, with fresh interest in Poirot.

No, writing Poirot is not difficult. It has ‘instantly become the thing she most wants to do.’ Even if she does have to share the profits with the Christie family. Sophie does not want to write any Miss Marple stories, if only to prevent herself from believing she actually is Agatha. She’s already half expecting them to turn over Agatha’s house Greenway to her…

Sophie Hannah

Mirrored

I’m trying not to think the phrase ‘The Mirror Cracked From Side to Side’ but it’s hard. Quick, give me some other mirror quotes that have a more cheerful outcome!

Mirror

While we take some time getting used to facing the mirror image of a wall of books as we enter the living room, I live in hope that the mirror won’t fall down. We got it months ago, but found it was wanting in some respects (does anyone have the kind of mirror clips that this one lacks?), which is why it has only just been hung. Hopefully for a very long time.

The old house also surprised us with a mirror after many years, although not one with books. If you entered the room the right way you’d get the reflection of a lamp in the far corner, which I always liked.

But as I said, here we get books, which is sort of suitable. Who is the fairest Bookwitch of all?

Bookwitch bites #133

I have allowed a certain amount of channel surfing over Christmas. It’s not something I do myself. Much. I’m actually never quite sure how to change television channels, and I tend to stick with a few programmes, and don’t generally have enough time to sit and pick the least bad thing to watch.

When I saw that David Walliams was going to present Britain’s Favourite Children’s Book on Boxing Day, I decided to boycott the programme. Which is why I ended up catching a bit of favourite Disney songs instead. That was nice enough, and I always enjoy the Bare Necessities, even if I’m not allowed to wriggle my behind the way Baloo does.

And when the singalong ended, I inevitably found myself in the company of David Walliams anyway. He did the job competently enough, but I wish a more ‘ordinary’ author could have been given the task. It was fun to see how many former children’s laureates they were able to dig up to come and talk about their popular books.

The selection of books was good. But did they actually say how they had been chosen, or by whom? The children they had on the programme were well read, and amusingly precocious, but they weren’t exactly Winnie the Pooh fans. So what made this bear the best?

Then we moved on to – the planned – watching of And Then There Were None. It’s good. I read the book so long ago, that not all the facts remain as fresh in my memory as they should. But this isn’t going to end well. (Unlike the stage production I saw in 1970 where they decided to go for a happy ending…) And I vaguely recall a creepy film version from maybe forty years ago. I think.

I wonder what Agatha would have said about the bare chests?