04 October, 2013

Quotable Friday (17)

Bit of a cheat this week - not one quotation, but a few from the same book. It's also the same book as the last post, but I think it's worth it! Agatha Christie's autobiography has been a joy to read and one thing that has really struck me is her honesty when it comes to talking about her books. She isn't dismissive or ungrateful for her successes, but neither is she arrogant about her books. It's fascinating to hear her opinions on her own creations, whether it be Poirot (made him too old), Murder at the Vicarage (too many subplots) or her intense dislike of The Mystery of the Blue Train (commonplace, full of cliches with an uninteresting plot!). On the whole she is a brave, interesting and very content sort of person who knew she wasn't the best writer in the world but also knew she could write a good low-brow (her word!) detective novel. Do you have a favourite Agatha Christie? Can you guess what her favourites are?

Anyway, her career started nearly 100 years ago and yet she says so many things I can relate to. See if any of these seem familiar to you too...

[Talking of her first Poirot novel]. "I was reasonably satisfied with it. That is to say it was roughly as I had intended it to be. It could be much better, I saw that, but I didn't see just how I could make it better, so I had to leave it as it was. [...] having finally decided I could do no more to it I sent it off to a publisher - Hodder and Stoughton - who returned it. It was a plain refusal with no frills on it."

[Letter from the writer Eden Philpotts advising her on an early attempt to write a book]. "I am afraid it is not easy to get a first novel accepted, so you mustn't be disappointed."

[On being a writer - and sticking to a suitable word count!] "It's no good starting out by thinking one is a heaven-born genius - some people are, but very few. No, one is a tradesman - a tradesman in a good, honest trade. You must learn the technical skills, and then, within that trade, you can apply your own creative ideas; but you must submit to the discipline of form."

[On being asked to review MSS] "I don't think an author is competent to criticise. Your criticism is bound to be that you youself would have written it in such and such a way, but that does not mean that that would be right for another author. We all have our own ways of expressing ourselves. [...] A critic or an editor might have been more perceptive, because it is their profession to notice the germs of what may be. So I don't like criticising and I think it can easily do harm." (I suspect many authors will disagree with this, but I increasingly feel this way and nearly always use readers rather than writers when I want an opinion!)

7 comments:

  1. So many good books I'm not sure I can name an outright favourite. I like Murder of Roger Ackroyd, A Murder is Announced, Evil Under the Sun....

    Sounds like her autobiography is well worth a read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Roger Ackroyd is probably my favourite. It's her most classic, one of her first and one of the first to be greatly acclaimed. I liked A Murder is Announced too, though generally I prefer Poirot to Miss Marple.

      Delete
    2. I complete agree with Poirot vs Marple, I almost listed a long string of Poirot books before deciding that that was silly! There are just one or two Miss Marples that stand out to me.

      Delete
  2. In confess (!) that I've only read a collection of Poirot short stories and Curtain, although I believe I've seen every programme from the series starring David Suchet. I really like the idea that Agatha Christie knew her true worth and her true talent. Yes, she had - and has - her critics, but her work ensures. As a conspiratorial footnote, it's interesting to compare Poirot with AEW Mason's Inspector Hanaud.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Did you know she wrote Curtain really early on - in WW2 I think when she lived in central London and never went to the bomb shelters as she feared being underground, and was therefore pretty sure she'd die in the Blitz? She then kept it in the bank for decades!

      I'm afraid I don't know Inspector Hanaud. Any good?

      Agatha said if she could write like Graham Greene she'd be in "high heaven" but knew she couldn't and could only do what she could do. Sensible lady!

      Delete
  3. I never knew she considered Poirot too old. I've always found her interesting as a person and writer, and I like her honesty lack of literary pretentiousness. She might not be a literary giant, but I reckon she could tell a story better than many (certainly modern) literary giants!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was more that she wasn't expecting to write so many books, so by the end he would have had to have been well over 100 to have solved all the crimes he did solve! Yes, she was one of the best storytellers there's been, I reckon.

      Delete