The Queen of Crime’s Notebooks

Agatha Christie’s notebooks. Image from inside front cover of Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks by John Curran 2010

Friends and family know I am addicted to both stationery and Agatha Christie novels. So imagine my excitement at discovering a book about Christie’s notebooks! Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks by John Curran (published by Harper Collins, 2010). This isn’t a recent book, it’s from 2010, but once I discovered it existed, I had to get it!

The title calls the notebooks ‘secret’, but I imagine that’s because they hadn’t previously been known about. It was only after Christie’s daughter, Rosalind, died in 2004 that the notebooks were found amongst items in the estate at Christie’s home, Greenways in Devon. They consisted of 73 handwritten volumes of notes, lists and drafts outlining all her plans for her many books, plays and stories. It showed that Christie was very much a ‘planner’ in her writing! And also she worked hard to keep up with her ideas.

I would also add that they might not have been so secret in her lifetime. Family and friends must have seen her often scribbling notes, although some of those notes were shopping lists or plans for the house or garden. However, when she was hatching new story plans, I don’t imagine she wanted someone looking over their shoulder. Vague notes, surprising links, happy accidents are all part of trying to catch hold of an idea before it fizzles out. So I imagine she didn’t show people her notes while she was still working on a story. 

Christie’s remarkably prolific writing life has always intrigued me. Not just where she got her ideas from. I think it’s clear Christie used her own experiences as a nurse in WW1 and saw all manner of horrors in the injured soldiers who arrived. Also with the Belgian refugees (Poirot anyone?). And her in time dispensing pharmaceutical items, which she did exams to qualify as a dispenser, gave her a host of credible poisons to use in her stories.   

OAgatha Christie in her uniform working as a nurse in WW1

I’m sure she used characters based on the people she’d met in her youth, the stories in the news, things she overheard on a bus or café or at a party. She mined her own personal problems (she knew all about cheating husbands!) and her travels (to Europe, Egypt and America). 

But my question was always did she have a fail-safe method for writing? How else did she produce so many successful books? And if she did have a method would that show up in her notebooks? What John Curran’s book has showed me so far (I’m still reading it) is that Christie was a perpetual magpie making a multitude of notes about things she saw, things she imagined, basic plot ideas, possible characters, perfect locations and probable victims and surprising perpetrators of crimes. 

And to make all those notes Christie needed notebooks. LOTS of notebooks! Interestingly, the notebooks aren’t expensive or fancy, they’re common or garden exercise books. A good size for notes, diagrams, small sketches and so forth. It occurs to me that the girl who didn’t go to school (she was taught at home by governesses) always wrote her notes and plans in school books.

Agatha Christie’s notebooks. Image from inside back cover of Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks by John Curran 2010

So my conclusion is this:

  • Christie used lots of notebooks
  • Worked hard all her life to plot good stories
  • maintained her interest in a wide variety of topics and places and people.

That’s a pretty good method’ for any writer!

I note that there is a new(ish) expanded version of Curran’s original book Agatha Christie’s Complete Secret Notebooks: Stories and Secrets of Murder in the Making by John Curran published by HarperCollins in 2020. I’m sure this will be as good as the first book, and another must have for Christie enthusiasts! 

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Published by Yasmin Keyani

Writer

2 thoughts on “The Queen of Crime’s Notebooks

  1. It’s a nerd’s godsend to discover material like these notebooks, isn’t it? I can imagine squeals of delight emanating from your good self – or maybe just silent quivers of anticipation – on coming across this title! I ave to confess to having a diverse collection of filled notebooks like AC’s though mine are filled with summaries, quotes and spidergrams about books I’ve read, mainly for review or for clarification of key points and/or characters rather than as hints for a novel.

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    1. You’re right about it being a nerd’s godsend! I just love how you can see Christie’s process up close. It also made me feel better about my notebooks not always being very neat! Your filled notebooks sound great. Even the word spidergram heartens my admin soul!

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