Agatha Christie – still the Queen of Crime

Agatha Christie, surrounded by some of her 80-plus crime novels.

January is traditionally a time for new things, new ideas, new starts. It makes sense to do this as it follows closing the old year and moving on. Named after the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions and from the from the Latin word, ianua, which means ‘door’, this is the door to the new year! So why am I writing this almost half-way through the month? It might be because the start of the year is always very distracting after the end of year celebrations and holidays. It might be because I dislike following the crowd with publicising new year resolutions that could soon be broken. It’s also tricky until you know how plans from the previous year have done, so you can definitely feel like a true Janus figure with one head looking back while the other looks forward.

Janus_coin

Janus coin

I was (and still am) waiting for the results from some short story submissions. One got longlisted, which was great! But didn’t win, which was less great… However, as any writer/artist knows you have to get used to knock backs and still keep trying. There are websites for dejected writers devoted to this sort of thing, but I take the old fashioned view of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. All you need to remember is that every writer, from  Agatha Christie to Stephen King, had numerous rejections, but still kept writing.

I used to read a lot of Agatha Christie (1890-1976) but not much recently. However, over Christmas the BBC did a fantastic adaptation of ‘And then there were none’ (BBC 2015) and it reminded me what great plots and interesting, believable characters Christie created and how wonderful the BBC is at making adaptations of novels  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06v2v52

And then there none BBC 2015

And then there were none                                                                BBC 2015

I always liked Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot because they weren’t hard boiled cops or jaded investigators trying to solve a murder. Instead they were unusual (an older Belgian and a much older English lady) and as such slightly humorous as people underestimated their abilities, which were exceptional. I hadn’t read ‘And then there were none’ before, it has had different names over the years (some more insulting than others). There is no central detective character like Marple or Poirot, instead there is a range of ten people on an island, each wondering who the murderer is. In the story the reader (or viewer) will have to decide which of these people are likeable and trustworthy and those who are clearly not. This was Christie’s great talent for getting readers to make assumptions about the characters (which are often proved to be false) and putting in red herrings to keep us off the scent. One thing I hadn’t previously known was her education in pharmacy which helped her attend to patients in the First World War and also gave her knowledge of poisons for her stories. Perhaps it is this specialised knowledge that gives her stories an extra veneer of reality and makes the endings more satisfactory for the reader.

If you want to find out more about wonderful Agatha this website is a good resource: http://www.agathachristie.com/

 

Albert Camus: November is Absurd

Albert Camus

Albert Camus

November has sneaked up and closed the curtains. The clocks have changed, but the evenings are still drawing in. Halloween has been and gone and bonfire night too and that’s just in the first week. All a bit spooky and dark and fitting then that 7 November is the birth date of Albert Camus (1913-1960) philosopher, journalist and writer of L’Étranger, often translated as The Outsider (1942). He also wrote other novels, short stories and non-fiction. He was famous for his theories on the Absurdist School of Thought and stated that ‘individuals should embrace the absurd condition of human existence while also defiantly continuing to explore and search for meaning’. More on Camus here: http://www.iep.utm.edu/camus/

The Outsider (Penguin)

The Outsider (Penguin)

As most writers will know, November is also National Novel Writing Month or ‘NaNoWrimo’. I always forget the acronym, which isn’t a good start if you’re hoping to actually do the challenge, and it is a challenge! The idea is that you write around 50,000 words in the month of November, which translates as writing quite a lot of words every day (almost a couple of thousand). Or doing what I would do, which would be prevaricating for the first three weeks and then trying to catch up. But that’s just me, LOTS of people love nanowrimo and say that even if the final result is a massive editing challenge, it makes you focus on just writing, which is what every writer should try to do. So good luck to all you nanowrimoers (made up word?). If anyone wants to know more look at the official website: http://nanowrimo.org/

nanowrimo

nanowrimo

Recognising that I will not be doing the Nanowrimo challenge this year, I am focussing instead on sending out short stories, finding fun little competitions like ‘Less than 100 words’ which is online at http://www.lessthan100words.com/, doing research for my novel and connecting with local writers, like those at the wonderful Norwich Writers’ Circle https://norwichwriters.wordpress.com/

I also received today the latest issue of ‘Short fiction journal’ http://www.shortfictionjournal.co.uk/ This is a high quality publication in association with Plymouth University. Full of short stories, translations and art and published every autumn. Submissions are open now until December 31st, details on their website.

Short Fiction 9

Short Fiction 9

If you have also decided not to do nanowrimo but still want to get that novel written you could turn any  month into an ‘every day is a writing day’ month (absurdist acronym still to be decided) and there are website communities available that fit this need. Personally, I am quite tempted by this one: http://750words.com/ It’s online and private, so not open to the general public, but it still allows you to track how well you’re doing with your word counts.