I have just read Agatha Christie’s autobiography. Two things surprised me. One was that she couldn’t remember anything about writing Peril at End House – one of her most ingenious and highly regarded novels. The other was that she was favourably inclined towards the death penalty. I wouldn’t have guessed that from her novels.
She doesn’t say a great deal about writing, but what she does say is worth reading, and I loved this: ‘There is always, of course, that terrible three weeks , or a month, which you have to get through when you are trying to get started on a book . . . . You sit in a room, biting pencils, looking at a typewriter, walking about, or casting yourself down on a sofa, feeling you want to cry your head off . . . you say “It’s awful, Max, do you know I have quite forgotten how to write – I simply can’t do it. I shall never write another book.”” She did, of course: there are 84 in all!
The autobiography is a fascinating social document. Even between the wars, any middle-class household had one servant at the very least as well as a maid servant to look after the children. It is clear that Agatha scarcely expected to look after her own daughter at all – and why would she when she herself had been brought up by a nannie?
I enjoyed the autobiography very much. There was something endearing about the writer’s personality – modest, shy to the point of self-effacement. Even this global best-seller had her first novel turned down several times. It took two years for John Lane to make her an offer and even then he took advantage of her inexperience with a contract that tied her into a poor deal for five books. Some things never change . . .