The Early Years
Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born on 15 September 1890 in Torquay, Devon, South West England into a comfortably well off middle class family. What made her upbringing unusual, even for its time, was that she was home schooled largely by her father, an American. Her mother, Clara, who was an excellent storyteller, did not want her to learn to read until she was eight but Agatha, bored and as the only child at home (she was a much loved “afterthought” with two older siblings) taught herself to read by the age of five.
Poirot is Born
It was during the First World War that Agatha turned to writing detective stories. Her debut novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles took some time to finish and even longer to find a publisher. She started writing partly in response to a bet from her sister Madge that she couldn’t write a good detective story and partly to relieve the monotony of the dispensing work which she was now doing. (When the Hospital opened a dispensary, she accepted an offer to work there and completed the examination of the Society of Apothecaries.) She first worked out her plot and then “found” her characters on a tram in Torquay. She finished the manuscript during her two week holiday which she spent at the Moorland Hotel at Haytor on Dartmoor. Her new found expertise in poisons was also put to good use. The murderer’s use of poison was so well described that when the book was eventually published Agatha received an unprecedented honour for a writer of fiction - a review in the Pharmaceutical Journal.
A Difficult Start
Once returned from the Grand Tour, the family were reunited and settled in a house they named Styles in the suburbs outside London. It was a difficult time for Agatha – her mother had died and she was often alone clearing out the family home in Torquay and struggling to write the next novel for Collins. Archie and Agatha’s relationship, strained by the sadness in her life, broke down when Archie fell in love with a fellow golfer and friend of the family, Nancy Neale. Archie was a keen golfer; Agatha not.
A New Start
One of Agatha’s lifelong ambitions had been to travel on the Orient Express and her first journey took place in the autumn of 1928. Persuaded by a chance dinner party conversation, Agatha set off for Baghdad and from there travelled to the archaeological site at Ur where she became friends with the Woolleys who ran the dig. Invited back the following year she met the twenty-five year old archaeologist-in-training Max Mallowan who was to become her second husband. Asked by Katherine Woolley to show Agatha the sites, each found the other's company relaxing. Their relationship was forged by travel – Max could “rough it” and so could Agatha. Max proposed on the last evening of his visit to Agatha's family home of Ashfield, they were married on September 11, 1930 on the Isle of Skye and Agatha only slightly reduced her age in her new passport acquired for the honeymoon. Max returned to the Woolley’s dig – for the last time alone – and Agatha to London and writing. Thus began a productive and recurring annual writing and travelling routine for Agatha and Max: summers at Ashfield with Rosalind, Christmas with her sister’s family at Abney Hall, late autumn and spring on digs and the rest of the year in London and their country house in Wallingford, Oxfordshire.
The War Years
World War II saw Max get a wartime job in Cairo - using his languages to assist the war effort while Agatha remained in England, writing and also volunteering at the Dispensary at University College Hospital in London.
The Later Years
By 1945 and the return of Max with the end of the war, Agatha had realised the tax implications of writing so much. She became less prolific and now in her mid 50s enjoyed a slower pace of life; like the rest of the country the last years of the 40s were full of shortages – a long, chilly, depressing haul. Food rationing did not end until 1954.
BIO COURTESY AGATHA CHRISTIE OFFICIAL WEBSITE
SELECT WORKS BY AGATHA CHRISTIE
Black Coffee (1930)
Love From A Stranger (1936)
Appointment With Death (1938)
And Then There Were None (1939)
Murder On The Nile (1948)
The Mousetrap (1952)
The Hollow (1952)
Spider’s Web (1954)
Witness For The Prosecution (1954)
The Unexpected Guest (1958)
Go Back For Murder (1960)
Rule of Three (1963)
Fiddlers Three (1971)
Cards On The Table (1982)
A Murder Is Announced (1997)
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)
Peril at End House (1932)
Murder on the Orient Express (1934)
The ABC Murders (1935)
And Then There Were None (1939)
Five Little Pigs (1943)
Crooked House (1949)
A Murder is Announced (1950)
Endless Night (1967)
Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case (1975)
And Then There Were None (1945)
Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
Miss Marple’s First Outing (1961)
Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
Death on the Nile (1978)
Evil Under the Sun (1982)
IMAGES: THE CHRISTIE ARCHIVE TRUST