Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Not So Secret Notebooks

Vicki Doudera here. I'm recommending a book today, and I'll tell you right off the bat, it's not mine.

It's not even a mystery, although the subject matter deals with the fertile mind of one of the greatest crime fiction authors of all time -- a writer who penned sixty-six novels, twenty plays, six romance novels, and more than one hundred and fifty short stories.

I'm talking about the grand dame of them all -- Agatha Christie.

Vicki as fan: I get to meet Author John Curran.
The book is the first in a two-volume study called Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making.  In it, author John Curran delves into seventy-three handwritten volumes of Christie's notebooks discovered at her family  home of Greenway in 2004. The notebooks themselves -- exercise books that were sometimes castoffs from her daughter -- are crammed with lists, notes and drafts, all in Christie's spidery handwriting, revealing the way the mind of an amazing writer worked.

Christie's journals were not written in any kind of order, nor did she use them chronologically. There are gaps of sometimes decades between scribblings. A given notebook might have an outline of scenes, or a page containing a single idea: Mrs Van Schuyler -- boring American woman elderly snobbish, (a pithy character sketch from Death on the Nile) or questions such as: Who is killed? Philip poisoned -- doesn't wake up or Tina stabbed -- she walks from Kirsty to Mickey -- collapses (part of Christie's plotting for Ordeal by Innocence.)

The notebooks show Christie outlining different novels, working out the nitty-gritty details over which we mystery writers obsess, sometimes indicating multiple murderers (and scads of possible victims) for any given story line. I loved the way this meticulous writer tweaked and re-tweaked certain ideas, as well as the way she captured on paper seemingly mundane scraps of details.

I love it because I do the same thing.

Man walking down road, big bulky coat with eyepatch. I jotted that little gem down the other day as I was cruising south on Route 1. Why "B" will go along with Russian girl -- marry her? I'm starting to plot the fifth Darby Farr, so questions like this are peppering my notebooks.  Like Christie, I'm both thrifty and eclectic, using my kids' discarded school notebooks (spiral-bounds with "Social Studies" written in red Sharpie on the front) tiny scratch pads that fit in a purse; and more authentic looking hardcover jounals that declare "Ideas" in fancy script. Like her, I've learned that the surest way to keep a creative thought is to grab it and put it down on paper, where it can be poked, prodded and expanded upon -- in Christie's case, for years.

If  you 'd like a glimpse into one of crime fiction's greatest minds, I recommend reading Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks by John Curran. Meeting the author and talking "Agatha" with him after the banquet was a personal highlight of the Malice Domestic conference, a moment in which I switched into besotted fan mode. I'm pleased to report that he is a delightful man and I can't wait to read his second book.

What about you? Do you keep notebooks full of your story ideas? Would any of us be inspired by your scribbles in years to come?


Robin Allen said...

The book sounds fabulous. I don't do anything as formal as a notebook for my notes. Mostly it's scraps of paper that eventually get lost or thrown away.

I wonder what Agatha's notes would look like in this age of technology. There wouldn't be anything to "discover" years later.

Shannon Baker said...

I wish I wrote more ideas down. But yes, I do have little snippets on various papers. The trick is collecting them all and remembering to look at them. Thanks for the book tip.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Thanks for the insights, Vicki. I've been meaning to pick up that book--sounds fascinating!