Thu
May 7 2015 4:00pm

It’s Always a Mother’s Day with Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie's mother , Clarissa Miller, in Torquay before WWI, and Agatha Christie, nee Miller (1890-1976) as a child, date unknown.When it comes to the Queen of Crime, my mother is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge. Thanks to her, I’ve become increasingly familiar with the more personal side of Agatha Christie’s life as it relates to her family relationships—especially with her mother. It certainly puts a different perspective on why many of her books have dominant female characters and tend to emphasize the importance of home and family.

“You sound just like Agatha Christie!” My eighty-five year old mother declared.

“Hardly,” I grumbled as I stared in panic at a blank computer screen.

“Do you know your plot?”

“Of course I do,” I said. “It’s in my head.”

“That’s what I meant, darling.” Mum said. “Agatha gave a radio interview with the BBC in 1955 and was asked about her writing method. She said the real work is done in thinking out the development of the story and worrying about it until it comes right. Then, you just have to find the time to write it.”           

“I know.”

 “And to think she wrote 66 mystery novels, 153 short stories and six romance novels.”

“Even if I wrote five books a year until I died,” I said. “I’ll never be so prolific.”

“Of course you will!” Mum said firmly. “But only you can do it. No one can do it for you. Just roll up your sleeves and get on with it! That’s what Agatha’s mother would have said.”

Agatha this and Agatha that! Yet I know my mother was only trying to be helpful.

“They were unusually close, you know—just like you and me.”

Mum can reel off little known anecdotes from Agatha’s childhood but her favorite topic is theorizing on what really happened in 1926 when Agatha disappeared without trace for eleven days.

This is hardly surprising, given that Mum has been working as a docent at Greenway, Agatha Christie’s summer home in Devon, ever since it opened in 2005—although Mum’s volunteer work for the National Trust started well over 40 years ago.

I’ve often wondered what Agatha would make of Malice Domestic. Now in its twenty-seventh year, this fan-based conference held in Bethesda, MD, salutes the traditional mystery genre. It is there that the highly coveted “Agatha Awards” are given for writers who write books best typified by the works of Agatha Christie.

Agatha was born in 1890 into a life of privilege with servants and a nanny. Her mother, Clarissa Boehmer, had married a wealthy New Yorker. They lived in a large house in the fashionable town of Torquay, Devon or on the English Riveria as it was referred to in Victorian times and is still called today.

Agatha’s father did not need to work, but like many gentlemen of his class, spent much of his time at his club playing cards. Although Agatha had a brother and a sister (ten and eleven years older respectively), they were away at school. In 1901, when Agatha was just 11, her father died of pneumonia. Clarissa was forced to rent out their house in Torquay and moved with Agatha to the continent where living costs were cheaper, so exposing Agatha to a variety of different cultures. The pair became unusually close.

What emerges from this profile of Agatha’s early years is her respect for women, especially older women. Miss Jane Marple, the most well-known of all her female characters and one who solves difficult crimes because of her shrewd intelligence, is said to be inspired by her grandmother, Mary Ann West. Miss Marple represented the most vivid symbol of Agatha’s view of the world. She takes a lively interest in the world around her but believes that everyone was capable of anything—including murder.

By contrast—apart from the Belgian detective, Hecule Poirot—her male characters tend to be vague. Agatha’s female characters range from the twittering spinster to the domineering, strong-willed manipulator. She’s particularly sensitive to mother-daughter relationships and in all her work there is never a single instance of a murder involving the killing of a mother by a daughter or vice-versa—yet sons murder mothers and fathers, and fathers murder sons.

Security, and the importance of having a home, is also reflected in Agatha’s work. Many of the crimes committed in her novels are in the home. In fact, Agatha’s adult life and fictional life focused on the acquisition and restoration of houses. At one point, she owned eight!

Greenway always had a special place in her heart. In Agatha Christie: An Autobiography, Agatha tells of the many times she saw the gracious Georgian house peeping out through the trees from the deck of a boat making the cruise up the River Dart. To own it had been a childhood dream.

And so we come full circle. When I first started writing the Honeychurch Hall Mysteries featuring a mother-daughter amateur sleuth it never occurred to me that I was really writing about the relationship between my mother and myself.

Set in Devon, the books chronicle a widow who has recklessly bought a dilapidated old carriage house on a crumbling country estate. Needless to say murder and mayhem ensue.

The irony is that shortly after my mother read the first book in the series she thought it was about my own daughter and me! True, Mum does not write steamy romance novels in secret, but the moment my father passed away, she impulsively purchased a highly impractical wing of a country house and she definitely has a gin and tonic at 6 PM every night!

Hmm … given my mother’s intense curiosity and penchant for gossip, maybe Miss Marple has a rival.

Family paintings from El blog de Agatha Christie.

Thanks for visiting! This sweepstakes has ended.

Comment below to enter for a chance to win a hardcover copy of Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall by Hannah Dennison!

To enter, make sure you're a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your user name appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your user name appears in black above your comment, You’re In!

Honeychurch Hall Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2015/04/mothers-day-with-agatha-christie-and-a-sweepstakes-hannah-dennison beginning at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) May 7, 2015. Sweepstakes ends 4:59 p.m. ET May 14, 2015. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.


Hannah Dennison began her writing career as a trainee reporter for a small West Country newspaper in Devon, England. Hannah is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, the Willamette Writers, British Crime Writers' Association and Toastmasters International. In addition to writing the Honeychurch Hall mystery series, she is also the author of the Vicky Hill mysteries.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
55 comments
1. DebP
I would love to read this. Please wish me luck!
BettyJo English
4. betenglish
It is wonderful to have your mother's encouragement for your writing. I miss that I have lived twice as long without my mother than I had her unconditional love and support.
Marilyn Watson
5. Marilyn432
I love Agatha Christie too. A friend of mine and I wanted to come see Greenway but were told it was only open at certain times. How fascinating that your Mother gets to volunteer there as Historical Houses/Museums are my background. I agree the Women in Agatha Christie are strong characters and Miss Marple is one of my very favorites. English mysteries are my books of choice...
Marilyn ewatvess@yahoo.com
6. Miss Dainty
I would love to win a copy of Deadly Desire at Honeychurch Hall. I always loved reading Agaha Christie's mysteries.. I think it is great to live close to where Agatha Christi & her mother lived & to treasure her home by preserving it for other fans to see.
Rebecca Brothers
7. RileyC
Great article! I've been rediscovering Christie and loving every minute. And Honeychurch Hall sounds like a fun.
Ruth Bowler
8. rabowler
Just ten minutes ago I finished reading Hannah Dennison's Murder at Honeychurch Hall. Enjoyed it immensely. Kat's mother Iris is a hoot! Hope I win, can't wait to read her next book. My love of mysteries began when I was in high school when I read my first Agatha Christie book. I managed to read every single one of her mysteries by the time I started college.
10. Musette
I would love to read this! I am a huge Christie fan, having read everything (and am now in the throes of watching the Poirot series on Netflix) - I never really thought of the mother-daughter bond (and lack of matricide therein) - will have to revisit!

Thanks for the opportunity!
12. Katreader
I love learning more about Agatha Christie. I actually happen to know what happened during her disappearance-she was helping the Doctor investigate several deaths due to a vespiform! (The Unicorn and the Wasp) ;)

My mom (and dad) instilled in me a love of reading that continues to this day.
Kathleen Kaminski
13. Katreader
I love learning more about Agatha Christie. I actually happen to know
what happened during her disappearance-she was helping the Doctor
investigate several deaths due to a vespiform! (The Unicorn and the
Wasp) ;)

My mom (and dad) instilled in me a love of reading that continues to this day.
14. Lindar
Interesting article!
Janice Santillo
16. themommazie
Agatha Christie is my favorite mystery writer from when I was a very young reader. This was a very interesting article. Hope I win.
Michelle St. James
17. michstjame
I can't believe I haven't read this series because A) it sounds delightful, and B) anyone who has a mother who can wax as poetic about Agatha Christie as mine does, is someone whose books I definitely want to read. Thanks so much for the chance.
stephanie bondlow
19. lilsnobelle
I grew up with a grandmother that read Agatha Christie novels and it was delightful to read as a young teenager.
lynette thompson
20. LYNETTE52
I'm a big fan, this book sounds great.
Barbara Miller
23. barbara0101
I would love to read this book. Fingers crossed.
L Peters
25. leepcat
crime/mystery writers have such interesting lives! thanks for the information and chance to win
Cindy Hipolito
26. mysuccess
Yippie, a giveaway. Thanks to you all.
Irene Menge
27. Goldenmane
My mother introduced me to Agatha Christie mysteries nearly 50 years ago. I have loved them ever since and frequently return to my Agatha Christie collection when I tire of modern offerings. Thank you for bringing to my attention the Hannah Dennison mysteries. I would love to win a book in this series.
SC Perkins
28. scperkinswriter
Great article! I'm a big fan of Agatha Christie (aren't we all!) and I just loved Hannah's first Honeychurch Hall mystery, so I'm looking forward to the second!
Sally Winkleblech
30. sallyw
I have always liked Agatha Christie's books, nice to read this article about her background. I look forward to start reading the Honeychurch Halls books now.
Clydia DeFreese
32. clydia
I'd love to win this book. Last week I saw an old movie about Agatha Christie's "supposed life." Now I'm really curious. It was completely different from my previous readings. But then movies are usually different, aren't that.
Cairine Stade
33. FaerySong
I'd love to win this mystery. I really enjoy the books with Miss Marple in them.
Kris Kaminski
34. kjkski
give me a good old style mystery anyday!
Lori Provenzano
35. Mountainesque
The mysteries in and around Agatha Christie's life are endlessly fascinating, and undoubtedly a great influence on all her admirers. Love to read this to discover whether they've become manifest here!
Anna Mills
36. Anna Mills
If I wrote about my daughter and me, no one - I mean NO ONE - would believe it, a clear indication that I should probably do it!
Andra Dalton
37. andra77
I've always been a sucker for a good old-fashioned mystery & a lover of all things Agatha Christie so you can definitely count me in on all the fun!!! Thanks for the opportunity to win & good luck to all who enter!!!:)
JuneUlkoski Ulkoski
41. juneulkoski
Thank you for the interesting angle of looking at Christie's novels and stories from a mother/daughter perspective. I'll keep it in mind when I reread them.
Michelle Arredondo
43. dalaimomma
Have always loved Agatha Christie novels/stories....of course I'd want to read this book by Hannah Dennison....I'm interested in reading her books starting with this one...this is the first that I have heard of Hannah Dennison but I am certain it won't be my last...I am intrigued...very intrigued....
Michael Carter
44. rubydog
Yes, please enter me in this sweepstakes.
Thanks!
Yvonne Bressani
45. glraines
Very interesting article.

Thank you for the opportunity!
Lisa Garrett
46. lag123
I love the wedding picture of Clarissa.
Margaret Eveleigh
47. torontoviewer
I've read every one of Agatha Christies mysteries: they were my 'entry drug' into the world of female mystery authors. I wonder what Ngaio Marsh, another prolific mystery writer, relationship was with her mother?
Sue Farrell
48. Suekey12
I read Agatha Christie as a teenager---and devoured her books. Now I'd love to win one of yours. Thanks for the contest.
L
51. LStirling
Fun to read about your mother's thoughts on your writing and comparing your style to Agatha Christie. I've always been an Agatha fan, so I'm sure I'll be a fan of yours, as well!
Kayce Crews
52. yadgirl
I'd love to read this and pass it on to a good friend.
Diane Furst
53. dbooks22
I love seeing all the people here who share my love of mysteries and Agatha Christie. I am surrounded at work by people who read literary fiction and nonfiction and see mysteries as a waste of time. This is refreshing. Would love to read your series.
vicki wurgler
54. bison61
very interesting I did not know much info about Agatha Christie
Post a comment