Occasionally I feature a guest on my blog – this time I am delighted to welcome fellow Chindi author, Isabella Muir. Isabella has written a series of Agatha Christie type crime stories set in 1960s Eastbourne – she is a great fan of Agatha as you will be able to tell from her post.
INVESTIGATING THE PAST
In this lead up to Agatha Christie’s birthday on 15th September I have been reflecting on how she might have researched her novels. Her writing spanned more than fifty years and during that time society saw many changes. Agatha’s life also took many twists and turns.
Agatha married twice, travelled extensively and wherever she went she kept a notebook, jotting down snippets that might one day find their way into one of her stories. John Curran’s book, Agatha Christie’s Complete Secret Notebooks, makes for a fascinating read. The Christie family gave him access to 73 of Agatha’s notebooks, which Curran delved into to explore how her storylines came together, as well as gaining insights into her approach to character development. He also found some story endings that never made it into her books!
Agatha had first-hand experience as a pharmacy assistant – experience she used when choosing poison as the means of murder (speaking of her fiction, of course!). She also joined her second husband, Max, on several archaeological digs in the Middle East. This all made for excellent first-hand research that once again made its way into her stories, such as Murder on the Orient Express (1934), Murder in Mesopotamia (1935), Death on the Nile (1937) and Appointment with Death (1937).
In writing my Sussex Crime series I too have tapped into my own experiences, fleshing it out with more in-depth research of the era. Agatha set most of her books in the era during which they were written. But when I chose to write my Sussex Crime series I decided to set it in the 1960s and I knew how important it would be to research as thoroughly as possible.
I was a child in the sixties, so didn’t take part in much of what made it such an iconic era – the music, the fashion, the permissive attitudes. But, I had older siblings who could and did! My sister was lucky enough to see The Rolling Stones on Hastings Pier in 1964 and my brother rode his scooter alongside other Mods, up and down Hastings, Eastbourne and Brighton seafronts – proudly wearing his fishtail-shaped Parka, with the fur-lined hood.
Snippets of memories and shared anecdotes provided a perfect starting place, but then I needed to read all I could to delve deeper into the events of the period, being careful to separate out the myth from the reality.
I was lucky enough (through my local library) to get hold of a copy of an excellent book, now out of print – The Neophiliacs, by Christopher Booker. Wanting to find out more about Mr Booker, I did what many do nowadays in these times of instant ‘information’ – I Googled him. I discovered that back in 1961 he became the founder and one of the early editors of the satirical magazine, Private Eye. He was the first jazz critic for the Sunday Telegraph and Daily Telegraph and continued as a weekly columnist for the Sunday Telegraph right up to 2019, when he finally retired at the age of 81. I was sad to learn that Mr Booker died on 3 July this year.
The subtitle of his book ‘A study of revolution in English life in the fifties and sixties’ reflects his thoughts that a ‘psychic epidemic’ took place, with ‘victims of this disease restlessly craving novelty and sensation’.
Perhaps it was this ‘restless craving’ that led to the rise in consumerism that took place during the sixties. Supermarkets opened across the country, revolutionising the way people shopped for food. Labour-saving devices, such as vacuum cleaners, food processors, even fridges, changed the way that many women spent their time. A television now took pride of place in more than three-quarters of British homes, although many people rented their set, rather than buying.
Further research meant that I discovered more great books about the sixties – How was it for you? by Virginia Nicholson; 1965 – The year modern Britain was born by Chris Bray and In the family way by Jane Robinson – all helped to expand my understanding of that decade so that the fictional world of Janie Juke, the young librarian and amateur sleuth who sets out to solve the crimes and mysteries in my Sussex Crime series, would be as accurate as possible.
It is Agatha’s wonderful detective, Hercule Poirot, that Janie Juke sets out to emulate as she develops her sleuthing talent in the sleepy seaside town of Tamarisk Bay.
This blog post is one of a series, which leads up to Agatha Christie’s birthday and national #cozymysteryday on 15th September, as I enjoy the opportunity to be Chindi’s ‘Author of the week’. Chindi is a network of authors, both traditionally and independently published, based largely in West Sussex. Between us we publish a wide range of books, from historical and crime fiction to romance and children’s books, from humour to self-help.
To find out more about the great Queen of Crime and to help celebrate Agatha Christie’s birthday, then look out for the other blog posts in the series:
Agatha Christie and Isabella Muir https://isabellamuir.com/blog/
Agatha Christie – a child of her time https://lexirees.co.uk/mums-book-blast/
Agatha Christie and the sixties https://patriciamosbornewriter.wordpress.com/daily-blog/
What is a cosy mystery? https://www.carol-thomas.co.uk/blog/
The good, the bad and the ugly https://samefacedifferentplace.wordpress.com/
Agatha Christie and Janie Juke https://isabellamuir.com/blog/
And as a present to you, on Agatha’s behalf, I am pleased to announce that the first book in my Sussex Crime series – The Tapestry Bag – will be available on Kindle for just £0.99p for one week only – grab it while you can!
Isabella Muir is the author of the Sussex Crime Mystery series:
BOOK 1: THE TAPESTRY BAG
BOOK 2: LOST PROPERTY
BOOK 3: THE INVISIBLE CASE
Her latest novel is: THE FORGOTTEN CHILDREN
She can be contacted via:
Or on Goodreads