Thirty years ago I found myself on the Orient Express heading for Devon to mark the 100th birthday of Agatha Christie.
Now the world of crime fiction is marking the 100th year since the publication of her first novel.
Written during the First World War in 1916, The Mysterious Affair at Styles was originally published in America in 1920 and in the UK in 1921.
It was the book that launched the career of one Hercule Poirot who would go on to appear in 22 novels, two plays and more than 50 short stories.
He became immensely popular but it is safe to say that Agatha grew tired of the little Belgian and tried to kill him off. Her publishers won that argument and he is still big business today as her great grandson James Pritchard, CEO and chairman of Agatha Christie Ltd explains.
James said: “There is always a lot going on with Agatha Christie and this year we will mark the 100th year of the publication of The Mysterious Affairs at Styles and of course, await the new film ‘Death on The Nile’ which will hopefully be coming to cinemas in a safe and socially distanced manner.
“The actual anniversary that we face in 2020 is the America publication date. It is a strange anomaly that a very ‘British’ writer actually started her published life in the States. There is no plan to reprint a special edition however. The current book is advertised as being 100 years old. But we are not doing a lot more in that direction.”
DO YOU FEEL OVERSHADOWED BY HER? HAVING SOMEONE LIKE AGATHA CHRISTIE IN THE FAMILY MUST BE A LITTLE DAUNTING?
“All I can tell you is that creativity missed most of the other members of the family by many a mile,” he laughs.
“It’s not overshadowing, to me she was my great grandmother. OK, I think it is right to say that no-one compares to her in the world of crime fiction but it is a great joy to have her in the background and be related to her.
“It is now my job to control her works and it’s a great privilege to do so. I do get a little worried about the decisions I make and wonder if my grandmother or great grandmother would have approved!”
DO YOU STILL CONTROL THE NAME AND COPYRIGHT?
“We do crack down on the misuse. The lawyer in the office is constantly getting emails form me, something I may have spotted but there isn’t a massive problem.
“Our output of film, publishing and stage is keeping the market pretty busy, there really isn’t a need for people to come forward and do their own thing.”
DO WE KNOW WERE THE ORIGINAL MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES MANUSCRIPT IS?
“I don’t know. We have a number of her originals but with The Mysterious Affair... I don’t know. If it is not in our archives, it’s nowhere! The problem is that in the beginning who would have thought of keeping and archiving the script. People didn’t realise that it was worth archiving until it was too late.”
SO LOOKING FORWARD TO 2021, ANY MAJOR PLANS?
“Hopefully, we will pick up with the filming of more shows for the BBC and will be back on stage with Witness for The Prosecution in London. The books are still selling really well, in fact there has been a massive increase in sales during lockdown.”
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER OF AGATHA?
“I was five or six when she passed away. We used to stay with her at Greenway and have wonderful memories of those days.
“However, I do remember the day she died. I came back from school and found my father sat very quietly, which was unusual for him.
“He explained what had happened and then the six o’clock news was full of my great grandmother.”