“Sherlock or Hercule?” If you love reading crime fiction, chances are you have already been asked this question at least once in your lifetime. I am one of those voracious readers who loves a detective novel on a cold winter afternoon.
The dampness of winters, the warmth of a blanket, a steamy cup of coffee, and an Agatha Christie novel – this is my idea of perfect!
I am a crazy fan of Agatha Christie. I have read almost all her crime novels, and every time I go to the Oxford Bookstore, the aisle piled with her books pulls me like a magnet. So, it’s obvious that I will choose Poirot over Holmes any day (No offense to Sherlock lovers). I remember reading her first-ever book, and it blew my mind completely. But what made it an even more of an outstanding experience was the story behind her first detective novel. I still cannot imagine that something like that happened and gave me my very favorite book character – Hercule Poirot.
Apparently, towards the end of her life, Agatha Christie wrote an autobiography in which she gave a brief account of how she came up with her first detective novel, The Mysterious Affairs at Styles. For those who don’t know, Agatha Christie came from a family with a literary background. Her mother, Clara, and her sister Madge were writers. Before writing her first crime novel, Agatha Christie had already written a book, some short stories, and sketches. So, it was not like Christie had no previous literary experience. But something happened that inspired her to write a detective novel. It was a challenge by her sister that pushed her to write her first-ever Hercule Poirot book. Her sister Madge challenged her by saying, “I bet you can’t write a good detective story.” These were her sister’s exact words, as per Agatha Christie’s autobiography. Although Christie obviously had the talent to write a detective book, but it was her sister’s abrupt challenge that stimulated her enough to start writing the novel right away.
Agatha Christie started writing The Mysterious affairs at Styles in 1916 (the story was set in 1917), but it took her four years for the book to be published. The major reason for this delay was the numerous rejections she had to face from publishers. More than a couple of publishers rejected her manuscript by citing bizarre reasons. The rejections started affecting Christie; that’s when finally, in 1919, John Lane, the co-founder of The Bodley Head Ltd, invited Christie in London in order to talk to her about the publication of her book. It was a moment of delight for her, because finally, after so long, her conviction of getting the book published was about to turn into reality. Her book was accepted by John Lane to be published, but on one condition that she would have to rewrite the climax of the book, which she agreed to do as per the publisher’s demands."Did you know? It was a challenge by her sister that pushed her to write her first-ever Hercule Poirot book." WOW! Tweet this!
But success didn’t come that easy for Agatha Christie. The Contract that John Lane offered to her on the 1st of January, 1920, had a mistake in it, but unfortunately, the author signed it without being aware of the mistake. Apparently, the name of the book was erroneously printed as The Mysterious Affairs ‘of’ Styles, whereas she had named her book The Mysterious Affairs ‘at’ Styles. It was quite a big mistake which couldn’t be ignored. It was pretty clear that the publisher John Lane was taking advantage of the author’s lack of maturity in such matters. In her autobiography, Christie writes about her mental state back then when she signed the contract without studying the agreement thoroughly. She was so delighted and stocked with the idea of her book finally being published combined with her fear of failing at establishing a successful writing career, that she ended up signing a six-book contract. The contract was humiliating and exploitative. She was to get a royalty of 10 percent only after 2000 copies were sold in the UK. And to add to the misery, she was also obliged to write five more books under the publication’s supervision.
But the readers loved Hercule Poirot. They loved this jolly little detective with a mischievous personality. Critiques loved Agatha Christie’s telling of crime and her unique detective Poirot. Prestigious newspapers appreciated her book and wrote words of extreme encouragement. It was a long journey for Christie, but her conviction made her stand strong against all absurdities. Nevertheless, one challenge cited by her sister made her into one of the most iconic authors of her time, and she continues to amaze generations. So, the next time you face challenges, remember this woman who fought against all the odds to get her book published, and to give us our very favorite, Hercule Poirot.