From MI5 investigations to going missing for 11 days, Agatha Christie led a life that was every bit as interesting as her novels.
1. She started writing mystery novels after her older sister told her she couldn’t—the plots were just too complicated and she didn’t think Agatha was capable of weaving them together.
2. Christie liked to dream up plot ideas while soaking in her large Victorian bath, munching on apples. She stopped the habit when she became dissatisfied with the baths available to her. “Nowadays they don’t build baths like that. I’ve rather given up the practice.”
3. In reference to how she was able to churn out so many books, Christie once called herself “a sausage machine, a perfect sausage machine.” For many years she was on a tight schedule of two books per year, including one that was always released right before the holiday season, which was marketed as “Christie for Christmas.”
4. Christie helped resolve a crime after her death. A toddler was dying from some sort of wasting disease that no one could seem to identify, until one of her nurses recalled The Pale Horse, the Christie novel she was reading. The Christie character was a victim of thallic poisoning and suffered from many of the same symptoms as the dying tot. In a last-ditch effort to figure out what was going on, the nurse had the patient’s thallium levels tested. They were more than 10 times the normal amount. After treatment, the girl made a full recovery. It was later determined that pesticides containing the deadly substance were regularly used around her home.
5. In a plot twist worthy of her own novels, Christie disappeared for 11 days in 1926.
Her mother had recently died, and on top of that, her husband was cheating on her quite blatantly. On December 3, 1926, Agatha kissed her daughter goodnight, then promptly got in her car and left. Her abandoned vehicle was found a few miles away, but the writer herself had completely vanished. Lakes were dredged, 15,000 volunteers combed the area, and Archie Christie’s phone was tapped. Those who thought Archie was guilty of foul play were surprised when Agatha was located safe and sound a week and a half later, holed up at a hotel and spa in Harrogate, England—but the mystery wasn’t over. She never said why she disappeared, leading to wild speculation. Did she have amnesia resulting from a car crash? Was it a publicity stunt for her next book? Was she trying to frame her philandering husband for murder? We’ll never know, because Agatha never said. It’s worth noting, though, that Christie checked into the hotel under the surname “Neele”—the last name of her husband’s lover.
6. Before things went south for Agatha and Archie, they were some of the first British people to ever try surfing.
Image courtesy of Museum of British Surfing/SWNS.com
Already a bodyboarder, Agatha was excited to try the new sport when she and Archie visited Hawaii in 1922. “I learned to become expert, or at any rate expert from the European point of view—the moment of complete triumph on the day that I kept my balance and came right into shore standing upright on my board!” she wrote in her autobiography. She was also delighted by her purchase of ''a wonderful, skimpy emerald green wool bathing dress, which was the joy of my life, and in which I thought I looked remarkably well!''
A researcher from the Museum of British Surfing says that only one other Brit seems to have taken up surfing before the Christies: Prince Edward.
7. In addition to 66 novels and 15 short story collections, Christie also wrote six romance novels under the name Mary Westmacott. It wasn’t her only pseudonym: she originally submitted her work to editors under the name “Monosyllaba.”
8. One of Christie’s books hit a little too close to the truth during WWII—so close, in fact, that MI5 launched an investigation. In her novel N or M, a character named Major Bletchley claims he knows critical British wartime secrets. It just so happened that Christie’s good friend Dilly Knox was a well-known codebreaker at Bletchley Park, so insiders at MI5 wondered if the wartime secrets known by the fictional character were actually real details that Knox had spilled. Knox denied that he had told Christie anything, but MI5 wasn’t convinced. If the author didn’t know anything, why had she given that specific character a name based on that location? Knox agreed to ask her, and it seems MI5 was satisfied by her answer: “Bletchley? My dear, I was stuck there on my way by train from Oxford to London and took revenge by giving the name to one of my least lovable characters."
9. Christie’s famous Belgian detective character Hercule Poirot is the only fictional character to receive an obituary in the New York Times.
10. Another of her famous characters, spinster detective Miss Marple, was based, in part, on her step-grandmother and “some of my step-grandmother's Ealing cronies—old ladies whom I have met in so many villages where I have gone to stay as a girl." You can hear snippets of her talking about it here—some of the only known recordings of Christie’s voice. And she sounds pretty much exactly what you’d expect her to sound like.
11. Christie's second husband, Max Mallowan, was a renowned British archaeologist. Christie loved to accompany him on digs and serve as his assistant, cleaning objects, matching shards of pottery, and helping to catalog items. She once remarked to Mallowan that she wished she had taken up archaeology as a girl so she would have been more knowledgeable on the subject as an adult. He responded, "Don't you realize that at this moment you know more about prehistoric pottery than any woman in England?"