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KARIN SLAUGHTER blogs about Agatha Christie 9/2

[ Edited ]

Thursday's guest on Day Two of our Agatha Christie birthday celebration is best selling author KARIN SLAUGHTER. Karin was recently featured at a crime festival in Harrogate, famous to Christie-philes as the place Agatha was found after her mysterious disappearance.

 

Karin's blog was written in response to a question she was asked at the Festival. I hope you all enjoy reading as much as I did! Karin will stop in a couple of times during the day on Thursday to respond to your questions and comments.

 

Please give KARIN SLAUGHTER a big Barnes & Noble welcome!

 

 

 

 

Karin Slaughter is the number one international bestseller of several novels, including the Grant County series. A long-time resident of Atlanta, she splits her time between the kitchen and the living room. 

Author photo by Alison Rosa.

 

Karin's website: http://www.karinslaughter.com/

 

Biography

Karin Slaughter is the New York Times bestselling author of eight novels, including Beyond Reach and A Faint Cold Fear, which was named an International Book of the Month Club selection; she contributed to and edited Like a Charm. She is a native of Georgia, where she currently lives.

 

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Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival

 

2010 Festival Events

The 2010 Festival took place 22-25 July.

 

Special Guest: Karin Slaughter

 

Slaughter: the perfect name for a perfect crime author. Known for her relentless plotting and searing forensic detail, Karin Slaughter’s writing never backs away from the realities of violent crime. Making a rare UK live appearance, the American author will be talking to Mark Billingham about her work, the benefits and pitfalls of global success and her new novel Broken, published in July.

 

 

Mark Billingham interviews Special Guest: Karin Slaughter © Sam Atkins

 

Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival

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Re: KARIN SLAUGHTER blogs about Agatha Christie 9/2

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Re: KARIN SLAUGHTER blogs about Agatha Christie 9/2

What Would Agatha Do?

 

by Karin Slaughter

A few months ago during an interview at the Harrogate Crime Festival, a reporter asked me what sort of writer I thought Agatha Christie would be if she were writing today. Would she write cozies? Would her books feature knitting cats? Or would she write unflinchingly about violent crime?

This was an entirely appropriate area of conversation, considering we were sitting in the very hotel where Christie ran away from the world back in 1926; however, I spotted this as the sort of leading question reporters come up with that helps turn the interview toward the area they're hoping to write about-in this case, the reporter (a perfectly lovely man) wanted to talk about women writing frankly, and sometimes graphically, about crime. 

 

This is a big thing in Britain of late: why do women like me, Mo Hayder, Denise Mina, Lisa Gardner, Patricia Cornwell, etc, want to write about horrible things?  I mean, seriously, what's wrong with us gals? We look nice and respectable. Some of us are even mothers.  Why on earth would we want to take on disturbing topics such as child abuse, sexual assault and (gulp!) murder?

My first response to this sort of question is usually to throw down some statistics, my favorite being that around 80% of all books are purchased by women, and the bestseller lists are top-loaded with gritty crime novels, ergo, women must be interested in reading about crime, so why on earth is anyone surprised that they want to write about it?  

Then, I politely point out that men have been writing graphically about crime for some time now. Stieg Larsson is merely the latest example of this. The Millennium Trilogy is bursting with rapes, torture and brutality, yet I doubt very seriously had Mr. Larsson lived that his interviews would have concentrated on the violence in his work.  

 

Likewise, Jeffrey Deaver, James Patterson, Mark Billingham, Lee Child and any number of men who write graphically-and brilliantly, in some cases-about crime. Yet, “Why do you write so candidly about violence?” is not really a typical question fellas get asked.  

But, what does this have to do with Agatha Christie, a woman who only killed bad people and always made sure that the good people were left to drink tea and play croquet?  Christie was, above all, a commercial writer. By some counts, she is the most translated fiction author behind the Bible. Her books have sold-literally-billions of copies.  Her short stories have been adapted into myriad movies. Her play, the Mousetrap, had the longest initial run of any West End play. 

 

She was not what we would laud today as a “literary” author because she was much too successful.  She wrote for everyday people the sorts of stories that everyday people wanted to read.  She talked about class and society, and offered a glimpse of what life was like for a very small percentage of people who were to the manner born.

Along the way, Christie also created a formula for crime fiction that many modern authors still follow.  Her slow, tense plotting and psychological twists are common tools in the thriller writer's bag of tricks. Her comments on society were precursors to the sweeping social statements made by later authors such as James Lee Burke, Tana French and Laura Lippman. She didn't just write about crime. She put the crimes in the context of her times-post World War I Britain coming to terms with its crumbling empire and the battle of the upper and middle classes to hold onto their positions.

It's hard for many of us to know what life was really like in the 1920s, when The Mysterious Affair at Styles was first published. By British law, it wasn't until a woman turned thirty years old (Christie's age when Styles was released) that she was granted the right to vote, and then only if she owned property. 

 

Less than thirty years had passed since Parliament had deigned to allow women to leave their husbands (something Christie availed herself of twice). Just over a decade had passed since Emily Wilding Davison threw herself in front of King George V's horse, martyring herself for women's rights.  In short, some--but not much--had changed since the early 1800s, when the title page of Sense and Sensibility listed the book as written not by Jane Austen but “By a Lady.”

Despite Christie's later detractors-Raymond Chandler was particularly derisive of what he called the lack of “realism” in her work (Chandler being the man who brought us “realistic” hard dames and the men who died and/or killed for them)-Christie was a consummate storyteller.  The reason her books were so widely translated, and continue to be top sellers, is because she knew how to tell a good story. 

 

I feel that a contemporary Christie would absolutely adapt to modern standards and keep doing more of the same. And, let's face it, crime readers today are much more savvy about how detectives work and the evil that lurks in the hearts of criminals. While we certainly like our cozies, when we want to read a gripping, powerful thriller, we want to see the characters' souls laid bare, the crime scene described with the sort of detail that goes well with some fava beans and nice Chianti.

I would also like to submit that Christie was ground-breaking in her stories. She certainly wasn't a feminist, but then again, women of that era would be just as equipped to converse on gender inequality as a caveman would be equipped to talk about the internet. 

 

Yet, a woman of Christie's time writing about something as distasteful as murder-a man's genre-must have been shocking. Though she was certainly in many ways a product of her time as well as class (her anti-Semitism, for instance, was legion) Christie's work made it possible for women like me and Tess Gerritsen and Kathy Reichs and all the others to sit down and tell the stories that we want to tell.

So, back to the Harrogate Question, or, WWAD?  

I think the old gal would've given the people what they wanted, and-God bless them-the people want crime.

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ReadingPatti
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Re: KARIN SLAUGHTER blogs about Agatha Christie 9/2

becke_davis, I have Undone. I started and I love it so far. It is very intriguing and I want to know more about this story. I will be reading more of her books.

 

She is really good.

 

I now have another Japser Fforde book. I have THe Eyre Affair. I like these books.

 

Talk to you soon. Getting allegery shot and getting my hair done. Cut and color time again. It is time.

 

ReadingPatti

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becke_davis
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Re: KARIN SLAUGHTER blogs about Agatha Christie 9/2

Patti - I think you'll enjoy Karin's book (I listed the rest below). She will be checking in with us later. Have fun getting your hair done - hope your allergies aren't too bad today!

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[ Edited ]

Thanks for reading, ReadingPatti. I'm glad you like Undone!

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maxcat
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Re: KARIN SLAUGHTER blogs about Agatha Christie 9/2

Becke, very interesting interview on how Agatha would write crime novels today. I think she would be modern and up to date but I think she would still write who-dunnits in the same manner. Gee, I could never figure out who the murderer was until a pattern sort of developed and you could almost figure out the murderer. Karin Slaughter did a suberb interview there and it was an interesting concept. Thanks.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep - Robert Frost
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Re: KARIN SLAUGHTER blogs about Agatha Christie 9/2

Karin - I'm green with envy at your recent visit to Harrogate. I've only been there a few times (more years ago than I want to think about), and I always liked it a lot.

 

When did you read your first Agatha Christie novel - do you remember what it was?

 

Did the conference inspire speculation about Agatha's "lost days" before she turned up in a Harrogate spa?

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Re: KARIN SLAUGHTER blogs about Agatha Christie 9/2

[ Edited ]

maxcat wrote:

Becke, very interesting interview on how Agatha would write crime novels today. I think she would be modern and up to date but I think she would still write who-dunnits in the same manner. Gee, I could never figure out who the murderer was until a pattern sort of developed and you could almost figure out the murderer. Karin Slaughter did a suberb interview there and it was an interesting concept. Thanks.

Max - I've been browsing through my many books about Agatha Christie and one of them mentions her failed attempts to become a smoker and drinker. She might not have been a party animal - far from it - but she still stayed abreast of the times. Modern readers sometimes scoff at her books for being quaint, but in books like THE PALE HORSE and THIRD GIRL she did make an effort to appeal to a younger generation of readers.
I think she would be true to herself, but I have no doubt she'd experiment with new ideas. Look at THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS and AND THEN THERE WERE NONE - she was never afraid of breaking new ground.

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Hi Karin, and welcome!  Your essay is very interesting. 

 

I think that perhaps what would have the most impact on what kinds of novels Agatha Christie would write today is whether the questioner is assuming she had the same kind of background that she actually did and was still alive and writing today, or whether she were born many decades later, and had been brought up in a time more contemporary to today.  If the latter, she might have been totally different and unrecognizable as the Agatha Christie that we know and love, so I would rather think that it would be if she were the same as we are familiar with, and somehow immortal and continuing to write, decade after decade.  Although I consider her genteel, I also don't think that she really ever shied away from things such as violence and sex in her writing.  She just didn't have graphic descriptions of such; they were more in the background and accepted as being there.  As Becke said, in the sixties and on, she definitely updated her characters as more modern.  The girls in The Third Girl are Mods, and updated versions of the 'Bright Young Things' that she wrote about decades earlier, like Bundle Brent and Tuppence Beresford (my two favorite Christie characters!).  I don't think she actually was much affected by a gender gap - many of her girls are curious, bold, independent, and intrepid.  Also, she did not just write cozies; she also wrote novels of spies and international intrigue (although with a bit of a cozy flavor, still!).  So I think that she would write novels that are right in line with today's mysteries.

 

Thanks for joining us, Karin!

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Thanks MaxCat!

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dulcinea3 wrote:

Hi Karin, and welcome!  Your essay is very interesting. 

 

I think that perhaps what would have the most impact on what kinds of novels Agatha Christie would write today is whether the questioner is assuming she had the same kind of background that she actually did and was still alive and writing today, or whether she were born many decades later, and had been brought up in a time more contemporary to today.  If the latter, she might have been totally different and unrecognizable as the Agatha Christie that we know and love, so I would rather think that it would be if she were the same as we are familiar with, and somehow immortal and continuing to write, decade after decade.  Although I consider her genteel, I also don't think that she really ever shied away from things such as violence and sex in her writing.  She just didn't have graphic descriptions of such; they were more in the background and accepted as being there.  As Becke said, in the sixties and on, she definitely updated her characters as more modern.  The girls in The Third Girl are Mods, and updated versions of the 'Bright Young Things' that she wrote about decades earlier, like Bundle Brent and Tuppence Beresford (my two favorite Christie characters!).  I don't think she actually was much affected by a gender gap - many of her girls are curious, bold, independent, and intrepid.  Also, she did not just write cozies; she also wrote novels of spies and international intrigue (although with a bit of a cozy flavor, still!).  So I think that she would write novels that are right in line with today's mysteries.

 

Thanks for joining us, Karin!


 

 

This is very well put, Dulcinea! I'm reading DESTINATION: UNKNOWN right now - for some reason, I tend to confuse it with THEY CAME TO BAGHDAD. Probably because they are both spy stories set in exotic locales. 

 

Hilary Craven, the heroine of the story, is very believable and she's also a very strong personality. I wasn't sure I was in the mood for a spy story, but I was caught by some of Christie's comments (speaking through Hilary) early in the book. I'll post about this later on the Agatha Christie Books thread. It's made me wonder how autobiographical her comments are.

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Re: KARIN SLAUGHTER blogs about Agatha Christie 9/2


becke_davis wrote:

 

This is very well put, Dulcinea! I'm reading DESTINATION: UNKNOWN right now - for some reason, I tend to confuse it with THEY CAME TO BAGHDAD. Probably because they are both spy stories set in exotic locales. 

 

Hilary Craven, the heroine of the story, is very believable and she's also a very strong personality. I wasn't sure I was in the mood for a spy story, but I was caught by some of Christie's comments (speaking through Hilary) early in the book. I'll post about this later on the Agatha Christie Books thread. It's made me wonder how autobiographical her comments are.


Thanks, Becke!  I think that, when I'm deciding on a Christie to reread, I would tend to go for the more traditional cozies, because that's what I prefer, so I'm glad that you mentioned Destination Unknown as one of the books that would be mentioned in the blogs, because I would probably not normally pick it.  That is probably also why I remember so little of it, and can reread it and be surprised!  Hilary is an interesting character.  I think she is surprising herself, too; I doubt she ever saw herself as adventurous and courageous in her past life.

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Karin wrote:

 

"This is a big thing in Britain of late: why do women like me, Mo Hayder, Denise Mina, Lisa Gardner, Patricia Cornwell, etc, want to write about horrible things?  I mean, seriously, what's wrong with us gals? We look nice and respectable. Some of us are even mothers.  Why on earth would we want to take on disturbing topics such as child abuse, sexual assault and (gulp!) murder?

My first response to this sort of question is usually to throw down some statistics, my favorite being that around 80% of all books are purchased by women, and the bestseller lists are top-loaded with gritty crime novels, ergo, women must be interested in reading about crime, so why on earth is anyone surprised that they want to write about it?"  

 

 

Karin and Dulcinea (I know others are following this, but I'll address you two):

 

I think Agatha Christie was a strong believer in women's rights. I'm halfway through DESTINATION: UNKNOWN, which I hadn't read in awhile, and the heroine is dealing with depression, divorce, the loss of a child and is even considering suicide. Those topics are as relevant today as they ever were. She speaks through her characters, and is derisive of one gentleman who "has little use for women," and another who talks of wives as if they were little more than brainless possessions. 

 

When Hilary Craven, the heroine, describes her ex-husband, it was easy to picture Archibald Christie in that role. Hilary also is driven to escape all the grief in her life, and, again, I wondered if Agatha Christie was speaking through her character.

 

As to women writing gritty crime novels, I'm amazed that anyone in Britain would be surprised by that. Where did Minette Waters, Ruth Rendell, Celia Fremlin, Val McDermid and so many others come from? The mind boggles!

 

 

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Ha - I'm exactly half-way through, too (to the page)!  I was going to go to bed last night after reading for a while, when I noticed that one more chapter would get me there, so I stayed up a bit later than I should have.  Although I have to admit to also skipping forward a few pages in the next chapter, to see a bit about Hilary's first encounter with Betterton (we've been waiting for that for a while, now).

 

I wouldn't be surprised if the troubles with Archie triggered Christie to become more assertive and to think more of women's rights.  It's been a while since I read her biography, but I seem to recall that she was pretty much the meek, traditional wife to Archie at first, but certainly her marriage to Max Mallowan was much more on equal terms. Or even a bit in the opposite direction!  He was younger than she, wasn't he, and a bit awestruck at first?

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Thanks for your thoughts, Dulcinea3. Yes, I think Christie was very much of her time, and ahead of her time. I'd like to think if she were writing today, we'd have more in common than not. I'd probably be friends with her and we'd discuss politics and international intrigue! I'm learning a lot about her books from reading this discussion, and think I may have an idea what book I'm going to read on the plane to Germany when I go there tomorrow... Thanks for having me here!

Karin

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Karin-Slaughter wrote:

Thanks for your thoughts, Dulcinea3. Yes, I think Christie was very much of her time, and ahead of her time. I'd like to think if she were writing today, we'd have more in common than not. I'd probably be friends with her and we'd discuss politics and international intrigue! I'm learning a lot about her books from reading this discussion, and think I may have an idea what book I'm going to read on the plane to Germany when I go there tomorrow... Thanks for having me here!

Karin


 

 

Have a wonderful trip, Karin - thank you so much for visiting with us today!

 

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Dear Becke:

Thanks for sharing something about this on Face book. I was just going down my lists and found it and had to come over. I found the whole thing so intriguing.

Love Karin Slaughter's shared thoughts on Dame Agatha.

:smileyhappy:

I personally believe Agatha was a woman who was ahead of her time, a ground breaker and a person who set the pace rather than followed it. I do think she left timeless information about writing towards perfection.

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GothicroseAP wrote:

Dear Becke:

Thanks for sharing something about this on Face book. I was just going down my lists and found it and had to come over. I found the whole thing so intriguing.

Love Karin Slaughter's shared thoughts on Dame Agatha.

:smileyhappy:

I personally believe Agatha was a woman who was ahead of her time, a ground breaker and a person who set the pace rather than followed it. I do think she left timeless information about writing towards perfection.



Hi Gothic Rose - thanks so much for joining us! (I recognize you, of course!). I do think people who don't know much about Agatha Christie tend to brush her off as old-fashioned, but when it comes to writing strong female characters, I think she started doing that long before it became popular.