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Cheltenham Literature Festival 2014: Agatha Christie and The Monogram Murders

Set against the backdrop of a wet and windy Cheltenham, Sophie Hannah – author of the eagerly anticipated new Poirot novel The Monogram Murders – was joined onstage at Cheltenham Literature Festival 2014 by Agatha Christie’s grandson Matthew Pritchard, writer John Curran, and author and lecturer Henry Sutton.

When asked why Sophie Hannah was considered the perfect writer to resurrect the much-loved detective Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s grandson Matthew Pritchard had just one answer: “To my mind it was absolutely essential that whoever wrote the book had to be a fan”.

Luckily, crime writer Sophie Hannah is not just a fan but a life-long devotee, first reading all of Agatha Christie’s novels back-to-back when she was just twelve years old. “[Christie’s] top priority was the reader having a really brilliant time,” says Sophie, “she never wrote up or down to her audience”. So how true to the famous author did Sophie stay in The Monogram Murders? “I didn’t want to pretend I was writing a new Agatha Christie novel – that’s impossible – but the Poirot I wrote about was 100% her Poirot,” Sophie says. “The book is bold, audacious and very high concept and the solution, once revealed, is so daring and so hard to pull off that the reader will think oh my god, what a twist.”

Initially trepidatious at the idea of a continuation novel, John Curran, author of Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks and curator of her estate, was immediately put at ease when he read The Monogram Murders: “She didn’t take any liberties with Poirot. She didn’t resurrect him, she moved him back to the 1920s and to the Golden Age.” Surprisingly, Sophie also revealed to the audience how she wrote the entire plan for the novel in one week at Greenway in Devon, once Christie’s holiday home.

A final highlight of the talk was listening to Matthew Pritchard talk touchingly of his grandmother. “The fascination of knowing her really well was with all the other things she was interested in” he says, citing photography and music as some of the author’s other passions. “She was a very talented and loving person. All the things in her books, her belief in evil and justice, were very evident in her life”.

The Monogram Murders, published by Harper Collins, is out now.

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