Agatha Christie Learns to Write

Agatha Christie’s passion for writing mystery novels began in her native Torquay with the town's connection to the navy and eventually World War I. Tor Bay first hosted the Royal Navy in 1910. With the navy’s infamous battleship Dreadnaught and the Channel Fleet stationed near by in Penzance, Tor Bay’s youthful and relaxing atmosphere became a popular resting place for sailors on shore leave. To promote a strong relationship with the town, the Navy invented the ‘rum challenge.’ If a swimmer were strong enough to swim to the nearest military vessel, which was usually anchored more than a mile away, the swimmer would be greeted with a warm welcome and a bottle of rum. This type of festive and cordial relationship between the town and the Navy continued on until World War I. 

When war broke out in 1914, the Torquay Town Hall was almost instantaneously turned into a hospital by the government. With its temperate climate, relaxing atmosphere, and coastal location, Tor Bay was an ideal setting for a military hospital. With an exponentially increasing demand for beds, houses, churches, and the YMCA followed suit and housed patients as well.
Boat on the WaterBefore the war, Agatha Christie was certified as a First Aid and Home Nurse. She admitted in her autobiography to having been “unintelligent” and “ignorant” about most everything beyond basic bandaging. With her husband at war and without children, Christie volunteered fulltime at the Town Hall.  The understaffed and under-trained female nursing population of Tor Bay, were almost instantaneously given an overwhelmingly stressful task, caring for hundreds of wounded veterans. Always occupied, Christie worked in the makeshift hospital for a year, seeing and tending to the particulars of wounds she would later write about. 
Sick with a severe case of the flu, Agatha Christie missed several weeks at the hospital. When she recovered, she returned to work finding the Dispensary newly opened. Curious and eager to avoid the constant stress of understaffed nursing, Christie passed the exams required to transfer. It was here that she “first conceived the idea of writing a detective story.” Being surrounded by various poisons and having ample time, Christie began to plan out her first book. Writing in her free time, Christie’s story quickly progressed. She finished the first draft alone on holiday in the dark and dreary Moorland Hotel on Dartmoor. It took several slight altercations, but in 1920 she published The Mysterious Affair at Style. It failed. Critics agree it is not her best work: for it lacks the ardor and style she tends to employ in her other novels. It was not until 1926 that Christie received accolades with the publishing of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. After this successful mystery, nearly everything she ever wrote was a best seller.


© Copyright Christopher Chanock 2007



“It was while I was working in the dispensary that I first conceived the idea of writing a detective story”