Agatha Christie? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: The brilliant mystery writer Agatha Christie is one of the most popular authors in history. Apparently, she once stated that the plots for her books were constructed and refined while she was pursuing quotidian activities such as washing dishes, bathing, eating apples, and walking. Would you please help me to find citations?
Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in a column by Laurena Pringle in “The Detroit Free Press” in March 1954. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
Writer Agatha Christie suggests that the best time to plan a book is while you’re washing the dishes.
The evidence above was weak because it was not a direct quotation. Stronger direct evidence appeared in an interview with Christie printed in “The New York Times” in 1966: 2
How do you concoct whodunits that have rolled up world sales of 300-million copies? Ask Agatha Christie.
“Walking or just washing up, a tedious process,” replied the Queen of Mystery. “Years ago I got my plots in the tub, the old-fashioned, rim kind — just sitting there thinking, undisturbed, and lining the rim with apple cores.”
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In December 1954 the Associated Press news service published a piece that described Christie’s writing process although the journalist did not employ direct quotations: 3
. . . she undoubtedly will sit down again in her bath, munch apples feverishly, and come up with another plot. Then she’ll work out in her mind more fully while washing dishes. When she puts it on paper, a secretary will correct the spelling.
In March 1955 a newspaper in Indiana, Pennsylvania printed the following: 4
The editors of The American Peoples Encyclopedia today announced their selection of the “most piquant and quotable quotes” of the past several months. These will appear in the Encyclopedia’s Yearbook for 1955, soon to be published…
Agatha Christie: “The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”
In June 1955 the London correspondent of an Australian newspaper published an article about Christie titled “She Plans Cosy Murders” containing this passage: 5
The plots are usually worked out in the bath, “an antiquated affair with a wide mahogany ledge, convenient for apple cores.”
Miss Christie also finds the sink a source of inspiration, and it was while washing up that she thought out Spider’s Web, a play starring Margaret Lockwood, one of three Christie “hits” running concurrently in London last year.
In 1957 popular columnist Walter Winchell relayed this comment: 6
Arthur Hornblow, producer of “Witness for the Prosecution,” reports that author Agatha Christie writes her hit plays sitting in a bathtub eating apples.
In 1962 “The Detroit Free Press” printed this filler item: 7
The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.
In 1966 “The New York Times” published a profile of Agatha Christie that included the quotation about writing given at the beginning of this article.
In 1974 the Sunday newspaper supplement “Parade Magazine” printed another direct quotation from Christie about writing: 8
“I’m a regular sausage factory,” she says. “I can write anywhere, thank goodness. Plots have never been a difficulty for me. Years ago, I got some of my plots just sitting in the bathtub, undisturbed, and lining the rim of the tub with apple cores. I’ve gotten others walking, or washing up the dishes. Usually I spend three or four months on a book, but I wrote one in six weeks. If you can write fairly quickly, the result is often more spontaneous.”
In conclusion, Agatha Christie did describe performing all four activities mentioned in the inquiry while creating her many novels: bathing, eating apples, washing dishes, and walking. The first two were often combined.
Image Notes: Picture of Agatha Christie plaque at Torre Abbey via Wikimedia Commons. Author: Flanker: derived from Violetriga. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Picture of apples from TBIT at Pixabay. Picture of hands washing dishes from Rewrite27 at Pixabay.
(Great thanks to mystery fan K whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)
- 1954 March 7, Detroit Free Press, Have You Heard: Day Campers Will Learn To Ride Rails by Laurena Pringle, Quote Page B11, Column 1, Detroit, Michigan. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1966 October 27, New York Times, Quiet Murders Suit Miss Christie: Visiting Writer Still Prefers to Keep Crime in Family by Howard Thompson, Quote Page 57, Column 1, New York. (ProQuest) ↩
- 1954 December 20, The Bee, Agatha Christie Has 3 Stage Hits Running (Associated Press), Quote Page 4, Column 1, Danville, Virginia. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1955 March 31, The Indiana Gazette, Public Quotable Quotes, Quote Page 13, Column 7 and 8, Indiana, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1955 June 24, The Age, She Plans Cosy Murders by P. Y. Kitchener in London, Quote Page 15, Column 7, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1957 December 11, Courier-Post, Walter Winchell On Broadway, Quote Page 26, Column 4, Camden, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1962 February 10, The Detroit Free Press, Talking Point (Filler item), Quote Page 22, Column 4, Detroit, Michigan. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1974 December 8, The Bakersfield Californian, Section: Parade Magazine, Agatha Christie at 84: Still Getting Away With Murder by Robert G. Deindorfer, Start Page 9, Quote Page 12, Column 2, Bakersfield, California. (Newspapers_com) ↩