Tag Archives: Agatha Christie

The Secret of Getting Ahead Is Getting Started

Mark Twain? Agatha Christie? Sally Berger? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: To overcome procrastination one must initiate a task. Although this is straightforward advice it is an arcane approach according to the following adage:

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

The famed humorist Mark Twain and the popular mystery writer Agatha Christie have both received credit for his formula. Yet, I have not found any solid citations. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In 1923 a partial match occurred within a newspaper advertisement for a bank in Coshocton, Ohio which was encouraging readers to open an account and start saving money. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Half the game of getting ahead is getting started. Join today, and have a lump sum, plus a pleased feeling, early next December.

The next week the same passage appeared in an advertisement for a bank in Massillon, Ohio. 2

In 1968 an exact match appeared in the compilation “20,000 Quips and Quotes” edited by Evan Esar. No attribution was specified: 3

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

QI believes that the statement evolved over time and the earliest instances were anonymous. The attributions to Mark Twain and Agatha Christie occurred late and were not substantive.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1923 December 9, The Coshocton Tribune, (Advertisement for Commercial National Bank of Coshocton, Ohio), Quote Page 3, Column 6, Coshocton, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1923 December 15, The Evening Independent, (Advertisement for The First Savings & Loan Company in Massillon, Ohio), Quote Page 4, Column 4, Massillon, Ohio. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. 1968, 20,000 Quips and Quotes by Evan Esar, Topic: Beginning, Quote Page 71, Doubleday, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)

I Got My Plots in the Tub, the Old-Fashioned, Rim Kind — Just Sitting There Thinking, Undisturbed, and Lining the Rim with Apple Cores

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. Continue reading


  1. 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)
  2. 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)

To Err Is Human, But a Human Error Is Nothing To What a Computer Can Do If It Tries

Agatha Christie? Bill Vaughan? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Previously you examined a humorous statement from columnist Bill Vaughan about the electronic beasts that control so much of our lives:

To err is human, to really foul things up requires a computer.

I think that the famous mystery writer Agatha Christie said something very similar. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1969 Agatha Christie published “Hallowe’en Party” featuring her masterful Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. The character Mrs. Oliver tells Poirot that he is acting like a computer by programming himself with data about the crime that occurred. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“It is certainly an idea you have there,” said Poirot, with some interest. “Yes, yes, I play the part of the computer. One feeds in the information—”

“And supposing you come up with all the wrong answers?” said Mrs. Oliver.

“That would be impossible,” said Hercule Poirot. “Computers do not do that sort of thing.”

“They’re not supposed to.” said Mrs. Oliver, “but you’d be surprised at the things that happen sometimes. My last electric light bill, for instance. I know there’s a proverb which says, ‘To err is human’ but a human error is nothing to what a computer can do if it tries.”

The quip by Bill Vaughan is discussed here. It appeared in April 1969, 2 and Christie’s book was published the same year, but writing a book is often a lengthy endeavor, and QI does not know precisely when Christie composed her computer remark. Thus, the chronology is uncertain.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1970 (Copyright 1969), Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie, Quote Page 35, Pocket Books, New York. (First published in 1969; this is 1970 paperback edition) (Verified with scans)
  2. 1969 April 2, Free Lance-Star, Senator Soaper [Free standing quote], Page 1, Column 2, Fredericksburg, Virginia. (Google News archive)

An Archaeologist Is the Best Husband a Woman Can Have

Agatha Christie? Alec de Montmorency? Sam Farver? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

agatha08Dear Quote Investigator: Agatha Christie remains one of the most popular writers in history. She constructed engagingly clever and innovative mysteries as a novelist and playwright. Would you please research a humorous remark that has often been attributed to her? She was married to an archaeologist from 1930 until her death in 1976, and the jest nicely conformed to this biographical detail. Here were two versions:

  1. An archaeologist is the best husband a woman can have. The older she gets the more interested he is in her.
  2. One of the joys of being married to an archaeologist is that the older you get the more interest he takes in you.

What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in multiple U.S. newspapers in January 1952. The story was reprinted from the “Gothenburg Trade and Shipping Journal” of Gothenburg, Sweden. Agatha Christie was visiting London from Baghdad where she lived with her husband who was pursuing archaeological excavations. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1 2

At a party, a curiosity bitten guest inquired if it were right for such an imaginative person to be married to a student of antiquities.

“An archeologist,” Agatha Christie said with conviction, “is the best husband any woman can get. Just consider: The older she gets, the more he is interested in her.”

Interestingly, a biographical work about Christie published in 1967 asserted that the famous author denied making the quip, and she believed the episode was invented by some pundit. A detailed citation is given further below.

QI has found this topic confusing. The additional selected citations in chronological order below provide a snapshot of current research.

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  1. 1952 January 10, The Milwaukee Journal, Lighter Side of the News From the World Press, Quote Page 24, Column 5, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Google News Archive)
  2. 1952 January 14, The Decatur Herald, Archeologist Husband, Quote Page 8, Column 7, Decatur, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)

Starting To Write a Book: There Is No Agony Like It

Agatha Christie? Apocryphal?

agatha11Dear Quote Investigator: The acclaimed mystery writer Agatha Christie wrote more than sixty novels and sold an enormous number of copies. Yet, I was told that somewhere she had claimed that writing was agony for her. Is this possible? Would you please examine this question?

Quote Investigator: In 1977 “Agatha Christie: An Autobiography” was published posthumously. Christie described the difficulties she experienced when she was beginning to compose a new mystery story. Bold face has been added to excerpts: 1

There is always, of course, that terrible three weeks, or a month which you have to get through when you are trying to get started on a book. There is no agony like it. You sit in a room, biting pencils, looking at a typewriter, walking about, or casting yourself down on a sofa, feeling you want to cry your head off.

Christie revealed that her feelings of inadequacy and fear recurred despite her long record of success:

You forget every time what you felt before when it comes again: such misery and despair, such inability to do anything that will be in the least creative. And yet it seems that this particular phase of misery has got to be lived through.

Below are one more citation and a conclusion.

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  1. 1977, Agatha Christie: An Autobiography by Agatha Christie, Part 9: Life with Max, Quote Page 458, Dodd, Mead, & Company, New York. (Verified with scans)