Agatha Christie at Home by Hilary Macaskill

One of the things that struck me when I was reading Agatha Christie’s An Autobiography was her love of houses. It stemmed from her childhood dolls’ house. She enjoyed buying all the things to put in it – not just furniture, but all the household implements such as brushes and dustpans, and food, cutlery and glasses. She also liked playing at moving house, using a cardboard box as a furniture van.

Writing about her life with her husband, Max Mallowan she wrote:

We were always choosing sites for houses. This was mainly owing to me, houses having always been my passion – there was indeed a moment in my life, not long before the outbreak of the second war, when I was the proud owner of eight houses. (page 440 of An Autobiography)

Agatha Christie at HomeSo when I saw that Hilary Macaskill had written this book – Agatha Christie at Home – I knew immediately that I wanted to read it. It’s a beautiful book, with many photographs – more than 100 colour photos – illustrating Agatha’s life and homes. I took my time reading it, first of all looking at the photos, before reading the text.

There is a Foreword by Mathew Prichard, her grandson, explaining the love his grandmother had for Devon, in particular for Torquay, where she was born and Greenway, the house that had a special place in her heart.  He expressed his hope that this book will ‘transmit some of the magic that my whole family felt when they were there.’  And this book does indeed do that!

There is an overview of Agatha Christie’s life followed by descriptions of the houses and countryside she loved – from Ashfield in Torquay her first home, where she was born and brought up to Greenway, a Georgian mansion above the River Dart, now owned by the National Trust.

There are no spoilers in this book but Hilary Macaskill has identified the settings Agatha Christie used in her books and how some of the place names have been altered, but are still recognizable from her descriptions. I hadn’t realised that the names of some of her characters are taken from the names of streets or villages, such as Luscombe Road in Paignton which she adopted for Colonel Luscombe in At Bertram’s Hotel.

It’s a useful book too if you want to find out more about visiting Devon with tourist information and website addresses. The final chapter is about Agatha Christie’s legacy and her continuing popularity both nationally and internationally. As well as being able to visit Greenway, which has been restored to the way it was when Agatha lived there, there are events to celebrate her life and works, such as the annual Agatha Christie week that takes place in Torquay each September around her birthday.

I haven’t been to Greenway, although I have stayed in Torquay, but that was before Greenway was open to the public. It is enormously popular – on the first day it was opened over 400 visitors came to see the house. But Agatha Christie was a very private person and I can’t imagine what she would have thought about that. After all she had refused permission for an ‘authorized life’ to be written, stating:

‘I write books to be sold and I hope people will enjoy them but I think people should be interested in books and not their authors.’ (page 129)

Knowing that I think I’d feel I was invading her privacy if I did go to Greenway!

A Non-Fiction Adventure

NF Adventure

I don’t read as much non-fiction as fiction. I find it needs more concentration and so often pick up and read fiction. But I do like non-fiction and own quite a lot of it. I’ve been trying to read more and one way that helps me to focus on reading it is the This Isn’t Fiction Reading Challenge run by Birgit at The Book Garden.

Now, thanks to Bev at My Reader’s BlockI’ve found another wayA Non-Fiction Adventure.  Like The Classics Club this one runs for five years. It’s hosted by Michelle of The True Book Addict

The Sign- up is here.

These are the guidelines:

  • Choose 50+ non-fiction books; the number is up to you. Choose 50, 75, 100, 200. It’s entirely your choice.
  • Books must be non-fiction–biography, autobiography, history, memoir, cooking, travel, science, etc.
  • List them at your blog (or on Goodreads or another social media site, if you do not have a blog)
  • Choose your completion goal date five years in the future…

My five years run from 14 August 2013 to 14 August 2018.

My Goal: 50 books, initially choosing from these 60 books: all books I own; there are more, but I think this is enough to start with. I like the idea that your list can change, so this is just a starting point and no doubt I’ll find other books I want to read during the next five years!

Autobiographies/Diaries/Letters

  1. Jane Austen’s Letters
  2. Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years 1969-1979 – Michael Palin
  3. Between the Woods and the Water: On Foot to Constantinople: From The Middle Danube to the Iron Gates – Patrick Leigh Fermor
  4. Great Meadow: an Evocation – Dirk Bogarde
  5. Slipstream: a Memoir – Elizabeth Jane Howard
  6. Trollope: an Autobiography
  7. A Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela
  8. The Snow Geese – William Fiennes
  9. A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep – Rumer Godden
  10. Corvus: a Life with Birds – Esther Woolfson
  11. The Mitfords: Letters between Six Sisters – Charlotte Mosley  editor
  12. Chronicle of Youth – Vera Brittain

Biographies

  1. Being Shelley – Anne Wroe
  2. The Wolf That Never Sleeps – Marguerite de Beaumont (Baden-Powell)
  3. The Innocent Man – John Gresham
  4. Mary Queen of Scots – Alison Weir
  5. Victorian People – Asa Briggs
  6. D H Lawrence: the Life of an Outsider – John Worthen
  7. Billy – Pamela Stephenson
  8. The Life of Samuel Johnson – James Boswell
  9. William Barclay – Clive Rawlins
  10. Thomas Hardy: the Time-torn Man – Claire Tomalin
  11. Howard Hughes – Peter Harry Brown
  12. Marilyn Monroe – Barbara Leeming
  13. Shakespeare: the biography – Peter Ackroyd
  14. Charles Dickens: a Life – Claire Tomalin
  15. Dickens – Peter Ackroyd
  16. The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: The tragedy of Mary, Katherine and Lady Jane Grey – Leanda de Lisle
  17. Virginia Woolf: a Writer’s Life – Gordon Lyndall
  18. Mary Queen of Scots – Antonia Fraser
  19. L S Lowry: a Life – Shelley Rhode
  20. Agatha Christie at Home – Hilary Macaskill

History

  1. Great Escape Stories – Eric Williams
  2. Big Chief Elizabeth – Giles Milton
  3. Band of Brothers – Stephen E Ambrose
  4. How the Girl Guides Won the War – Jane Hampton
  5. The Making of Modern Britain – Andrew Marr
  6. After Elizabeth: the death of Elizabeth and the coming of King James – Leanda de Lisle
  7. Stalingrad – Anthony Beevor
  8. The English – Jeremy Paxman
  9. Shakespeare’s Restless World: An Unexpected History in 20 Objects – Dr N Mcgregor
  10. Wartime Britain – Juliet Gardiner
  11. 1599:  A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare – James Shapiro
  12. The Games We Played – Susan Kelleher
  13. Glencoe – John Prebble
  14. On the Trail of the Assassins – Jim Garrison

Philosophy/ Religion

  1. Sovereignty of Good – Iris Murdoch
  2. Think: a compelling introduction to philosophy – Simon Blackburn
  3. Meditations – Aurelius
  4. C S Lewis: the Man and His God – Richard Harries
  5. Islam: a very short introduction – Malise Ruthven

Reading/ Writing

  1. Virginia Woolf on Women and Writing
  2. A Reading Diary – Alberto Manguel
  3. The Companion to the History of the Book – Simon Eliot & Jonathan Rose editors
  4. How Fiction Works by James Wood
  5. You English Words – John Moore

Miscellaneous

  1. Weeds – Richard Mabey
  2. Gorillas in the Mist – Dian Fossey
  3. Rivers – Griff Rhys Jones
  4. The Penguin Book of Lies – Philip Kerr editor