The Poisoned Martini ‘s first author interview continues. Click here to read Part One. Then read on for the second part of my interview with Len Lovallo, co-author of The Agatha Christie Companion.
The PM: What did you find to be the most fascinating, perhaps unexpected, detail(s) that you learned during the course of your research?
Len: It was how much Christie used real life events and characters in the plots of many of her mystery novel; and creating characters on people she observed or knew—even incorporating different traits from different people to create the person. Her character Mrs. Ariadne Oliver was a big surprise in that she was Christie’s alter ego. I thought that was a very unexpected since Christie was so private. She used Mrs. Oliver in several novels and Mrs. Oliver expressed many of Christie’s traits and views.
The PM: In your opinion, what was the most humorous or interesting viewpoint expressed by Ariadne Oliver as Christie’s alter ego?
Len: They both loved eating apples while thinking of plots for their novels.
The PM: Which entry or entries in the book are you most proud of?
Len: I am most proud of the entries for The Mysterious Affair at Styles. It was the first entry we wrote and that set the tone for the rest of the book and we thought that our formula was going to work. Also for Murder on the Orient Express which is so full of information, not only on Christie, but the Orient Express and the factual information of the plot; The Murder of Roger Ackroyd which made Christie famous; and The Murder at the Vicarage which was fun to write as it introduced Miss Marple in novel form. I loved doing that entry. I also enjoyed writing the 4.50 from Paddington entry since, as you can probably guess, it was the book that introduced me to Agatha Christie.
The PM: The copy I own happens to be the 1989 revised edition. Besides of course the film and television entries, what significant changes, if any, were made between the two editions?
Len: There were no significant changes; but there was lots of new information we were able to include in the revised edition thanks to the information that became available with the publication of Janet Morgan’s authorized biography of Christie. She had access to Christie’s private papers and documents when she was writing her biography; something we did not have. Mathew Prichard, Christie’s grandson, also made some changes to our revised manuscript and had some suggestions for us to use. What they were I do not remember; but I have the letter from our publisher indicating that John Dodd, of Dodd Mead, Agatha Christie’s American publisher had those changes. The revised edition was originally to be published by Dodd Mead; and that fell through for some reason and The Berkley Publishing group snapped up the book.
I want to add a little about Rosalind Hicks, Christie’s daughter. While we were working on the hardcover edition, we had no cooperation from the Christie Estate, in other words, Rosalind. At that time Janet Morgan, the official biographer of Christie was working on her book, which was published in 1985.
Before the Revised edition was published Dennis met Janet Morgan who was doing an interview about Christie somewhere. I cannot remember where; but Dennis was also invited to talk about Christie. I was out of town at that time. Janet Morgan had told Dennis she loved our book (the 1984 edition); when she read our manuscript that Rosalind had, Morgan said that the manuscript saved her lots of time researching and she was very thankful. She also told Dennis that it was her [Morgan] that convinced Rosalind not to block the publication of our book in 1984. She told her it was a well-researched and factual book.
I have Janet Morgan’s letter to us dated March 13, 1989, giving us permission to use a positive quote from her to use for our revised edition. And of all things to happen, we also received a quote from Rosalind Hicks which we decided to use on the inside cover of the book. Thank you, Janet Morgan!
Sorry for such a long winded story! I may have veered a little from your actual question.
The PM: Not at all. Had you consider including illustrations or photographs?
Len: We considered photographs; but our publisher said no. It would have been an added expense and extra work to get permissions to use them. As it was, we had to get written permissions for all the quotes we used from the Christie books and her Autobiography. When we quoted from the New York Times and London Times, there also was a fee we had to pay. This fee was fronted by our publisher which only added to the cost of publication. They wanted to make back our advance. We never discussed using illustrations.
The PM: In a new revised edition for today’s market, what would be the most significant changes you would make?
Len: The first change—and you had suggested this in your review of the book in April of this year—that the Stage, Film and TV section should be a separate book. There are so many more adaptations since 1989, especially television productions. That section should include stills and more info on the stars portraying the major characters; production notes, box office if available, DVD releases, etc.
The second change and more importantly would be expanding all the entries. There is a treasure trove of information out there via Google and other search engines accessible today that were not available in the late 70’s. I was reading some entries on Wikipedia on some Christie books and everything you would need or want to know about her books is available. I noticed our book has been referenced at times as a source of information on the reference section on some book entries on Google. I would welcome that opportunity and challenge as I really love researching. Many friends are always asking me to research stuff for them since they say I have lots of patience and a knack for finding stuff.
This ends Part Two of the interview. I’ve chosen to post the interview in sections for easier reading and to give readers the chance to digest the text. Stay tuned for more of my interview with Len Lovallo. Read Part III here.