Friday, 26 September 2014

Sophie Hannah in conversation with Gillian Hamer

Two modern-day crime queens discussing the ultimate crime queen.

No one will ever take Agatha Christie’s crown, but it’s thrilling for me to see a brand new Poirot novel hit the shelves … and the headlines. Since the publication of her first novel in 1920, Christie has sold over two billion copies of her books around the globe. She remains the best-selling author of all time.

 Now, for the first time, the Christie estate – guardians of her legacy – have approved a brand new novel, featuring her enigmatic, beloved character – Hercule Poirot. The novel will be welcomed by crime readers around the world, attracting new fans and captivating older ones.

It has fallen into the more than capable hands of international best-selling crime writer, Sophie Hannah, to breathe new life into Christie’s creation, in new novel, The Monogram Murders

In the same way Anthony Horowitz took readers back to the era of Sherlock Holmes in the wonderful, House of Silk, Hannah weaves a thrilling tale that embroils readers into a 1920s' London mystery – with Poirot at its centre. And with the usual touches of her wonderful talent for complex plots and sub-text, I can’t imagine any Christie fan being more than thrilled with the result.

So, WWJ asks Sophie Hannah just how it feels to be part of the Christie legacy …

Welcome back to Words with Jam, Sophie, and as a lifelong Agatha Christie fan I am delighted it is under these circumstances. Can you tell us how The Monogram Murders came to life and how you were commissioned to write it?

Well, it was really just a massive coincidence. My agent, Peter, happened to be talking to somebody from Harper Collins, Agatha’s publishers.  He said, ‘Hey, you should get Sophie Hannah to write a new Poirot novel – she’s a massive Agatha Christie fan.’  At the same time, the Agatha Christie Estate had started to think that now might be a good time to do a continuation novel – so it was serendipity really, those two things happening at the same time!

I believe that like me you’re also a huge Christie fan, how did it feel when the novel got the go ahead?

That’s right. My dad bought me my first Agatha Christie novel, The Body in the Library, when I was 12. He spent a lot of time at second-hand book fairs looking for old cricket books, and I soon realised I could ask him to look out for Agatha Christie’s for me at these fairs – which he did. By the time I was 14 I’d read all of her work and had all her books on my shelf. When The Monogram Murders got the go ahead, I felt honoured and determined not to let either Agatha Christie or her family down.

I read in a Telegraph review of the novel, that the reviewer first questioned why you would want to turn your hand to rewriting a Poirot novel, but once he’d read it felt it was ‘so full of love and energy that if the Christie estate hadn’t commissioned this book –  I am quite convinced Hannah would have written the whole thing gratis for a fan fiction site.’ I think that’s a wonderful quote and tells us a lot about you as a writer and as a person – but what where your motivations?

Yes, it’s true!  I was so excited about writing a Poirot, I would (as I regularly say) have done it for twenty quid and a packet of Minstrels!  My main motivation was love for Agatha and Poirot – I see The Monogram Murders as sort of my love letter to them!  Fan fiction is a v accurate term for the book, I think.  But to be clear, my novel is not a ‘rewriting’ of any existing Poirot novel – it’s a completely new novel, a continuation novel of one author’s series by another.  I see my role as faithful sidekick to great genius (Agatha!)

Did you ever have any doubts about taking on the project?

It was a huge challenge, but no, I was so creatively excited, energised and inspired by the prospect, there was no way I’d have refused to take it on.  I try to make decisions based on hope not fear wherever possible! 

What were the hardest parts for you in writing the book?

Getting the plot exactly right, structurally, was the hardest part.  Like some of Agatha’s plots, mine is quite complex. The notes I made were extensive and ran to over a hundred pages, but once it was all planned out in the notes, the writing process was huge fun!

And did you have any ‘Oh my God, I am writing dialogue for Poirot…’ moments!

Once I started work on the book, I was so immersed that I was focused only on the book, not on the surreal and almost implausible fact that I was writing a Poirot novel.

Are there any future plans for more Agatha Christie novels that you can tell us about?

No plans at all for future books at this stage! We’ve all been so focused on this book, no one has thought beyond it.  It feels like more than enough for the time being!

There’s no doubt this is going to catapult your name to the stratosphere, are you ready for the publicity and journey to come?

There is a huge doubt!  The big names here are Agatha Christie and Poirot.  I imagine my ‘well-known-ness’ level will remain much the same, because even if The Monogram Murders does amazingly well, it’ll be Agatha and Poirot’s names that people think of more than mine.  But that’s fine!  I don’t want to be any more famous than I am.

Thanks so much for your time, Sophie.

Our review of The Monogram Murders here for more details.


  1. Thanks for this interview. I read all of Hannah's own line of novels, always highly original, and can't wait to sink my teeth into this one!

  2. Thank you! I am sure you'll love this new one too!