Photo by Onur Pinar
Sophie Hannah is the author of the new mystery novel The Killings at Kingfisher Hill, the latest in her series featuring Agatha Christie's iconic Hercule Poirot. Her many other books include Closed Casket and The Mystery of Three Quarters. She lives in Cambridge, UK.
Q: How did you come up with the plot for this new Hercule Poirot mystery?
A: I think in this instance it was the idea for some of the key characters which was the creative spark for the plot.
I knew I wanted to write about a particular family dynamic that really interested me, and imagining all the possibilities about how it might play out – how certain situations would give rise to certain psychological traits and how those traits would manifest themselves under pressure – generated the idea for the mystery.
And from there I came up with the hook: en route to an exclusive country estate to investigate a murder, Poirot encounters a woman who insists she’ll be killed if she sits in a particular seat on the coach...and then I started to put all the pieces together.
Q: Were you always a fan of Agatha Christie's work, and how did you approach the recreation of an iconic character like Poirot?
A: I have loved Agatha Christie ever since I read The Body in the Library when I was 12 years old; by the time I was 14 I’d collected and read every single one of her novels, so you can imagine how honoured and excited I was to be given Poirot to work with!
I was very conscious that I didn’t want to change or update him in any way – he’s the world’s most beloved fictional detective, after all, so I really wasn’t trying to “recreate” him. I invented Inspector Catchpool to narrate Poirot’s new adventures – a new person, like I was, working with Poirot.
Q: You also write non-Poirot novels, as well as short stories, poetry, and nonfiction. Does your writing process differ depending on what you're working on, and do you have a favorite genre?
A: Apart from poetry – which has a different, more spontaneous energy – my approach to whatever book I’m writing is pretty standard in that I’m a die-hard and dedicated planner!
I have to know where my plot/structure – and each chapter – is going before I begin to write properly. That’s the only way I can be sure the whole thing is going to work and, once the scaffolding is in place, I can enjoy the freedom of bringing all the details to life and feel totally relaxed.
I don’t think I have a favourite genre to write in as such. I love working on my psychological thrillers and crime novels because I’m fascinated by the human brain and how our psyches can warp very easily. I'm also loving my venture into self-help - that has been hugely exciting, as it’s a new challenge, and working on my Culver Valley Crime Series is like visiting old friends.
There’s a special place in my heart for Poirot, obviously, and I adore sending him on new adventures!
Q: Do you need to do much research for your Poirot novels, and if so, have you learned anything that especially surprised you?
A: I do constant fact-checking during the writing process to make sure I have the details right for the period, but by far the most useful research has been my lifelong re-reading of Agatha Christie’s books, which has immersed me in her style.
As my favourite author of all time, it was inevitable that she would be a huge influence on my writing. She’s part of the reason I have always loved crime as a genre, and my pre-Poirot crime books had the same sort of preoccupations and elements that you can find in her novels.
Also, regular stays at Greenway – Agatha Christie’s holiday home in Devon (whilst not exactly research) have provided much in the way of inspiration!
Q: What are you working on now?
A: My main writing job for the rest of the year is working on my next Culver Valley novel, starring Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer. It will be book number 11, and I’m really excited because Charlie and Simon – my police protagonists – haven’t had an outing since The Narrow Bed in 2016 (published later in the U.S. as The Next To Die).
I can’t wait to send them back to work in this new novel, which is based on an idea I absolutely love, one I have wanted to write about for ages.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Yes! I want to shout about my amazing and relatively new online coaching program for writers – Dream Author Coaching. Creating the program and coaching using my “Dream Author” approach has been such a wonderful experience - and I'm loving helping so many writers to become more confident and succeed beyond their wildest dreams.
Dream Author is for writers of any genre and at any stage of their writing journey – we have writers who have only just dared to put pen to paper, and also many regularly published and bestselling writers. Dream Author provides help with all the emotional, psychological and practical aspects of being a writer. Anyone interested can see what it’s all about on the website: https://dreamauthorcoaching.com/.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb