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GS Revel Burroughs

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About the Author
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Crime and Thriller writer with a passion for plot-led, solvable mysteries. Fan of the Golden Age and all things Hitchcock. Click Here for a detailed bio.

Agatha Christie and me

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    ‘I’ve probably forgotten more about Agatha Christie than most people will ever know.’

    It seems like a bold statement but it isn’t far from the truth. Those of you who have read A Recipe for Murder, and who were moderately awake while doing so, may have noticed that Gareth Sebastian Black and I share some initials. Ignore the Revel, I’ll explain that in a later blog. But the same initials aren’t the only things my creation and I have in common. We are of a similar age, although he is slightly younger; we love motorbikes, in particular the Suzuki GSX 1300, or Hayabusa to those in the know, and Gareth rides my favourite bike in lieu of the fact that I can’t afford one. Gareth is a self-published author and a successful one at that. I am also self-published and my success lingers far off in the distance, hampered by the realities of life and writing. Gareth also struggled with his mental health in the past and turned to Agatha Christie in his time of need. Here, the similarities are painfully familiar. I speak from experience. 

 

    I was a teenage boy during the mid to late eighties at a time when mental health issues were the sole reserve of the rich and famous, who could afford the privilege. I was not rich. I grew up in a small town in rural South Warwickshire in a sixties-built council house to East London parents who worked hard to give my sisters and me a good start in life. In that, they succeeded. I wanted for nothing. We were well fed, well looked after, moderately well educated and we holidayed for two weeks every year on the South Devon coast. 

 

    Quite why, then, in the autumn of 1988, a few short months after leaving school, I fell into a deep and powerful depression, is anyone’s guess. But fall I did. I fell hard, too. Even now, over three decades past the event, I still struggle to explain it. I know it as my “Dark” period, a time when there felt like no hope; that no sun would shine and there would be no respite from the weight of anxiety that dragged me down into the pits of Hell. 

 

    One must also remember that mental health wasn’t given the same respect then that it demands now. No one understood or cared. We were still in the ‘stiff upper lip’ era when men were supposed to just pull themselves together. But I couldn’t. I didn’t know how. No one knew how, and there was no one there to help.

 

My mother, god bless her, never gave up. She arranged conversations with doctors and watched me carefully as I dropped the tricyclics they prescribed, carefully monitoring the amount I took so as not to find the blessed peace I sought. This was also long before the wonder drug, Prozac, the sunshine pill, and I wouldn’t wish tricyclics on anyone. Still, they worked, and the anxiety receded to the corner, where it has hidden ever since, appearing every now and then to annoy me. I don’t give it the time of day anymore, but I respect it. One must always respect one’s mental health. Treat it kindly.

 

My dark period lasted approximately five years and took me into my twenties before I was able to step out of its menacing shadow. Its effect on me lingered for many years. In all, I believe I lost ten years of my life to the fight. But unlike many, I came out the other side, albeit battered and bruised and scarred in ways that I still don’t understand. I lost all my friends and still struggle to this day to make new ones. I’m not very sociable. I prefer my own company and my own thoughts and very often struggle to make it through my working day. But the fight taught me that I was tougher than I gave myself credit for and I have a unique and rare ability to sense other’s moods. It also gave me Agatha Christie.

 

    One evening, during the early part of my Dark period, I was curled up on my sofa, idly watching television when a portly Belgium chap called Hercule Poirot and his sidekick, Captain Hastings, waddled into view. I have no idea what episode it was or even if it was the first series, but I was hooked. For an hour every Sunday evening, I found the small ray of sunshine I was looking for. I was at once delighted and charmed and almost hypnotically embraced by the show. One Monday morning I took myself off to our local library and, not unlike Gareth Black, took home a battered copy of Murder in Mesopotamia. Within a few days, I had exhausted the library’s small supply and I became desperate for my small Poirot fix. Reading Agatha Christie was the one small pleasure I had in life and I demanded more. 

 

    This was the days of the Fontana editions and I religiously collected them. My mother thought I was mad, but she must have seen the good they did for me. One Christmas she asked me for a list of the remaining thirty or so Christie’s I hadn’t read and gave me the money to buy them. In a year I had read them all.

 

    I devoured everything Christie-related. I read her autobiography and every biography ever written about her. I went to London and watched The Mousetrap. I went to Cheltenham and watched an amateur production of Death on the Nile. I returned to London and watched Clive Exton’s dramatisation of Murder is Easy. At the back of the programme was an advert for The Agatha Christie Society, which I promptly joined as member number 134. I travelled to Devon and visited the boathouse down the lane from Greenway House, long before the house was bequeathed to the National Trust. I visited Wallingford and paid my respects in Cholsey. I visited Surrey and pondered the mystery of The Silent Pool. (They do nice gin there, now. Thoroughly recommended.) I devoured Agatha Christie. I collected everything Agatha Christie-related and continue to do so to this day.

 

Back in 1990, the Royal Mail issued a First Day issue of Agatha Christie Centenary stamps. Everywhere I looked had sold out. I visited every Post Office in a thirty-mile radius and eventually gave up. The following year I went on a walking holiday in the Lake District and called in at a local Post Office to buy some stamps and a postcard or two to send home. Sat in the window of one of the remotest Post Offices in England was the object of my previously fruitless quest. Needless to say, I purchased them immediately, which brightened my holiday no end.

 

Agatha Christie and her work remain a strong and positive influence in my life. I still dip back into the odd Poirot episode every now and then, and very often pick up a long-forgotten mystery novel. I still collect, and if I had more money, my collection of first editions would grow substantially.

 

Ever since I was a child I knew I wanted to be a writer. I used to plot stories at the back of my homework book, instead of doing homework, long before I really knew who Agatha Christie was. After I discovered her work I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to write mysteries. In the last few years I have found my mojo. I have written two mystery thrillers which bear no similarity to Agatha Christie, although my desire for a good mystery can be found within their pages. My latest book, A Recipe for Murder, is in no small part a tribute to my favourite author. For those in the know, and who can be bothered to look, I have hidden 24 references to Agatha Christie and her work within its pages. To the very observant, I say this: Look really hard, and you may solve my little mystery by gathering those hints around you…..

 

In the years that have gone by I never lost my affection for that portly Belgian detective. I am a staunch defender of Agatha Christie’s works and cry every time I hear that there will be another BBC or ITV adaptation of one of her books. In recent years Agatha Christie Ltd have allowed her legacy to be diluted in pursuit of money. Agatha Christie herself was a staunch defender of her work, as was her daughter in later years, and the current trustees of the estate have allowed her work to be mutilated. While I do not mind the new Kenneth Branagh interpretation (it is an interpretation, after all) changing the ending of novels, and moving detectives around to suit the needs of the television execs, rather than the legacy of one of the world’s greatest authors and playwrights, is shameful. 

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