Storyish is my new favourite word.
I heard it last night, when I attended a panel event, hosted by Goldsboro Books, celebrating Agatha Christie. The speakers were Ragnar Jonasson (crime writer and translator of many Christie books into Icelandic), John Curran (Christie’s biographer), James Prichard (Christie’s great-grandson and manager of her estate), and Sophie Hannah, author of psychological suspense fiction, two Poirot continuation novels (so far …), and a lifelong Christie fan.
Early on, Sophie made a declaration that everyone in the room agreed with: ‘You can’t get any more storyish than Agatha Christie.’
Story is everything in a Christie book. They are designed to give the reader a good time. Sophie reminded us that all the way through, Christie encourages us to engage with the story, as if repeatedly urging, ‘Think about it …’
The panellists made the point that the books are so well crafted, so elegantly, simply structured, that some of them can be read and appreciated by a twelve-year-old while challenging and satisfying a reader in his or her fifties.
They’re the equivalent of chicken soup – the only thing you want when you’re ill and need comfort. (Although the books themselves are often unsettling.)
It was brilliant to be immersed in Christie’s world – in a room full of fellow fans, which is always a great feeling – because I’ve been thinking about plot a lot lately.
As a reader, I’ve binged on crime and thrillers: Chris Brookmyre’s complex, dizzyingly technical new Jack Parlabane book, Want You Gone; ; Caz Freer’s prize-winning debut, Sweet Little Lies; John Fairfax’s Summary Justice, a brilliant first book in a new series about a barrister with his own criminal past; Did You See Melody?, which is Sophie Hannah’s new standalone thriller. And I’m looking forward to Erin Kelly’s He Said/She Said and more.
In my editing life, I’ve had the pleasure of working on some big psychological suspense fiction and crime thrillers. Each week, a new novel has landed on my desk, and it’s been exhilarating. I’ve admired the epic scope of plots, the careful dispersal of clues and then a satisfying reining in of threads at the end.
I’ve also been working with authors to help them shape their ideas. Sometimes, books need to be shaken, so everything that’s extraneous drops out, just leaving the core of the story. Having stripped back the writing, we then set about building the book all over again, making it as true to itself as we can.
Sometimes, we’re expanding a world so its full potential is realised and stories other than the one that’s currently on the page emerge. We give shape to a sequence of scenes that takes readers and the authors on a journey.
The writing I’ve done this year has been short pieces, which has been great fun, and I’ve learned a lot about economy and pace and how to make a point. They’re being gathered together into a short book, which I’ll talk about soon. But now my head is full of big stories and it’s a brilliant feeling that I’m trying to nurture as I think about what to write next.
I think I’m about to go back to the novel I put aside at the end of last year. This time, I want to be as storyish as I possibly can.