ASK writer Sophie Hannah what she feels about Agatha Christie and her most famous detective Hercule Poirot and she replies that Christie is in her “literary DNA” and writing about Poirot is like “writing about a very close friend.”

Sophie Hannah will be at the short story festival Small Wonder on October 1 discussing with John Simenon, whose father created Jules Maigret, how best to perpetuate the legacy of two such famous detectives.

Hannah recalls how she has been a massive fan of Agatha Christie since reading The Body In The Library at the age of 12. By the time she was 14 she had read all Christie’s books. What she likes is how Christie, unlike most thriller writers, doesn’t just start with a dead body and the desire to know who did it.

“She tends to begin with an impossible scenario so the reader has to work out what on earth is going on. It’s far more intriguing.”

She admits that Christie has strongly influenced her own writing, although she adds, “There could never be another Agatha.”

But thanks to a series of coincidences Hannah found herself commissioned by the Christie estate to write a brand new Poirot novel – with what she describes as a “high concept mystery” plot suited to a Golden Age detective. The Monogram Murders was so successful that a second commission followed – Closed Casket is published this month.

Hannah admits to being more than a little in love with Poirot. “I grew up with him and feel I know him as well as any character I’ve invented or met in real life,” she says.

She loves his superficial fussiness but also his compassion. “He’s wise, loyal and romantic and never gleefully punitive about catching a murderer.”

Because she respects him so much, she had to make sure her writing was good enough for him. She plots meticulously to ensure all the loose ends are tied up with clues slotted in at the right points. “The Christie family wanted to see a detailed story outline with both books, and they were hugely enthusiastic.”

Whilst Agatha Christie is re-captured in the written word, Georges Simenon’s detective Maigret has returned to TV this year while David Hare’s new play for the National Theatre The Red Barn, is based on a Simenon novel The Hand. His son John will explain about his father’s writing, which was often novella length. Maigret has also appeared in several short stories.

SOPHIE HANNAH is in conversation Small Wonder at Charleston at 4pm on October 1. Visit for the full programme. For tickets call the Brighton Dome box office on 01273 709709.


WRITERS rushing to send in their short story to the Charleston/Argus Small Wonder competition can relax.

The deadline has been extended to

noon on Friday, September 16.

The story must be a maximum of 500 words, on the theme Small Wonder, and must be your own work, previously unpublished.

Entries should be sent by email, as an attachment, to Carole Buchan at

The winner will receive two all-day tickets for the Small Wonder festival at Charleston near Lewes on Saturday, October 1.

The programme for that day includes the BBC National Short Story Award and biographer Donald Sturrock on Roald Dahl as well as thriller writer Sophie Hannah and John Simenon on Poirot and Maigret (as featured right).

The winning story will be published in The Argus and on the Charleston website.

The judges for the contest are prizewinning writer and editor Zoë King, founder of the Asham Short Story Award Carole Buchan and The Argus’s own arts editor Edwin Gilson. The judges’ decision is final.