The Curious Case of the Neglected Novel

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She loved apples, playing the piano, and a good game of golf. Mostly, however, she loved writing. She wrote in the bathtub, on the washstand, at the dining room table — and when she spent time in the Middle East, she wrote on a makeshift table of boards and packing crates. For decades she averaged two novels a year, writing them longhand at first, but eventually using a typewriter. She’s the greatest mystery writer of all time, producing 78 detective novels, over 100 short stories, and 19 plays, including Mousetrap — the world’s longest-running play, which opened in London’s West End in 1952 and is still running today after more than 25,000 performances. Most of her books and short stories have been adapted for television and feature films. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, she’s the best-selling novelist of all time. Her work has been translated into over a hundred languages, making her the single most-translated author; and her books have sold over two billion copies. Only the Bible and Shakespeare have outsold her.

— All these accomplishments because Agatha Christie persevered. She refused to take “no” for an answer.

Dame Agatha Christie was born in 1890, in the Devon coast town of Torquay. She grew up with a passion for detective novels. She devoured the Sherlock Holmes stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and such novels as Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and The Moonstone. One day, Agatha’s sister challenged her to write a mystery novel of her own. Agatha produced her first detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

Over the next four years Agatha tried repeatedly to find a home for her book. Not one publisher took even the slightest interest in her manuscript. One account states the author received close to 500 rejections during this time. The mystery novelist was about to forever change the rules of detective fiction — it’s just that no one realized it at the time.

In 1920, the publishing company Bodley Head showed genuine interest in Agatha’s novel. The editor John Lane eventually offered the young writer a contract, after procrastinating for close to a year. He asked Agatha to change the ending — which she promptly did — and then paid her a mere £25. So, five years after Agatha finished The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the novel that launched the career of the brilliant Belgian detective Hercule Poirot finally saw print.

“My little gray cells do not comprehend NO.”

Agatha Christie was on her way. A few years later she published And Then There Were None, also known as Ten Little Indians, and the basis for several movies and TV shows. To date, the book has sold over 100 million copies, making it the world’s best-selling mystery — ever!

Don’t stop at “No”! Keep trying. Rejection is one of life’s great mysteries. We may not always understand it, but we all have to endure it.

“Trust in the Lord and do good…. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this…. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him….” (Psalm 37:3-7 NIV)

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