April 14: She was the queen of crime fiction, but Agatha Christie should also be recognised as one of the most formidable businesswomen of her era, according to academics.
A newly released letter from the Christie archive illustrates the care that the author took over the marketing of her books, dismissing a publisher's proposed cover design as "common" and "awful". The book in question was Sad Cypress, a courtroom drama published in 1940 and featuring Christie's Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot.
In a note to her literary agent, Edmund Cork, Christie complained that her publisher, the Collins Crime Club, had come up with a terrible book jacket. She wrote: "My idea was that a black and white jacket would be very amusing and striking. White shiny background and black silhouette cypress and big black lettering - Don't let Collins decide univocally [sic] on some frightful cover - their jackets [for] this book are AWFUL - so COMMON!!"
She requested that the offending product be pulped and reprinted with a classier cover design, ending her note: "I care about the appearance of my books." The letter is held in the archives at the University of Exeter, which is hosting a conference focusing on lesser-known aspects of Christie's work.
The event commemorates the 125th anniversary of Christie's birth, and a career that saw her become the world's bestselling novelist. James Bernthal of the University of Exeter said: "The business correspondence shows Christie's skills as a negotiator. "Throughout her career she meticulously looked after every aspect of her published work and was not afraid to stand her ground when she felt that her artistic vision was in some way compromised.
"When the cover design for Sad Cypress did not meet with her approval, she demanded to have it reprinted. "It is fair to say that an astute business sense is not something we think of when considering women writers of the inter-war period.