I’m a 33-year-old with a passion for mystery novels, and I’m one of New Zealand’s biggest Agatha Christie fans.
I grew up loving Agatha Christie novels and wished that her most famous character, the sleuth Miss Marple, was my surrogate grandmother. She was the perfect grandmother. She knitted by the fire, told stories, and would go out for tea and scones. She was also a detective who outwitted everyone.
I’ve had a connection to the elderly since I was a child.
I would walk to school past the rest home on our street in Tauranga.
Because I was being bullied at school, I longed to be an old lady, safe in a retirement home where staff looked after you and you got to do fun things like play bingo and have afternoon tea served in your room.
When I was 14, I volunteered there during the week. It was in their residents’ library that I came across Agatha Christie books, and her stories plunged me into a beautiful world.
I found a mystery around every corner. I fell in love with the atmosphere, the beauty of the language, and the English villages, where most of her novels were set.
I own 14 Agatha Christie first-edition novels. I owe her a lot and would have loved to meet her.
A couple of months ago, I won an official Agatha Christie writing competition run from the UK. One of the judges was Mathew Prichard, Agatha’s grandson. The competition asked writers from around the world to pen a different chapter in a collaborative novel inspired by Agatha Christie stories. I won chapter five.
This win means so much to me after years of suffering. I’ve been very ill with chronic fatigue syndrome since 1998.
I was diagnosed during my third year of university, where I was studying English, French and Spanish before I went on to do a diploma in teaching.
It forced me to change my whole lifestyle. I also had depression and anxiety.
Years later, I developed functional neurological disorder. This means your body gets so exhausted that your brain and your body need to disconnect to give each other a break. Sometimes I can have up to seven seizures a day.
My illness has meant I’ve had to give up on many of my dreams. I’ve had to turn down scholarships to study in France and to teach in Spain, because I’ve been too sick to take up these amazing offers. It’s hard to see your dreams die. That’s why winning this competition has given me a boost of confidence, as I’ve realised my talent and desire to write is still there – it never went away.
When I write, I wander around the house and a line will pop into my head. If it sounds good, I will expand on it and build on that sentence.
I revisited many of Agatha Christie’s stories while I wrote my entry for the competition, making sure I was getting the atmosphere right.
During the judging of the competition, her grandson commented that elements of my writing style are very similar to his grandmother’s.
He also said I was a confident writer who built suspense well. His comments made me weep with joy. To even have my work in front of him was more than I could ever dream of. But for Mathew to compare me to his grandmother was an extra boost.
Part of the prize for winning the competition is a dinner in London with the judges, including Agatha’s grandson.
I would like to claim the prize so my husband Matthew and I can travel to the UK – it is such an amazing opportunity.
All my life I’ve seen the world through an Agatha Christie lens, so this will be a dream come true.”
Photographs by Maree Wilkinson