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Queen of Crime just a grandma

MATHEW Prichard is the quality-control guy for all things Agatha Christie around the world. The only grandchild of the legendary mystery writer says his job is to experience local culture and "to see whether people enjoy Agatha Christie's works or not."

Well, of course, we do. Christie (1890-1976), the "Queen of Crime," is the best-selling author of all time. According to her official website, she has sold more than 2 billion books worldwide, and her works have been translated into more than 45 languages. Apart from 80 novels, she has also written more than a dozen plays, including "The Mousetrap," which is the world's longest-running play.

Prichard, chairman of Agatha Christie Ltd, was recently in Shanghai to attend the 120th anniversary of Christie's birth, organized by the Shanghai Drama Arts Center and "Mousetrap Studio," a local theater company that was the first to stage the "The Mousetrap" in Chinese in 2007.

More plays by Agatha Christie, including "And Then There Were None," "The Hollow," "The Unexpected Guest" and "Go Back for Murder," will be staged as part of the celebration until May.

On his first visit to the Chinese mainland, Prichard was delighted to find his grandmother's works are hugely popular. He joined a local audience to watch "And Then There Were None" in Chinese. It was the first time he had watched a play in Chinese, but he didn't have trouble following the action. "I know the story pretty well," he laughed during an interview with Shanghai Daily before the show. He went on to talk more about his life and memories of his grandmother.

Q: Have you been traveling a lot for your grandmother's 120th birth anniversary?

A: Last year, we went to Istanbul, Turkey, for the actual birthday celebration. It was a very appropriate place because it is where some of Christie's most famous stories like "Murder on the Orient Express," were written. My grandmother used to travel to the Middle East with my step-grandfather who used to work in Iraq and Syria. Other than that, I've also visited France, America, Japan, and now China.

Q: What are your impressions of China?

A: People are very friendly. We seem to share the same sense of humor and we all seem to laugh at the same things. Sometimes when you travel to places you've never been, you wonder whether those things you read in newspapers could be true. I knew very little about China - I rarely traveled in this part of Asia, except once in Japan. I didn't have any pre-formed opinions about China except I realized there is a great bond between us, thanks to my grandmother. As you can see this evening, huge numbers of people in China love her works. I feel it is very important that we form partnerships between my family, my company in England and producers and publishers in China to make sure that the way Agatha Christie being presented to the public is high quality and authentic, and that the people who are responsible for it are just as much Agatha Christie fans as we are.

Q: As chairman of Agatha Christie Ltd, what is your job like?

A: My company owns and manages almost all Agatha Christie copyrights including TV, film, stage play, publishing and modern media. In short, I'm in charge of "quality control" and brand management of Agatha Christie.

Q: Could you share some of your deepest memories of your grandmother? It is said that you used to spend summer holidays at her Greenway estate in Devon.

A: It's difficult to share memories, some of which are privacies of the family. But the thing I will tell people is that it never seemed, in those days, that we were sharing summer holidays with famous people or somebody who wished to be famous. We were simply having a family holiday when everybody was relaxed. Occasionally, she might read some of her new stories in the evening before I went to bed, one chapter at a time. But on the whole, she was just like a "normal" grandmother like anybody else's. She didn't wish to be famous ... she was very shy ... and occasionally she appeared to be an author. And yes, she was a happy person. However, just like many people, she had a few unhappy times in her earlier life, mostly before I was born ... She always thought that I was a very happy and optimistic person and hopefully I'm still like that (laugh).

Q: You gave the Greenway house to the National Trust 10 years ago. How was that decision made?

A: It is a big house in one of the most beautiful parts of England. But I live in another quite big house in Wales, where my father's family came from. So there is no way I was going to live in Greenway. When my parents died, we had the choice to sell it, but we didn't want it to be turned into an Agatha Christie hotel or an Agatha Christie theme park or whatever. We would rather have it preserved (by an organization) for the public to enjoy in the same way I did when I was growing up. I'm happy to say that it is exactly the same today as it always was ... and the roof doesn't leak.

Q: What is your favorite story?

A: My favorite is the book "Endless Night" she wrote in the 1960s, which was a very late one about three young people who have a relationship that all goes wrong and is infected with evil. It is not a very well-known book but it is a wonderful story. I always thought it was a very remarkable book to write for someone in her late seventies. If I had to take one book to a desert island, I would take "Endless Night."

Q: Is anyone in your family dedicated to writing these days?

A: She is very young, but I have a granddaughter, Emma, who is always top of all her English classes at school. She is 11 now. Who knows? She might write a book one day.


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