The Sunday Post for August 9, 2015

How to spot whodunnit: academics crack Agatha Christie's code

At the bequest of television channel, a group of academics looked at Agatha Christie's work, and developed formulas to reveal the patterns within.

Many of the results concerned the gender of the killer. For example, they found that if the victim was strangled, the killer was more likely to be male (or male with a female accomplice), whereas if the setting was a country house – not uncommon for a Christie novel – there was a 75% chance the killer would be female. Female culprits were usually discovered thanks to a domestic item, while males were normally found out through information or logic.
Homme de Plume: What I Learned Sending My Novel Out Under a Male Name

Cienna gave advice inspired by this article on Friday's Help Desk, but we didn't look at Catherine's Nichols essay about the difference in response when she submitted her work under a man's name instead of her own:

I sent the six queries I had planned to send that day. Within 24 hours George had five responses—three manuscript requests and two warm rejections praising his exciting project. For contrast, under my own name, the same letter and pages sent 50 times had netted me a total of two manuscript requests. The responses gave me a little frisson of delight at being called “Mr.” and then I got mad. Three manuscript requests on a Saturday, not even during business hours! The judgments about my work that had seemed as solid as the walls of my house had turned out to be meaningless. My novel wasn’t the problem, it was me—Catherine.
This Is How ‘Lady Authors’ Were Told to Promote Their Books in the 1960s

Now that we've completely figured out gender and how to treat women equally, it sure is fun to look back at a time when women authors weren't taken seriously.

In a LIFE photo essay called “What it takes to be a lady author anymore,” [Jeanne] Rejaunier posed for shots that demonstrated how a woman should promote her literary work. A successful lady author, the captions suggested, must “swim a little,” “exercise in a bikini” and be “photographed in bed.” The essay attributed the success of her book, a novel based on the dark side of the modeling world, to Rejaunier’s beauty rather than her literary talents: “Just possibly because she smiles so prettily on the book jacket (the back and the front of the book) The Beauty Trap is now in its fourth printing.”
Iris Murdoch, The Art of Fiction No. 117

Here's one, just for fun, from deep in the archives. Iris Murodch is a big influence of mine, and her interviews are sometimes funny affairs: stuffy, terse. But other times, she finds a good flow with the interviewer. Here she does. It feels quite personal, and is nice to see this side of her. For another side of her, look at some of the portraits British artist Tom Phillips did of her in 1988

Plato remarks in The Republic that bad characters are volatile and interesting, whereas good characters are dull and always the same. This certainly indicates a literary problem. It is difficult in life to be good, and difficult in art to portray goodness. Perhaps we don’t know much about goodness. Attractive bad characters in fiction may corrupt people, who think, So that’s OK. Inspiration from good characters may be rarer and harder, yet Alyosha in The Brothers Karamazov and the grandmother in Proust’s novel exist. I think one is influenced by the whole moral atmosphere of literary works, just as we are influenced by Shakespeare, a great exemplar for the novelist. In the most effortless manner he portrays moral dilemmas, good and evil, and the differences and the struggle between them. I think he is a deeply religious writer. He doesn’t portray religion directly in the plays, but it is certainly there, a sense of the spiritual, of goodness, of self-sacrifice, of reconciliation, and of forgiveness. I think that is the absolutely prime example of how we ought to tell a story—invent characters and convey something dramatic, which at the same time has deep spiritual significance.