Writer, Traveller, Playwright, Wife, Mother, Surfer

Agatha on a surfboard

Born in Torquay in 1890, Agatha Christie became, and remains, the best-selling novelist of all time.

She is best known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, as well as the world’s longest-running play – The Mousetrap. Her books have sold over a billion copies in the English language and a billion in translation.

What can I say at seventy-five? ‘Thank God for my good life, and for all the love that has been given to me.

Agatha Christie, An Autobiography

Christie's Life

The Early Years

1890 – 1916

The Early Years

Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born on 15 September 1890 in Torquay, Devon, South West England into a comfortably well off middle class family. What made her upbringing unusual, even for its time, was that she was home schooled largely by her father, an American. Her mother, Clara, who was an excellent storyteller, did not want her to learn to read until she was eight but Agatha, bored and as the only child at home (she was a much loved “afterthought” with two older siblings) taught herself to read by the age of five.

Where did her creativity come from? She absorbed the children’s stories of the time - Edith Nesbit (The Story of the Treasure Seekers, The Railway Children) and Louisa M Alcott (Little Women) but also poetry and startling thrillers from America. Agatha invented imaginary friends, played with her animals, attended dance classes and began writing poems when she was still a child.

When she was five, the family spent some time in France having rented out the family home of Ashfield to economise, and it was here with her “governess” Marie, that Agatha learnt her idiomatic but erratically spelt French. At the age of eleven there was a shock. Her father, not well since the advent of financial difficulties, died after a series of heart attacks. Clara was distraught and Agatha became her mother’s closest companion. There were more money worries and talk of selling Ashfield. But Clara and Agatha found a way forward and from the age of 15 Agatha boarded at a succession of pensions and took piano and singing lessons. She could have been a professional pianist but for her excruciating shyness in front of those she did not know.

By the age of 18 she was amusing herself with writing short stories – some of which were published in much revised form in the 1930s - with family friend and author Eden Philpotts offering shrewd and constructive advice. “The artist is only the glass through which we see nature, and the clearer and more absolutely pure that glass, so much the more perfect picture we can see through it. Never intrude yourself.”

Clara’s health and the need for economies dictated their next move. In 1910 they set off for Cairo and a three month “season” at the Gezirah Palace Hotel. There were evening dresses and parties and young Agatha showed more interest in these than the local archaeological sites. The friends and young couples she met in Cairo invited her to house parties back home on her return. Various marriage proposals followed.

It was in 1912 that Agatha met Archie Christie, a qualified aviator who had applied to join the Royal Flying Corps. Their courtship was a whirlwind affair; both were desperate to marry but with no money. According to her autobiography, it was the “excitement of the stranger” that attracted them both. They married on Christmas Eve 1914 after both had experienced war – Archie in France and Agatha on the Home Front now working with the Voluntary Aid Detachment in a Red Cross Hospital in Torquay. They spent their honeymoon night in The Grand Hotel, Torquay and on the 27th December Archie returned to France. They met infrequently during the War Years and it wasn’t until January 1918 when Archie was posted to the War Office in London that Agatha felt her married life truly began.

Discover more about Agatha Christie

Christie on Christie

Christie's favourite Christie

Agatha Christie, in her own words. Read more about the Queen of Crime and discover which stories were her favourites.

Read more
How Christie wrote

How Christie wrote

Overheard conversations, notebooks and Dictaphones: read out the secrets of Agatha Christie’s writing career.

Read more

75 Facts about Agatha Christie

Compiled by Christie expert John Curran, author of Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks

Family Memories


Family Memories

Agatha Christie’s grandson Mathew Prichard shares insights and memories about his grandmother’s life and stories.

Find out more

Download the Agatha Christie reading list

Buy books about Agatha Christie

Featured product

Agatha Christie: An Autobiography


From early childhood at the end of the 19th century, through two marriages and two World Wars, and her experiences both as a writer and on archaeological expeditions with her second husband, Max Mallowan, this book reveals the true genius of her legendary success with real passion and openness.