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Historian Lucy Worsley on Agatha Christie, Jane Austen and bubble baths with choc ices

The author, curator and TV presenter reveals a few of her favourite literary things

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Lucy Worsley has written about the history of detective fiction. Photo: Sophia Spring

Lucy Worsley has written about the history of detective fiction. Photo: Sophia Spring

Lucy Worsley has written about the history of detective fiction. Photo: Sophia Spring

Lucy Worsley works at Hampton Court Palace, London, as chief curator at the charity Historic Royal Palaces, and hosts the BBC podcast Lady Killers. She wrote about the history of detective fiction in A Very British Murder before embarking on biographies of Queen Victoria, Jane Austen, and – most recently – Agatha Christie: A Very Elusive Woman, published by Hodder & Stoughton. Lucy will appear at MurderOne in Dún Laoghaire LexIcon, Co Dublin, on Friday at 7.30pm.

The book at your bedside?

I’m reading In Search of Mary Seacole by Helen Rappaport, a book that strips away the layers of mystery from the life of the heroine of the Crimean War. I love history books like this that describe the author’s voyage through the archives. 

The first book you remember?

Naughty Amelia Jane! by Enid Blyton. We visited a bookshop during a trip to my granny in Yorkshire, and I was discovered lapping it up although no one had quite realised that I could read. I think it had to be paid for, because I’d clearly consumed at least half of it.

Your book of the year?

It has to be Marple: Twelve New Stories, the collection in which 12 of the best suspense writers of today, from Dreda Say Mitchell to Jean Kwok, imagine the [Agatha Christie] character in new stories. I met up with a few of the writers recently for a little celebration in which we toasted Miss Marple with cherry brandy.

Your favourite literary character?

Snufkin, from Tove Jansson’s Moominland. I like his independence, his quiet wisdom, his love of walking alone through the rainy woods, and his pointy little hat. My personal celebration when my Agatha Christie biography entered the bestseller list was to don my own pointy rain-hat and to go out to walk by myself in the dripping park.

The book that changed your life?

The late Mark Girouard’s Life in the English Country House. I picked it up by accident in a library at the moment I’d just finished my history degree, and it changed the course of my life. It made me want to do a PhD in social history and it led to my career working in historic houses.

The book you couldn’t finish?

Game of Thrones by George RR Martin. I really tried, as I’m fond of Tolkien, and thought it would be the same kind of thing.

Your Covid comfort read?

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I can’t get enough of my mid-century female novelists: Elizabeth Bowen, Rosamond Lehmann, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Pym. My idea of heaven is reading one of them in a bubble bath while also eating a choc ice.

The book you give as a present?

I just hope that Robert Harris and Dan Jones never stop writing. They keep me well-supplied with presents for a certain family member who always wants the latest one. Please keep it up, gentlemen! Otherwise I might have to expend valuable energy on becoming a bit more imaginative in my gift-giving.

The writer who shaped you?

Jane Austen. I re-read her endlessly for her wit and wisdom. I hope one day to learn the patience and humility of Anne in Persuasion. Meanwhile I try to repress the annoying qualities of Emma Woodhouse that I see all too readily in myself.

The book you would most like to be remembered for?

I hope I’ll be remembered for my books that take a sympathetic look at subjects who sometimes get put into the box marked “difficult women”. Jane Austen and Agatha Christie arouse my admiration and a very tiny, very impertinent, feeling of kinship too.


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