TV Sketching: Agatha Christie’s Criminal Games

In this instalment of tv sketching, I’ve discovered Les Petits Meurtres d’Agatha Christie (Wikipedia;, aka Agatha Christie’s Criminal Games / Little Murders. Only one season (one from the 1950s-set series — the season numbering is convoluted) is currently available here on SBS On Demand, and only for a few more days.

The usual TV sketching rule applies — no pausing.

Digital sketches of people from S3 E1 of Agatha Christie's Criminal Games
“The Pale Horse”

In terms of its heightened reality / little world / stagey fun, it’s on par with Queens of Mystery, Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries, and Shakespeare & Hathaway.

Digital sketches of people from S3 E1 of Agatha Christie's Criminal Games
“The Pale Horse”

With melodramatic poses and distinct costuming choices, this makes it a lot of fun to sketch.

Digital sketches of people from S3 E1 of Agatha Christie's Criminal Games
“The Pale Horse”

It’s particularly fond of warm reds and mint greens.

Digital sketches of people from S3 E1 of Agatha Christie's Criminal Games
“The Pale Horse”

The sketches above are from “The Pale Horse”, and those below are from “The Protheroe Mystery”.

Digital sketches of people from S3 E2 of Agatha Christie's Criminal Games
“The Protheroe Mystery”
Digital sketches of people from S3 E2 of Agatha Christie's Criminal Games
“The Protheroe Mystery”
Digital sketches of people from S3 E2 of Agatha Christie's Criminal Games
“The Protheroe Mystery”

For other TV sketching, see the TV SKETCHING category.

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Read and Seen — April 2020

I’d been reading a lot of novellas, and thinking about books which felt just the right size, so above is Melisande from “Melisande, or Long and Short Division“, by E. Nesbit.


  • The Time Traveler’s Wife — Audrey Niffenegger. There’s some intriguingly ominous pacing in this one: the awareness of something bad that will have happened at some unspecified point. It reminded me of the countdown effect to some great termination or absence in Three Days to Never by Tim Powers, and also of how these are both in a way holding out on the effect in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, in which you’re just outright told what will happen, and then get to watch in horrified fascination as it inevitably unfolds. And the way other genres (mysteries, romances) expect the reader to know (to an extent) how the story will then, which make the thrill about the getting there. I read a few very centre-of-genre romances recently which managed to have me on the edge of my seat about how the characters would ever manage to resolve their situations.
  • Upright Women Wanted — Sarah Gailey. Librarians of the Wild (again) West! The Handmaid’s Tale meets Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
  • Red, White & Royal Blue — Casey McQuiston. Like reading a very explicit Meg Cabot for adults. It belongs in its own way to a very charming subcategory of romantic comedies set in a fantasy of Washington DC (All American Girl, Dave, etc).
  • N or M — Agatha Christie. There was a scene in this, in which you know something bad has happened to a character (A). The following scene is of other characters playing cards, while waiting for character A. It’s incredibly tense, because it is so mundane and you’re waiting for it to be shattered, and then it… just doesn’t happen. Nothing intrudes. It’s surprisingly stressful. Not unlike parts of Picnic at Hanging Rock.
  • A Civil Contract — Georgette Heyer. I liked it so much more this time around.
  • Ceremonials — Katharine Coldiron. This is “a twelve-part lyric novella inspired by Florence + the Machine’s 2011 album” and one of only two Gothic-adjacent books I’ve read (in the last year, too) to draw their mythic resonance from the story of the Minotaur.
  • Mistletoe Wishes: A Regency Christmas Collection (The Winter Wife, Her Christmas Earl, A Pirate for Christmas, Mistletoe and the Major, A Match Made in Mistletoe, The Christmas Stranger) — Anna Campbell. Look: people getting locked in a closet together is never not going to be funny.


  • National Theatre Jane Eyre

Observation Journal: (Too) Many ideas

Or: Overdoing things — a self-portrait

This little piece of excess from the observation journal was intended as a sort of timing run (as you can see from the yellow notes on the right). Any one square of it, in the event, would have been about as much as I’d expect from my students, but I was having fun, and dinosaurs, and avoiding something and, since it was still January at the time, surrounded by people to half-watch.

The basic idea was to list 5 Problems To Be Solved down one side (based on previous observation journal pages, i.e. traffic on the Walter Taylor bridge, the general indignities of medical procedures (I was getting scans of and needles in my spine about this time), a story I was struggling to write, something to do with card games, and the eternal battle of momentum vs inertia.

Across the top, I listed five current preoccupations/things noticed, which that day were Egrets, Dinosaurs, Antique Bottles, Ground Rocks and Watercolour.

Then I tried to move very fast, and come up with five solutions for each problem, using each preoccupation (or some aspect thereof).

Here’s a bit more detail from the “story about poison” row. Left is the Ground Rocks column, right is Watercolour. As with most exercises like this, the ideas immediately start picking up on other notes and ideas — a bit of writing I did on a visit with friends to MassMOCA, environmental rules around paint at a workshop, conversations, etc.

Even a basic dalliance with the maths would have suggested this would take some time. On the other hand, a time limit (even if it is just daylight) and a ridiculous number of cells to fill can encourage invention, if not legibility. But it passes the time.

My favourite entry is still the concept of “Jurassic Park meets And Then There Were None“, although of course considered on some levels they are almost the same story.

When in doubt, make lists (and shuffle them)


A “Mr Fox” reference, not an inspirational quote (except to the extent &c…)

Making lists (or decks, or the idea of a deck, or self-shuffling Excel documents) of common elements is a very soothing procrastination activity.


I’ve made them of favourite lines, key tropes, patterns I’ve noticed in my own working habits, images I return to, favourite stories I like to use as narrative myths/templates, art styles — even just parallels between a set of books recently read (here, boarding school mysteries).


They’re a pleasant way to test what you already know, and to analyse what you love.


In case you were interested, the source texts were primarily: Murder Most UnladylikeRobin Stevens; Cat Among the Pigeons — Agatha Christie; The Hippopotamus Takes Wing: A Farrago — Simon Oke; and Picnic at Hanging Rock — Joan Lindsay.

They are also useful for all sorts of games and ways of knocking ideas against each other until they give off sparks.

Below is an experiment where I used a list for quite another purpose from its original intention. The list was a set of notes I’d made on things to strengthen in my own writing. But instead, I used the items as parameters for a quick set of repeating pattern ideas — and of course those turned into yet another set of card ideas (among other things).


You can of course buy or repurpose pre-made kits (story dice, Dixit cards, Tom Gauld’s plot generators, etc). But sometimes just the making is the illuminating part of the exercise.

Writing/art activities:

  • See also the activities on the post: This is not a deck of cards (tropes and process).
  • Make a list (slips of paper, spreadsheet, etc) of any of the following that appeal (try to make it a good long list — at least 10):
    • Tropes you particularly enjoy (today)
    • Favourite styles
    • Common elements in your favourite books/illustrations
    • Your favourite stories/stories that most resonate with you (that you keep recommending, or coming back with, or playing in your own work)
    • Media or subgenres you work in (or would like to)
    • Favourite poems
    • Favourite adjectives
  • Draw three items from your list at random, and (alone, or with friends if you enjoy argumentative conversations) apply them to:
    • A project (a short story? an illustration?) you’d like to do
    • Someone else’s story or illustration (can you reinterpret it through the lens of those cards, or make a mashup or adaptation?)
    • Something completely unrelated, e.g. what you should have for dinner (actual conversation: “we can’t go out for sushi because…. apparently there’s a high chance we’ll be intercepted by time-travelling ninja pirates”), how to rearrange the bookcases, etc.

Illustration Friday: Reflection

Illustration Friday: Reflection

In some other universe, Agatha Christie’s Ariadne Oliver lived, and her crime novels were illustrated by Edward Gorey.

Materials: Pen, ink, and a crash diet of Gorey-covered Sarah Caudwell novels.

The title is, of course, from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott”, which also provided the title for Christie’s novel The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side, and two previous Illustration Friday mock covers:

Illustration Friday: Adrift

Illustration Friday: Drifting

March and April Short Book Reviews

To War with Whitaker – Hermione Ranfurly: Funny, acerbic, remarkable diaries of Hermione Ranfurly (I read her childhood memoirs in February) who followed her husband to the Second World War and worked for a series of generals in Egypt and Italy. Her experiences, the contrasts between war and liesure, bureacracy and youthful high spirits, the privileges her rank and youth brought her and the economies needed because of relative poverty make it a delightful read. But by the time the diaries return, self-consciously, to the peaceful country setting in which they started, it is clear that the world, politics, culture and society have changed.

  • Borrowed from my mother
  • Cover is a watercolour painting, which is better than a photo cover (although it was based on several of the photos in the book) and looks consistent with the cover of The Ugly One. Still a bit too khaki.

Step Ball Change – Jeanne Ray: Light and sweet and fast.

  • Borrowed from my mother
  • Staged photo cover, I think of someone kicking up a heel in a red shoe? Accurate to the genre, but racier than the cover to Eat Cake (see below), and this certainly wasn’t a racy novel!

Eat Cake – Jeanne Ray: See above.

  • Borrowed from my mother
  • Staged photo cover, tones of pink: a neatly dressed woman holding a pile of cake boxes – accurate to the story.

All the President’s Men – Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein: The account of the breaking of Watergate by the reporters involved. Gripping and entertaining, but also fascinating for the changes (and lack thereof) in reporting and technology!

  • Bought at the Lifeline Booksale
  • Movie tie-in cover, but that means Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman looking earnest and flared, so that’s good.

Der Tod auf Dem Nil – Agatha Christie: This book is incorrectly titled. It shouldn’t be “Death on the Nile” – it should be “People annoy each other indefinitely on the Nile.” Or possibly “People don’t die on the Nile”. I was sure the death happened earlier in the book last time I read it, but my sense of time may have been dilated by reading it in German.

  • Bought at the Lifeline Booksale. I think.
  • Dreadful sunset photo-cover on a cheap library-style hardback.

Death in the Stocks – Georgette Heyer: So much better than the last Heyer crime novel I read – this was frothy and fast paced and entertaining and modern. I’m often surprised by how current books written in the ’20s and ’30s feel and how old-fashioned the ’50s seem. I know *why*, but if you just read books written then it sometimes feels as if the decades came in the wrong order.

  • Lent at me
  • Too pink, but otherwise a painting of fabulous young people in evening dress is accurate to the feel of the novels (although most of the characters were rather bohemian), and far better than the current sweet, pink, beribboned covers to her regencies.

Strong Poison – Dorothy Sayers: I’m sneaking up to reading Gaudy Night (and the review of it on, on principles of delayed gratification (and also because, as said in relation to that novel, you can reread a book any number of times but you can only read it once for the first time). I enjoyed that this book opened with the summing up in court, but mostly I enjoyed the vigorous opinion of the characters on the correct way to make an omelette, and have been making omelettes (successfully!) a great deal since. In fact, I might have one for dinner tonight.

  • Bought from a big chain bookstore
  • Black and white photo of a woman’s legs and court shoes, walking along a pavement. A bit noirish, but not off-putting and sets the era squarely. It does give the impression of a cover to a well-known book, rather than a cover to draw in unsuspecting readers.

Five Red Herrings – Dorothy Sayers: Too many accents! This circular crime novel with its welter of accents and geographical features and eccentric artists at times felt too convoluted and self-indulgent, but it was Lord Peter Wimsey and many eccentric artists, so it wasn’t  bad. Possibly I wanted more cooking tips. I did like that she had a character discover a vital clue at the beginning and then told the reader that they’d have to work out what it was for themselves and if they’d been paying attention they’d be able to. And I did! Well, I had a strong suspicion, but I’m not an oil painter so I wasn’t sure.

  • Bought from a local crime/SF store on the same evening as the above, in penance for shopping at big chain bookstores
  • I cannot recall what the cover picture was of, but my impressions were as for Strong Poison above.

Also: I also read several Strand short crime stories out loud to my father, include Kipling’s “Faery-Kist” and Sayers’ “The Hanted Policeman”, which was my first Lord Peter Wimsey story, and so far my favourite.