I'm hugely excited today to bring you this lovely guest post by the Marcus Sedgwick author of such books as Midwinterblood and White Crow. I absolutely adore his books and I highly recommend that you read them.
Today, Marcus is here talking about coincidence which is something that comes up in his latest novel, She Is Not Invisible, published by Indigo this year.
by Marcus Sedgwick
‘Oh,’ I said.
‘Yes,’ said Dad. ‘Oh. Coincidences in fiction just do not work. And even in real life, they tend to fall into two sorts. The ones that are so pathetic that they don’t excite anyone but you, and the ones that are so incredible that they are literally just that; unbelievable. Even to members of your own family.’
‘Oh God,’ sighed Mum. ‘Here we go.’
I could hear that Dad was looking towards Mum when he said that last bit, and I knew why.
That’s a tiny extract from my new book, which is a story about a girl whose father is a writer, a writer who goes missing just in the middle of researching a new book, a book about coincidence. I’d been trying (on and off) to write a book about coincidence for at least five years. I had not been getting on very well, to say the least. After five years, all I had was this less-than-stunning idea – coincidences are very hard to write about. Try getting your editor to pay you for that…
Why is it hard? Well, for the reasons mentioned in the extract above, for one thing. And for another thing; coincidences are well known to be what terrible writers use to get themselves out of a cul-de-sac in a plot. Readers of books are very astute at spotting overly-convenient things – you just can’t get away with it. I have always tried my hardest to make my plots as watertight as possible – how then to construct a novel which appears to be full of them, and not annoy your readers, even if your book is ABOUT coincidence in the first place?If you want proof of this, try and get hold of a book called The Celestine Prophecy and try not to throw it across the room in frustration and despair… This book was a world best-seller, once upon a time, by the way.
For me, the key moment was when I decided to no longer write a book about coincidence, but to write a book about a writer writing a book about coincidence. This allowed me freedom to discuss everything I wanted to discuss on the subject, without having to have it happen. And there was a lot to discuss. No one really agrees about coincidences, why they occur, what they mean.
There have been some very great minds who have seriously applied their brains to the question of what, if anything, coincidences mean. People like Carl Jung, Albert Einstein, Arthur Koestler, to name just three, have all tried to work out what the damn thing are all about, because one thing most people who experience a great coincidence do agree on is the feeling that it has to mean something? Is it that hand of God? Not according to Einstein, who famously declared ‘God does not play dice’. And why do they happen? Is it all just a question of the numbers? Of maths? Of chance? Maths can do a lot, it can explain some things, like the famous birthday problem, but it leaves us in the cold when we get to the issue of a tingle running down the back of your neck.
So I worked some of these ideas into the book, as well as mentioning some of the greatest coincidences of all time, like the one about Edgar Allan Poe and Richard Parker.
And what, if anything, did I conclude that coincidences are all about? Well, I’m not going to be annoying and say ‘you have to read my book to find out’. Instead let me admit that most of the time, maths probably has the answers. But then, every once in a while, something happens that makes you question that. And that was the case for me, when something happened to me that was so impossibly unlikely, that it actually scared me. Something that no one I told believed had happened. Something I barely believe myself. That was years ago now, but at last I think I’ve laid the ghost to rest by getting it all into this new book.