Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Saturday, 11 February 2012

The facts about coincidences


We're told very firmly as novelists that coincidences are not acceptable in novels because they are unbelievable. I guess that, as a reader, it's true that coincidences in fiction can be irritating. Like stumbling into that handsome man again in the supermarket/pub/park or finding your new boss is the man you indiscreetly had a one-nighter with last week.

But in life they do happen. It's really not unusual to bump into a near neighbour when you are walking along the deserted beach in the Maldives, or locking yourself out of your house and being handed a parcel from the postman containing the spare key your brother pocketed on his last visit.

Some people believe that coincidence is really synchronicity – that the oddity of something happening at the exact time and place where it it most useful (or perhaps disturbing?) is in some way 'meant' to happen. It's karma.

I don't know about that, but here's a little tale for you. Some of you will remember that last year my husband Robin and I took part in a show called Bargain Hunt on BBC television. We had a ball, and actually managed to make a small profit (£85) on our buys when they were auctioned. One item Robin fell in love with was a Murano glass vase made in the 60s. We didn't buy it, but he was thrilled to discover that our expert, Nick Hall, had purchased it as his 'bonus buy'. It made a tidy profit. We decided to keep our winnings and spend them either in Anita Manning's auction house in Glasgow (where our items were sold) or at the Antique Fair near Edinburgh where we purchased them. Today was our first chance to revisit the scene of our experiences. Coincidence one: the Bargain Hunt Team was filming again. Coincidence two: we spotted the Murano vase up for sale again!

Dear blog readers - we bought it (for less than it was sold in Glasgow). And we chatted to mein host, Tim Wonnacut, who grabbed a film crew and filmed our little story, complete with vase.

Coincidence? Synchronicity? Karma? Who knows - but I think I feel a short story coming on!

PS If we hear they will use the clip, I'll let you know in a month or two.

15 comments:

  1. Good post....and so true. I missed you the first time on the box....will try and do better next time. What colour? The Murano?

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  2. That;s it in the photo. Orange at the bottom, pink at top. Bit weird but oddly satisfying.

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  3. What a coincidence - and a happy one, too.

    Coincidences, I can accept - I love the novels of Thomas Hardy - but they shouldn't be too over the top, nor used too frequently to solve the author's dilemma.

    Liz X

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  4. Great story, Jenny. I wish you much love of your vase.

    It's one of those stories that would make an editor say, 'That wouldn't happen ...' :-)

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    1. Thanks Sue. By the way - a friend of mine was buying an Ian Rankin book at Edinburgh airport and telling the cashier how much she liked it, when the man next to her said,'I'm so glad' and offered to sign it for her. Yup - Ian Rankin.

      PS I guess if an ed thinks it's unbelievable, I can't use it for a short story?

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    2. Hmm. You could try, couldn't you? The editor might have a different 'that wouldn't happen' threshold to our estimates. :-)

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  5. What a lovely story, Jenny. Your post has made me think about why editors don't much care for coincidences. I wonder if it's something to do with whether a story is believable. Of coincidences in real life we tend to say: "How amazing! Isn't that unbelievable?!" Even though we know it is true.
    Slightly off the point but still connected, I remember someone being cross about a crit of a story in which the critic had said the plot was unbelievable. The writer kept saying it was all true, it all happened. So, maybe there's a line between something being true and yet not being believable?

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    1. I think you've hit the nail on the head, Mary.

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  6. That's a lovely satisfying coincidence Jenny and I hope the vase brings you joy and happy memories. I'm not a short story expert but I'll bet you could earn a pittance if you sent it in as a reader's letter, or a short article including your experience on BH.

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  7. Lovely story, Jenny, and I'm so glad Robin got the vase in the end! Think there must be some kind of synchronicity as it happens so often. I've heard many a writer say 'but it really happened' - but they've forgotten to turn the event into a believable story. Gwen's right - you could do a great article on this!

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  8. Great story, Jenny. Good job my editor suspends belief - most cosy mysteries rely on coincidence, or how would the poor amateur sleuth keep stumbling over bodies? ;-)

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  9. Great story Jenny. I'm so glad you put the pic in, it's beautiful.

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