by Leigh Russell
On the spur of the moment we once went to visit a public gardens that turned out to be closed. Having travelled so far, we decided to drive on to the nearest town. As we drew level with a sign welcoming us to Milton Keynes, my mobile rang. My daughter was calling because she was bored waiting for a train in... Milton Keynes. I can’t recall the purpose of her visit, but like ours it was an unprecedented trip to Milton Keynes and neither of us had known of the other’s visit beforehand. It was fluke that we chanced to be there at the same time, and discovered we were there together before either of us left.
I could tell you a few more coincidences that have happened to me - although one is so strange that I wouldn’t relate it here for fear of being dismissed as an advocate of impossible supernatural events. It really was that unlikely.I’m not alone in this. Most people can recall at least one astonishing coincidence they have experienced. How often do we introduce anecdotes with the words, ‘You’ll never believe what happened!’ But of course we do believe the story that follows, because it’s true.
So how is it that real life can throw up such coincidences with impunity when my editor warned me early on to avoid coincidences in my writing because ‘Readers don’t like them’?When writing my crime thrillers I try to make them believable, researching small details to create a convincing illusion so my readers ‘buy into’ the world of my book. I’m pleased to come across epithets like ‘plausible’ and ‘authentic’ when reviewers comment on my fictional forensic science. (It should be authentic. My advisers range from an experience medical practitioner to a professor of forensic medicine, and even the human remains department of the Natural History Museum!)
And I spend time working out how my detective can come across an essential piece of evidence without any unlikely coincidences which my readers might find unbelievable.So it annoys me intensely that real life can be completely absurd and ridiculously far-fetched when we authors can’t take similar liberties. It’s just not fair!