Sunday 21 August 2011

Coincidences and blessings by Imogen Robertson

When I began to research Island of Bones, I went straight to the British Library and ordered up a guide book to the Lakes that was published in 1782. I wanted to read the edition which my characters, Harriet and Crowther, might have had with them when they made the journey to Keswick in 1783. So this is the first day on my new project, new notebook, new pencils, new beginning, a good time then for omens and portents. I collected the book and opened it up to find the original owner’s name on the flyleaf in beautiful 18th century handwriting. It was H Crowther.

Sometimes strange things happen when you write. Of course, when we are plotting and researching we are in a certain frame of

mind which, perhaps, makes it more likely we will see and take notice of coincidences. We are gathering as much information as we can, and looking for the links between the pieces, the joins; we’re trying to find or invent lines that will hold all the parts together and create a story. I think when you are in that state of creative investigation your mind spots patterns it might normally miss. I’d love to know what other people think about this, and what incidents they have encountered. Please do let me know.

Here are a couple more of mine, and then the odd and rather lovely thing which happened to me yesterday and prompted me to write this piece. I’ll get to that in a moment. For instance, I was writing about the ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano that caused a strange, humid summer in 1783, when all the planes in UK airspace were grounded by another Icelandic ash cloud. It felt as if I’d summoned it. Sorry. The previous year when I was writing about the Tarot

reader, Jocasta, for Anatomy of Murder, I started to see figures and symbols from the deck all over London. I was walking along the Southbank one afternoon, thinking hard about how Jocasta’s readings would influence the plot when I saw a man gulling the crowd with a ball and cup trick. He looked the image of the Magician card in the pack, even the way his table and other props were arranged seemed to match, and when I came to a sudden halt and stared, he looked up and winked at me.

Then there was yesterday. I’m in France at the moment, staying at my parent’s place with my friends, Fay and Alex. It’s a working holiday, we are writing a screenplay together, and although I don’t want to say much about it, one of our leads is based on a historical character, who was known as ‘The Rose’. All three of us have rather fallen in love with her, and with our fictional version of her. She’s so beautiful, smart, down to earth, funny. Yesterday we reached the point in the story where she was killed. It was horrible to write and though we were pleased with the work, we ended the day feeling flat and drained and rather miserable. There was a real sense of loss. We put away the laptop and started to get some dinner ready. While Alex poured us a drink, Fay sent me out to get some herbs from the garden. I went out the back doo

r and found that next to the table where we’d been working the

previous day there was a rose bush. I hadn’t noticed it before as there were no buds or flowers on it then, but this evening one perfect red rose had opened. I got Fay and Alex and we raised our glasses to it, and to the woman on whom our character was based. It felt like a blessing.


Sue Purkiss said...

Similar things have happened to me - particularly while I was writing Warrior King, about Alfred the great. But nothing as astonishing as finding your characters' names inside the book - that really does feel as if the universe is tapping you on the shoulder and telling you to listen. And lovely about the rose. Mm.

Joan Lennon said...

"Sometimes strange things happen when you write ..."
I borrowed your words on seeing patterns for my blog this week (
) - thanks for a great post!

Penny Dolan said...

You're right, Imogen. It feels more than coincidence - almso tlike a summoning, as if the story is watching out for you somehow, no matter where you are. The books sound fascinating.

adele said...

Lovely! Spoooky in a good sort of way!

tessa harris said...

Talk about a coincidence! This week I began my third novel, The Devil's Breath, also set in 1783. It has the Laki eruption as its backdrop, too! I'm afraid I hadn't read The Island of Bones before, but I will now. A happy coincidence!

Pippa Goodhart said...

I wrote about a family coping with the shock birth of a baby with Down's Syndrome when I was newly pregnant with my third child. Then - you've guessed it - tests showed that there was a 'high risk' that our baby too had Down's Syndrome. Had I somehow brought that upon myself and my baby? In fact she hasn't got Down's Syndrome at all, but that was a very odd feeling indeed, and I think that maybe the thinking about it in a fictional setting had prepared me a little to think about it in real life. The book, 'Ginny's Egg', then had to be rewritten to push parents and baby more into the background to let Ginny, hatching a dragon from an egg, have HER story!

Linda B-A said...

I think you're absolutely right when you talk about your mind spotting patterns and narrative clues it might normally miss when you a new story is bubbling up. It's a wonderful feeling when your subconscious starts revving its engine and you can sit back and enjoy the ride.

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Wonderful post! I will have to keep my eyes and ears open more often for these types of wonderful coincidences.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

I loved this post. The name co-incidence is incredible. I think there is a constant kind of kinetic energy out there which we mostly miss. But when we are writing or in the throws of thinking about a story, our senses are more heightened and its almost as if these things are drawn to the aura of our own energy like some sort of magnetic force. Sounds like mambo jumbo the way I've put it... but it happens too often for there not to be some sort of force. And while its happening its marvellous! So I'm off to the British Library to see if I can evoke some kinetic energy!