“How unbelievable is that?”
“That would never happen in real-life!”
I’m sure some of us have said these things when reading a novel.
How far should authors go with storylines that rely on remarkable events and coincidences, especially ones that requires readers to suspend their incredulity for the sake of moving a plot forward?
But remarkable events do happen in real-life, including encounters with strangers that turn out to show how connected we all are to each other.
Here are some of my true-life experiences.
While working in the library of a national museum, I got talking to a visitor. I needed his home address for a transaction. I noticed it was somewhere close to where I grew up as a small child. Turns out he was taught by my father, and had strong, very complimentary memories of my dad.
At the start of a new career, I attended a training course for new employees of the company. Sitting next to me was a man a little younger than myself. We discovered we had grown up in the same county on the other side of the country and attended the same high school, although not at the same time. He had been taught by my mother.
After a lovely holiday in Greece, sitting on the floor in Athens airport waiting for my fight, I glanced behind to see a man walking across a plaza. I recognised him immediately. I scrambled to my feet and just caught up with him. He gaped in surprise too. He had been my music and occasional piano teacher and we hadn’t seen each other in years as he had emigrated to the Middle East. I would have missed him but for some reason I had looked over my shoulder at the precise moment he walked by.
After relocating from one end of the country to the other, I needed to find a piano tuner. A gentleman turned up at my house following a recommendation and we got chatting. He was very familiar with the village I previously lived in because he had lived there too, a few streets away from my house, and we had mutual acquaintances from my previous employer. We were now hundreds of miles away from this village, yet both of us had strong connections to it.
On honeymoon in Mauritius, I fell ill with a viral infection. The hotel called the local general practitioner, a young man who had trained as a doctor in the UK. Nothing especially remarkable as many study medicine in the UK, until he said he had worked at a familiar local hospital and lived in a small, rather boring town – the same place I went to high school. (I didn’t disagree about the boring part).
Another airport, this time Chicago. I was transferring flights on the way home. Chicago a big airport, yet my companion and I managed to miraculously bump into the sister of friend. We had no idea the other was on holiday. One person among thousands as we dashed from one gate to another. What are the odds?
Then there were my university days. I was one of twenty-six postgraduates, we came from all over the country and several overseas students too. One turned out to have lived in the same village as myself, though separated by a few years, but we had mutual friends. It’s one of thousands of villages! Another student attended a London spots centre, and while she bounced up and down on a trampoline, I was in the sports hall fencing. Only a curtain separated us. But because I wore a protective head guard, we never recognised each other and only found out when we pinned down the exact location and day of week.
There are over 70 million people in the UK, and yet I have met people I know or whom have strong connections with my family or places I have lived in, and these discoveries are spontaneous, based on chatting or gentle probing.
I like to categorise my books as magical realism because then I can explain away bizarre improbable encounters in my books as ‘magical’. However, perhaps I’m being too cautious. Life is full of such coincidences and we shouldn’t be surprised to read them in a plot. Under a different pen name, I write crime novels. The first in the series is called Chance Encounters. There is no magic in this story. The plot relies on the very thing I make magical in my other books – coincidences.
So, I ask myself, having two strangers bump into each multiple times while travelling, is that entirely feasible? (This is the idea behind my next book, A Summer of Castles). Maybe there is some other force at work – something or somebody that can influence the direction of our lives, would that be far-fetched or a good plot ploy? Well, it probably doesn’t matter anyway. Writers can get away with anything. It is fiction after all!