Coincidentally, when the movie of Donna Tartt’s world best-seller The Goldfinch was released, it reminded me of talking coincidence with her one evening at a London event to promote the novel.
I asked Donna if coincidences cropped up when she worked on a book as they were for me. At the time, I was researching my first novel and I seemed to be hitting them constantly. Was it the same for an internationally acclaimed author?
Coincidentally, it was - especially, she said, when researching The Goldfinch in Las Vegas for her chapters there. Talking with Donna after the event, she expanded on the theme saying she saw coincidences everywhere and she signed my copy to prove it.
Whilst developing my novel, Potential, it was amazing how coincidences kept occurring, not in the actual writing but in the day to day process of putting the book together and how the story connected to real life outside it.
Here’s three examples of what happened with me:
1: A significant part of my story revolves around Greenwich, the Royal Observatory, its famous Meridian Line and the nearby Royal Naval College. These famous landmarks have been big factors throughout my life as I grew up across the River Thames on the Isle of Dogs looking directly out to all of them. It’s a very well-known London vista, Canaletto once painted it. Yet, even though I had walked past the College along the river front on numerous occasions, including most days for years on the way to and from school, I had never stepped foot inside it.
So, during research, when pointed to the Mander & Mitchenson theatrical archives for background on Barbra Streisand’s 1966 West End appearances in Funny Girl, I was stunned when the collection turned out to be actually based at the College (although they have since moved). Hence, I duly entered the historic buildings for the very first time.
2: The Royal Observatory and Meridian Line were always my starting points even before I had worked out what my story was going to be. I had wanted to write about them for years, even back to the turn of the Millennium when I briefly researched a book on Longitude and the famed Harrison chronometer only to walk into a bookshop one day and realise Dava Sobel had very brilliantly and successfully got there before me! Robbed of a theme maybe, but years later when I decided to write something else I still knew where I wanted it to begin. The question was, how?
Looking around London’s National Gallery one day, I had an epiphany about the book involving art when I was captivated by Louis-Léopold Boilly’s painting, A Girl at A Window – a stunning, monochrome work which I am proud to have now as my front cover. And inching up close to the picture taking it in that first time, there it was, lying on the window sill at the girl’s hand – a telescope. Coincidence. Telescopes, Observatory. The door of my plot had opened.
And 3, the Big One: My main character glorifies his childhood friend, now grown up, sitting at a window as she used to do and wearing a red dress. Imagine my incredulity some months later while watching a TV interview with Barbra Streisand, still a major factor in my story. Suddenly, Barbra changed tack in an answer and started to talk about how much she loves a Hopper painting… of a woman in a red dress at a window! I could hardly speak.
Three examples but coincidences came hard and fast.
I wanted to include aspects of the football World Cup as 1966, when England won it, is a pivotal plot year in addition to Barbra Streisand starring in Funny Girl. Sure enough, when researching more in the National Gallery, I came out of some swing doors and a mosaic on the floor revealed a little tableau called ‘Football’. A vital link established.
I wanted to include the Lake District in my story too as I love the fells and have walked them for many years. My absolute favourite spot is High Snockrigg above Buttermere and have sat on its top many times overlooking the lake. Sure enough, when researching JMW Turner at Tate Britain in London, there was one of his early paintings of Buttermere – including, just at the side of the picture, High Snockrigg.
Donna Tartt would have loved all this. So why not end on another Donna coincidence.
While in Paris one day, I went to one of my favourite places on the entire planet, the famous bookshop on the banks of the Seine just across from Notre Dame, Shakespeare & Co - the revered sanctum for writers over many years. Looking along the hallowed shelves, I couldn’t resist buying a books magazine featuring an interview with one of my all-time favourite actresses, Kristin Scott-Thomas.
Imagine the very broad smile across my face then, when reading the mag later over a cup of coffee in a café, to discover Kristin loves Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch… and how she also loves to buy her books at Shakespeare and Co.