Happy Coincidences

Last month I came across a term that I’d never heard of before – steampunk. I was reading a submission (many of you know that I edit as well as write) and steampunk was listed as the genre. I turned to the next submission. Steampunk too. Weird, huh?

I was interested. Interested enough to look up what steampunk meant (more of that later) but also to think about the power of coincidence, not just in our everyday lives, but in books too. How strange that I should have received two submissions on the same day with the same term, which I’d never heard of before.

Charles Dickens, of course, was the master of coincidence, often putting together long-lost relatives in complicated plots. Take Oliver Twist, as an example, Oliver is an orphan from a town seventy-five miles from London who runs away to the big city and falls in with a gang of thieves. The target in his first pick-pocketing caper turns out to be an old friend of his father’s. After getting kidnapped, he’s forced to get involved in a burglary. This time, the victim turns out to be his mother’s sister!

And in Great Expectations, it turns out that Miss Havisham (the main character’s supposed benefactor) has the same layer as Pip’s (the main character’s) real benefactor, Magwitch the convict. And it also turns out that Magwitch’s nemesis is the same man who left Miss Havisham at the altar and that Magwitch is Estella’s (Miss Havisham’s adopted daughter’s) father. Complicated, eh? And a whole lot of coincidence.

But it seems fair to say that none of these coincidences have actually spoilt the books. In some ways, they make them even better. Look at, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett – one of my favourite books from childhood.

In this, a gentleman moves in next door to a school – the very same school that houses a young lady who is due to inherit a great deal of money (the little princess, though she doesn’t know this at the time). The gentleman is looking for this particular girl, but the gentleman didn’t even know which city the little girl was sent to school in, so it’s definitely a BIG coincidence that he happens to end up living next door to her!

But does coincidence like this happen in real life too? I think it does. I first met my husband when I was eighteen, at a cashpoint before going to Ascot races. We said hello and goodbye and the next day I went up to university in Scotland. Ten years later we were reintroduced. We both remembered the incident. Fifteen years on, and a little boy later…

… well, as they say, the rest is history!

Oh, and for those of you who are interested, steampunk is a term that originated in the 1980s to combine science fiction, fantasy and history in a plot. It involves a setting where steam power is widely used – say Victorian Britain or the American Wild West, but it can even be a post-apocalyptic time. Works of steampunk feature anachronistic technology or futurist innovations as Victorians might have envisioned them, but based on a Victorian perspective.

How’s that for a genre! Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights and Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines are typical examples of books that feature steampunk, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed without even knowing about it. Or thinking much about coincidence for that matter. What about you? Have you had any cases of coincidence to tell me about?

7 thoughts on “Happy Coincidences

  1. Hi Michelle. Well, I’d never heard of steampunk either. Fascinating. I started going out with my husband because of coincidence too – we had met and lost touch and then I was late going into a lecture one day because I’d stopped at a horse sales on the way and he was late getting to his job because he had got lost and we happened to be walking along the same road at the same time. 24 years later and we’re still together! Lxx

  2. Hi Linda
    Thanks for posting. And my first one of the day, you early bird! I still don’t know how to get a photo up at the start of the article to make it more enticing. I thought I had cracked it this time, but clearly hadn’t! And I didn’t know how you guys met – I might have known it would have something to do with trying to buy another horse, ha ha!
    Michelle xx

  3. Hi Michelle!

    BRILL thought proving post!

    I LOVE the Northen Lights books! They’re so great, getting you to think what you REALLY want to do and say.

    I ADORE the film of the first book! Have you seen it? It’s DEFFO one of my all time fave movies! Along with Alice in Wonderland of course! x

    Great to see you on GHB again! xxx

  4. I love the word steampunk! Didn’t some GHBooks gals dress up in that genre not so long ago for an event in Oxford? When I was about 8 years old my mum and I were sitting in a hotel lobby watching a pop singer entertaining fans – we thought it was so glamorous- twenty odd years later I got up one morning to find him in my kitchen – turned out he was my flatmates dad!

    • Well remembered, Lynda – GHBers dressed up for the Story Museum exhibition of Rochester’s Storyloom, a bonkers creation made out of all kinds of bits and pieces that was supposed to be a Victorian invention that extracted stories from children!
      (and LOL at your flatmate’s dad! Was it a terrible comedown to discover he was just an ordinary person after all?)

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