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?