Tuesday 23 September 2008


Coincidence plays a part in life, as well as in fiction. It’s a criticism of a novel if the events seem to depend too heavily upon coincidence – yet the fact is that coincidences are difficult to avoid, and they crop up quite unexpectedly sometimes.

I was reminded of this at the authors’ evening in Windermere last week, when Paul Flint, our host for the day, pointed out that my second Lake District Mystery, The Cipher Garden, involves a major character called Peter Flint who happens to be one of the suspects. Peter’s family hails from Penrith – and so does Paul’s…

I was quite startled by this revelation. I wrote the book before I ever met Paul (through work) and the Penrith connection was quite unknown to me. As it happens, I go to great lengths to avoid too great a likeness between my characters and reality, and the disclaimers seem to get lengthier with each book. But you can’t legislate against coincidence. And it’s always struck me as odd that, shortly after featuring first a football club and later a local hospital in my fiction, those two organisations should consult me for legal advice, without being aware of having featured in the stories (not in a negative way, I hasten to add.)

One of the topics for discussion during the evening was how different authors often come up with the same plot idea at around the same time. And sometimes, even apparently original concepts turn out not to have been quite so ground-breaking after all. So, for example, the twist in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was anticipated by Chekhov’s The Shooting Party. And yet the odds are that Christie wasn’t familiar with that interesting, but very obscure, story by the great Russian writer. Nor is she sure to have read an obscure American whodunit called The Invisible Host, which in some respects anticipates And Then There Were None.

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