Too many coincidences?

This week a post on the Jack the Ripper Forums asked if people thought there were too many coincidences in the case. I don’t, but it got me thinking about coincidences in writing. Some fiction and television shows use coincidence as a plot device and are considered unrealistic. Yet coincidences do happen in real life.

On my 22nd birthday I had a meeting with my tutor about my MA in Mediaeval Studies. Before this I went to the university library looking for a rare book. The computer told me there were only two copies in the country, and one was in the library of the National Centre for English Cultural Tradition (NATCECT), on the same campus. I had never heard of it but went along, found the book, and chatted to a man who I thought was the librarian.

My tutor asked me, over a glass of wine, what I intended to do next. I explained my vague idea of writing a PhD about the folklore of wolves but doubted there was a university department willing to sponsor such a topic. He told me there were two in the world, and one was at NATCECT. I went back there, discovered that the librarian was Professor John Widdowson, and he agreed to accept the proposal.

This was serendipity rather than coincidence. The final word must go to Goldfinger who memorably said, “Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, third time is enemy action.”

Paul Williams is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. You can read his PhD thesis on wolves in folklore here or buy the abridged version here.

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