May 2010


Coincidences follow novelists. I started working on my novel, The Missing Boy, two years ago. I had decided to write the story behind this horrifying statistic: 100.000 children run away each year. In the week of publication I was listening to the Today programme when I discovered that it was International Missing ChiIdrens’ Day with the launch of a nationally co-ordinated Child Rescue Alert.

Some years ago I wrote a novel called Magic and Fate which opened with a super model crashing off the catwalk – not so important you may say as the tragedy of missing children – but here came the coincidence – a week after I described it, Naomi Campbell did her own ignominious topple.

Another year I had completed a biography of St. Francis by pointing out that, although a great cathedral was built over his tomb, he had never wanted grandeur and his spirit could be found more truly under a beech tree or in a cool cave. A day later the cathedral was nearly destroyed by a huge earthquake.

Thomas Hardy used to be much criticised for his use of coincidence within a novel but anyone interested in the drama of life, inside or outside a book, will be aware of them all around. The intensity of the writing process seems to call them up. I’ve no doubt that’s the reason that suddenly three people are writing on the same subject, infecting each other across the airwaves.

It’s not exactly a coincidence but when I was planning my novel, One Summer and badly needed inspiration for an unusual faraway location, I found myself called to Chile where I’d never been before and ended up in Valparaiso which was so right that I couldn’t have made it up.

Happily, The Missing Boy has produced no personal coincidences. The plight of a thirteen year old boy, alone and unprotected, gave me nightmares when I was writing it and that was quite enough.