Sometimes events line up in a most surprising way, stretching coincidence to the very limits of credulity.
The statisticians will tell us that it’s all pure chance, the probabilities can all be calculated and that one day the lottery draw will be 1,2,3,4,5 and 6. And yet we poor humans cannot comprehend the statistical facts and will be amazed and astounded when it happens, despite it being just another random event.
A few days ago I started a little series of coincidences by doing something utterly out of character and habit: I picked up a piece of litter as I was walking to buy groceries. It had rained and the paper was half in a puddle and clearly soaked. Yet I paused in my stride and bent to pick up the white folded sheets. As I did so I saw that it was not one but two soggy pieces of A4. It was so waterlogged I thought to drop it again quickly.
I’d decided to walk that evening because I’d grown tired of reading and assessing an unpublished novel submitted to Askance. Once I’d done with the novel I knew there were many short stories waiting to be read and reduced to a short-list for the latest writing competition. Last year I’d had the good fortune to edit the 2013 collection and have been invited to do so again for 2014.
Instead of dropping the random piece of litter, I carefully peeled the sheets apart and was astonished to find myself reading a short story, one with the notes of an editor neatly written in the margins, along with meticulously detailed corrections of grammar and punctuation.
Once I’d got the paper home and squeezed the water from it, I was able to read it properly. As a story it was interesting without being remarkable, but the writing was powerful if a little immature. It is not mine to reproduce here, so you must take my word for it. The notes at the end revealed its origins: this was a piece of school work, a piece of creative writing, the editor was an English teacher. That teacher had lavished such care and time on the story it reminded me of how my own teenage writings had been treated more than 50 years ago. And now as then, I couldn’t help but disagree with some of the comments, with the insistence on grammatical correctness and avoidance of taboo when creativity demands freedom of expression. Perhaps there is time enough for that.
As it turned out, the chain of coincidence did not quite end there. The story had a name attached to it, and it was a matter of minutes to discover via Google that the author of Zoe’s Friend, with a Golden Smile (for that was the story) is barely into her teens and yet is already a published writer, a reviewer of books, already passing comment on others’ work, just as I had been doing before I decided on a walk after the rain.
So if you are reading this, ZM and would like your A-/B++ story back, please get in touch, I have it properly dried out now.