‘Serendipity helps the world go round’ says Dr Raj, a minor character in my current work in progress. Is he right? The Cambridge English Dictionary defines serendipity as: the fact of finding interesting or valuable things by chance.
A stronger word than coincidence or happenchance, serendipity carries with it a hint of destiny. For this writer, serendipity sometimes feels like a godsend, something that was meant to be. Our illustration this month is of the front cover of a play by Wole Soyinka – a play that my mindful soulmate and I saw at the West Yorkshire Playhouse where it had its world premiere. We even glimpsed Soyinka himself, that great excoriator of regimes, a Nobel prize-winner walking, unheralded, across a foyer in Leeds.
Should I include reference to this play in my story? Freya, my central character, has a relationship with a British Nigerian doctor in Leeds. Would they go and see the play? I’m a writer who has to plot things in advance, the timeline for this story fits happily into a spreadsheet. I could easily imagine Freya dragging Emenike away from his work, taking him to the theatre, talking with him afterwards, in bed, about the drama they had seen on stage. So I guessed a date that would fit into the grand scheme of things and, guess what, 25th November 1995 turned out to be the very last night of the opening run of the play. It was meant to be in my story, wasn’t it?
My knowledge of Soyinka’s work is patchy and superficial. Except for the experience of seeing the great man himself, I remember little of the performance. I had even lost my copy of the text, so I ordered a second-hand original edition online. Tamsin, my Cinnamon mentor, warned me about trying to be clever by drawing Soyinka into my narrative. But choosing the date was so serendipitous, that I felt it has to be there.
So I keep my characters’ experience of the play to what I feel confident they would see and hear and reflect upon. Later, as Freya lies awake in bed in the small hours, her partner sleeping beside her, she thinks about the bride-to-be in The Beatification of Area Boy – a woman who seized her own destiny, despite the powers surrounding her on every side. It works for me, I hope it will work for my readers.
Dr Raj, like me, will have had many serendipitous experiences in his medical career. One of mine was so extraordinary that it made it into print but whether it was a godsend is debatable.
I’ve been thinking more about medical writers of fiction this month as one of my friends at Leeds Writers Circle shared her enjoyment of Joanna Cannon’s work, particularly her fresh similes and the deceptively-simple flow of her prose. Joanna has written two well-received novels and has just published her memoir Breaking and Mending. My mindful soulmate and I are off to Harrogate in October, to listen to Joanna talk about her experiences as a doctor who writes. I cannot be sure, but I suspect that the theme of next month’s Pangolin, due to emerge on 28th October, will be kindness, something which matters a lot to Joanna Cannon, and to me, and appears to be in short supply at the moment.
The real pangolins need all the kindness and protection they can get. My apologies that Pangolin 48 is two days late, but life has been too full of other pressing and preoccupying stuff.