The Coincidence Authority
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I had to visit almost a hundred zoos, aquariums, bird sanctuaries and wildlife parks, and when the publication date was delayed for a year I had to visit them all again to make sure the descriptions were up to date. Fiction is so much easier. I had two ideas in my mind when I sat down to write my second novel. I wanted to shine some light on the abduction of child soldiers that still continues in this part of Africa. I decided this was too bleak for a whole novel and started instead on my second idea — a story about someone trying to come to terms with strange coincidences.
A few weeks later, when I was walking my dog, I was struck with a sudden thought. Maybe I could combine the two? All I had to do was to find a way to get Azalea to Africa. This is where I grew up. When I was sixteen I did some volunteer work in Tsavo National Park, helping to carry out a survey of the elephant population. Tsavo East remains my favourite place to this day. It is a fantastic place to see wildlife. My wife Sue, incidentally, prefers Tsavo West, and I would grudgingly award this a second place. So I set this story in a remote village where a stranger washes up on the beach and helps the villagers to rescue a stranded whale.
Outside, in the real world, the world economy might be collapsing, but in the village life goes on very much as normal. Love and optimism prevail. I want readers to come away from it with a big smile. Well — almost no one.
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We met a researcher from the International Rhino Federation who had been working in the forests for 14 years and had never spotted a rhino. Not once. So imagine our excitement after nine hours in a dug-out canoe when we saw a mother rhino and her calf. I spent some time in the far north west of Uganda when I was a teenager and I was confident that I could describe the people and the places as they might have been in the s when Azalea was growing up there. There was a mission school and hospital that I remember clearly.
I remember sitting on the veranda drinking a cold beer, and I remember sharing a meal with the mission children in a large, open sided mess hall.
Book review: The Coincidence Authority a heartfelt work full of keen observations
For me, this became the mission in the novel. But quite early in the writing I realised that the story would need to end with Thomas visiting the West Nile Province in the present day, and this gave me a dilemma. I am so pleased that we did this. It helped to make the final scene more believable in my view.
We never found the mission, but we saw many others, and we saw a region that had made a remarkable recovery from years of terror and hardship. This was something I tried to convey in the novel. The origi nal cover for the hardback edition by nathanburtondesign. A: You probably recognise how it feels, once you have visited a place that makes an emotional impact on you, how you always notice news reports from that part of the world.
It was like that for me with West Nile. For years I would watch the admittedly rare reports from Uganda with a growing sense of horror. I would often think about the people I had met, and the mission school, and I would wonder how they had fared.
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So yes, I did want to tell that story. I did and still do feel that what Kony did has been comprehensively ignored by the rest of the world. A: As it happens, Kony is the only real person in the book. The lawyer at Orion Books asked me if I was comfortable calling him the things I call him. But we agreed that he was hardly likely to sue.
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I hope I managed to get it believable — or at least to uncover some of the truths in the history of this region. I would get too many details wrong.
I love the fact that she has such a mosaic of stories in her life. I love the plucky way as a teenager that she stands up to the LRA soldiers. She is rebellious and I like that too — the way she flings the flowers at her fates. So Azalea, for me is the hero. A; For a long time it was The Coincidences of Azalea. In the USA they called it, simply, Coincidence. I quite like that too. Max Ponder took me five years.
The Coincidence Authority took fifteen months. It was the most immersive experience I had ever had with a book, and I found myself having to trust the characters, in a way that I had never done before, letting them take the story in the direction that they wanted. In one chapter Thomas and Azalea set off on a car journey and almost immediately they start to quarrel. So I scrapped the chapter and started again. Once again an argument started almost on the first page. I began to despair that I could ever write the chapter I had imagined.
I started again, and this time I let the characters get on with it and argue. And it was the right thing to do. This book taught me to trust the characters, and in the end they will deliver the story. A: You have a way of asking impossible questions Jane. I think the protagonist in Not Forgetting the Whale gets the closest to answering that question. A: The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder is the closest I have come to an autobiographical novel, and it is probably the book I had to write before I could relax and write other stuff.
I used Max Ponder to smuggle in many of the stories from my childhood — my schooldays, a fateful cruise in the heart of Africa, my meeting with Idi Amin, my first encounter with death. His next novel will be easier. In the end Thomas is left to make up his own mind about reality. Do we have free will?
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Do things happen for a reason? But I did want to make readers think about these things. Perhaps the moral, that Thomas learns, is to expect the unexpected. A: As a novelist yourself you will know that writing a novel means spending a year or more of your life inhabiting a very particular world with people who you grow to know and love. I was happy to let all the characters go. That seems OK to me.
A: It is certainly the kind of profound quotation that I like and will probably use. It seems to elevate the idea of novelty above depth. I do wonder if there are ever any undiscovered ideas. We are all mining the same seam. J: Thank you again for taking part in this blog interview. Interesting insights. The books sound up my street. All it asks of me is why write when all of time could be occupied in reading?