Thursday, 11 March 2010

Good Luck - Andrew Strong

Noel Edmonds wrote down his wish on a piece of paper and put it under his pillow. What was his dream? World peace? A cure for cancer? No, he wanted to present a prime time TV show. Some time later his 'cosmic ordering' produced the goods: he fronted "Deal or No Deal".

This wasn't a miracle: it seems quite obvious to me that any celebrity whose cosmic ordering didn't produce results would not be eager to shout about it in the press, and nor would the press be interested in such a miserable outcome. How many other celebrities of Edmonds' generation have wished their careers could be resuscitated, worked hard, and got nowhere? (Remember BBC DJ Mike Read? His musical "Oscar Wilde" closed after one day. "Hard to feel anything but contempt," was one review.)

You cross your fingers, you look for a sign, something that will confirm what you already believe: the message could come as a picture in the paper, a bird on a wire, an advert on the TV. Others may say it's coincidence but you know better - it's an omen. When things get desperate these portents come thick and fast. A car overtakes - its number plate spells out an important message: or a song on the radio confirms what you already thought.

I enjoy this when it works at the most trivial level - "if I can throw this bottle top into the bin from the other side of the room then my book will be a run away success" - sort of thing.

Synchronicities abound - you are reading a word in a magazine and someone says it. You go on holiday to a distant place - the first person you meet is someone with whom you were at school.

We want reassurance that the future is not completely and utterly contingent. We turn to star signs or dreams, tarot cards, palm reading, or, as my crazy grandmother once did, studied tea leaves. She lived to ninety, so it must have helped. Didn't it?

But life is luck: the very fact that you were born is just luck. That you were born in this time, not in a time of famine or plague: it's just luck. There are more human beings on Earth now than there have ever been, so the chances are if you are going to be born at all, it's going to be now, but even so, the chances are still pretty stacked against you. And if you you're dead, or haven't been born, then it's unlikely you'll be reading this.

I think it's this astonishing fact - that we are here at all - that fills us with a sense that life must have a meaning, and that there must be meaning all around us. We expect the present to roll gently into the future. But anything can happen. Anything at all. Stories are smoothing irons, they take out the wrinkles and creases in the contingencies of time. If a book begins, it's probably going to have a middle and an end too. How reassuring. It won't just stop after a few paragraphs.

In my book, "Oswald and the End of the World" Oswald's father believes he can control the future. He sees signs in snail trails and seaweed. But for Oswald's dad, he begins to think this means only one thing - the end of the world. And just like Noel Edmonds, he could turn out to be right, fortune telling might work for him. But the chances are it won't work for you. And when it doesn't, make sure everyone knows, just for the purposes of balance.


Nicola Morgan said...

Andrew - synchronicity indeed - and exactly what my forthcoming YA novel, Wasted is about! In it, my character, Jack thinks he must control his luck by throwing a coin and doing whatever it tells him. He knows that you can't predict or organise the future, but that you can affect it, and that you do, countless times every day, without noticing. But Jack notices, and becomes obsessed with what ifs, to disastrous effect.

So, you and I started with the same fascination with the same thing and come up with a totally different story for a totally different age group. Hooray! (And good luck to both of us, I hope).

I'm designing a special blog for when Wasted comes out in May - would you like to come onto it and talk about your book? Email me at if you would - you can take your pick out of a number of days in May. I'd love to have you there and plug Oswald!

Miriam Halahmy said...

I love that phrase, "Stories are smoothing irons...." I will be thinking about it for a long time to come. Excellent.

Katherine Langrish said...

Well said, Andrew. And it does rather annoy me when people pray/wish for such trivial things that there's a high likelihood of them happening anyway - and then claim their wishes/prayers have been 'answered'. Like a young priest I once heard explaining that he had prayed not to miss his flight, and that God had obliged. It always reminds me of Huck Finn, who prayed for fish-hooks after the widder-woman had told him God would answer prayers. But he didn't get thehooks, and decided there was nothing in it.

Meg Harper said...

Oh gosh yes, Katherine, quite! I'm a Christian, (albeit a heretic!) and that does so annoy me - and the tendency to talk away somehow the really gross failure of prayers! I still pray - sometimes it seems to help - or it changes me and my behaviour just because I've thought about the person or the situation - so seems worth carrying on with. But happy clappy talk about it is not, in my opinion.

I too love the smoothing iron line - I sat there and thought, 'Heck, I wish I could write like that!'

And perhaps, Andrew, you could talk about luck to the person who sent me the ghastly editorial from some right wing paper proclaiming that this is OUR country, because we were born here and we have a right to be as selfish as we like with it, etc etc ad nauseum! Thank you. Very stimulating post - I should read these more often!