This is the WASTED BLOG. For my main author website, click this link.

Awards: WASTED won the Read it or Else category in the Coventry Award and was runner-up in the North East Book Award. It is longlisted for the Carnegie Medal and shortlisted for the Manchester, Grampian, Angus, and RED Awards.


I'm starting to collect stories of how chance affects people's lives. In the post on May 4th, I'll be asking for your stories. If you're coming here after May 4th, please go and add your story in a comment there. If it's not May 4th yet, just get thinking and get ready to fascinate us!

Here's writer Kath Langrish's contribution - thanks, Kath! And I'm visiting her blog on Thursday 6th May.

"At first, when asked to write a paragraph or two about how – or whether – luck-stroke-chance had ever affected my life, I couldn’t think of anything.  For about a second.  Then I realised my life has been almost nothing but a series of odd happenstances. For example, at age 16, living in the country and pony mad, I thought I wanted to teach riding for a living.  Ultra-kind parents bought me a pony (my own offspring have never let me forget this) and enabled me to discover I didn’t actually want this career at all.  By that time, however, the pony had managed in that mysterious way animals have, to pick up a chronic infection that took years to clear up.  Couldn’t sell him.  Couldn’t bear to shoot him.  Couldn’t leave him with parents who knew nothing about ponies.  Couldn’t afford to have him looked after elsewhere.  Couldn’t, therefore, go to university. 

"Instead I stayed at home, worked at a wild variety of part time jobs, looked after the pony, and began an external BA with London University.  Four and a half years on, the pony cured and a First Class honours degree under my belt, I decided to go for a postgraduate degree.  Picked out a hall of residence with a pin, thereby meeting the man I was going to marry.  Abandoned the degree. Married, went off to France with him and met a charismatic and sparky American woman who ran a storytelling group for small Anglophone children at the Bibliotheque de Fontainbleau (a Gormenghast-like place of rigid rules which deserves a whole story of its own one day.)  Ended up running the group myself and discovered a talent and a love for storytelling... which helped no end when I began writing stories again. And so on, and so on. 

"Looking back, I’m not sure I ever planned anything in my life – and now I think about it I realise I don’t really plan my books either, they sort of organically come together.   Do we write books the way we live our lives?"


And here's another writer's very different approach to the same task. Lucy Coats, whose blog I'm visiting on Tues 11th May to talk about Oedipus:

The Algebra of Chance – Lucy Coats
"Did the fair woman in the bookshop throw the dice?  Or was it the dark-haired student who set the chance coins a-turning?  Where does the story start? You might choose to begin here.  Or here. Or here. I choose to start at the beginning. Or at a beginning, anyway.

1975 New York 

The book called Rabbit Boss sat quietly on the shelf, waiting for someone to pick it up, turn its pages, read it. The bookshop was quiet on that Thursday afternoon, but as the clock struck the half hour, there was a small rush and flurry through the door.  Workers, on their way home, wanting something for the subway, something to take away the winter blues, something to escape into for a little while.  The fair woman (small, neat, with hair in a dancer’s chignon) stopped in front of the shelf, reached out, picked up the book, stroked its silver dustjacket, took it to the till, paid for it. It was just the kind of novel she liked—full of edgy, interesting prose and the issues of a broken people.  When she got home, she did what she always did with new books.  Turned to the inside cover, wrote her name and the year neatly in strong black ink on the top right hand corner of the page.  Then she settled down in the old comfy armchair, hooking a cat onto her lap as she sat.  The book belonged to her properly now, and she could read it with the satisfactory sense of ownership which putting her mark in that particular place always gave. 
“The Washo watched. The Washo watched through the trees…” it began.  Soon, within weeks, she would lend the book to a feckless friend, against her better judgement and in a rush of enthusiasm for sharing the story. It would not return to her. But she would remember it.

1981 Edinburgh 
The tiny university office was stuffy, smelled of student armpits, stale coffee and the dust of academic tomes.  But the dark-haired girl (round, rosy-cheeked, intense) didn’t notice any of that, too focused on listening to the female tutor’s voice telling the small group about the book they wouldn’t now be studying.  “We couldn’t get copies from the USA,” she said.  “Bit of bad luck, but it can’t be helped. It’s out of print, so no chance.”  The dark-haired girl sighed.  She’d been looking forward to reading Rabbit Boss all summer.  The two tutors had really hyped it up and it was one of the reasons she’d chosen American Literature as her major.  The course was still going to be interesting—there were Joseph Heller and Philip Roth and Emily Dickinson to read after all—but she had an odd sense of being short-changed somehow, as if that particular book would have made a difference to her life, as if she’d lost some important opportunity by not having it in her hands.  The not-having niggled at her for years afterwards, popped into her brain at odd moments, leaving a sour feeling of dissatisfaction and yearning every time she remembered. But she never did anything about it.

1989 New York 
The Virgin Upper Class lounge at JFK was like some tacky men’s clubhouse—all sombre ‘wood-look’ panelled walls, faux-leather chairs and a shelf of dog-eared secondhand books.  The dark-haired woman (no longer a girl) was on her way home from a two year New York posting.  She looked at the books as soon as she walked in. She always looked at books—they were her living, after all, and knowing what other people read seemed important to her.  The shelf held left-behind paperbacks mostly—airport trash reads. Just what she’d expected. But there was one hardback.  It had a silver cover with red lettering, announcing proudly that it was Rabbit Boss by Thomas Sanchez.  The dark-haired woman snatched it up greedily, and immediately, furtively, glanced around to see if anyone was watching.  Then, very swiftly, she bent down and slipped the book inside her carry-on.  It wasn’t truly stealing, it was serendipity,  karma, luck, destiny,  providence, kismet.  She knew that absolutely.  And anyway, an abandoned book is anyone’s. It was eight years late, but this one had finally come home to where it rightly belonged.

11th September 2001 New York 
The fair, no-longer-neat woman runs uptown from the dance studio on West Street in flimsy ballet shoes, hair wild and escaping from its chignon,  pursued by roaring dust, wrapped in screaming and noise and chaos. There will be no dancing today, only death and more death and fire and doll bodies falling small on the world’s TV screens.  She is, quite literally, running for her life.

11th September 2001 rural England 
The dark-haired woman is writing a poem about funerals. At 4.51pm that day, just as she is wrestling with a difficult rhyme for crematorium, the phone rings in her office.  It is bad news.  Her sister—her long-estranged half-sister to whom she wrote and sent a letter of reconciliation only yesterday (not even knowing if it would be read or opened)—is dying of cancer.  There is forty years of catching up to do, and almost no time, because Death is riding a fast horse towards one of them.  The past is another country now, where the sins of the father no longer matter.

20th September 2001 London 
The dark-haired woman opens the door of a house in Ealing.  There is a stranger—a small, neat person with fair hair in a dancer’s chignon—standing there.  She has come from New York to visit her oldest friend.  Who is also the dark-haired woman’s half-sister, and who will be dead and buried by Christmas. But sorrow sometimes bears a gift—and a new friendship will be born out of that day, which will keep the memory of a good woman alive with tears and talk and poetry and dance and long chatty emails—and letters signed in strong black ink. 

2010 rural England 
The dark-haired woman takes down Rabbit Boss from the high shelf where she keeps her American novels. She hasn’t read it since the days when she could afford to travel in style on aeroplanes. The days before she became a writer (which she has since learned doesn’t really pay enough to travel business class). She opens the inside cover and notices, for the very first time, the neat, black-inked signature and date in the top right hand corner of the page.  She looks more closely and feels icefeather fingers stroking down her spine as she recognises both name and writing. Surely it is an impossible equation of fate that the name of her dead sister’s oldest friend should be written here, in this particular book.
The book which had been liberated from that sombre airport lounge in New York twelve years before the dark-haired woman had ever met the fair stranger.
The book which the dark-haired woman had only stolen in the first place because that long-ago university tutor failed to procure her a copy.
The book which the fair woman had bought, read, lent and lost. 
But it is not. The algebra of chance is correct. It all adds up exactly.
“The Washo watched. The Washo watched through the trees. The Washo watched through the trees as they ate themselves…” begins the book, just as it did in 1975, when the fair woman (small, neat with hair in a dancer’s chignon) read that first sentence in her comfy armchair, stroking the cat on her lap.
The Gods of Chance often weave strange tales.  This one is true. 

© Lucy Coats 2010

O, wow.

And finally, Catherine Hughes, who is a fab aspiring writer and also, by chance (??), my assistant, tells this very human and strong story about a chance decision that changed her life. And created a few more...
Children by Chance - Catherine Hughes

I was only twenty-three when my first child was born and I believed - very firmly - at the time that she would also be my last.  Because I was a single mum with a full time job, and there was no time to go out and meet people.  Plus, my family lived a long way away from me, and I was very much a lone parent.

Perhaps, with hindsight, we might call it ‘once bitten twice shy’.  Perhaps we might simply say that I was devoted to my daughter (I was and I am) and therefore had little time for anything other than making sure she was well-cared for and had a stable roof over her head.  Or perhaps we might agree that the only way to hold down a job whilst bringing up a child alone was to have a cast-iron routine, from which deviation was both unwarranted and unwelcome.

Whatever explanation we select, the fact was that I kept to myself and kept to my routine.  And I was happy.  I worked hard, I slept well, I coped.

My daughter was just over a year old when my father and aunt paid me a surprise visit.  They called me one Thursday to tell me that they would be arriving on the Friday afternoon, and that they would babysit whilst I went out for the evening.

I wasn’t keen.  I did not want to disrupt my precious habits.  I did not feel like staying out late.  And I had nowhere to go.  I mentioned this to a colleague at work and she suggested that I join her and many other workmates at a fundraising party being hosted by one of our number.  Not being especially close to any of them, I began to formulate some excuses when, quite suddenly, a strange impulse came over me and the most fateful words of my life issued from my mouth:
“OK, then.”  Quite on impulse, I agreed to go out that night.  To this day, I have no idea why I did that.

We went to the party and then, taken by the happy atmosphere, I agreed to go on to a nightclub with some of my colleagues.  Being critically short of money, I wouldn’t normally have been able to, but - fortuitously - my father had lent me his car.  And so a deal was struck, by virtue of which I acted as taxi and they paid for my entry into the club and my (non-alcoholic) drinks.

We’d been inside for less than ten minutes when a young man came to talk to me as I stood, somewhat bewildered (it had been a while!) at the side of the dance floor.

That was almost sixteen years ago.  This April, that ‘young’ man and I will celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary.

If my relatives hadn’t decided on a whim to come and stay, I would never have gone out that night.  If my father had not insisted I take his car, I would never have been able to join my workmates in that club.  If my husband had not walked in my direction as he turned away from the bar, we might never have met.  If his friend hadn’t later salvaged the tiny piece of paper with my telephone number on it from the floor of his car, we would never have seen each other again.
All tiny events - small chances.

We went on to have three more children.  Children who would not exist but for those tiny acts of fate; those little coincidences that brought us together.

Scary, isn’t it - that life itself might be a matter of coincidence.  That children might be born from chance.
Thanks so much to Kath, Lucy and Catherine. Have you got some stories to add to theirs? Get ready to tell them after May 4th when that blog post with my own stories is posted.