This post has been a long time coming. Ever since I read her obituary, I’ve been meaning to write it, and been putting it off; and that was back in January.
Jan Mark is probably one of the writers who has meant the most to me over the years, at least in terms of understanding writing, and storytelling. She was mostly known as a children’s writer, producing prizewinning, wonderful work such as Thunder And Lightnings. My own favourite piece from her children’s books was a short story, “Nule”,* about two children who treat one of their house’s newel posts as if it’s human, then start to worry that it’s becoming slightly too human.
My favourite book of hers, though, is her single “adult” book, Zeno Was Here. It’s a love story, a very touching one, but it’s mostly about writing itself. It’s about the writing process, the nature of writing, and the feeling of being written about. It’s a novel about the structure of novels, and it’s the book which introduced me to the works of Flann O’Brien.** It’s about coincidence. It ends with the kind of bone-jarring unexpected coincidence that just doesn’t happen in novels; and then you remember that a hundred pages earlier, the characters were discussing just why those sort of events don’t happen in novels, when they crop up in real life all the time.
It’s quite an obscure book, and – as far as I know – has been out of print for ten years, at least. I found my copy of it by just the sort of coincidences that don’t happen in books: finding out that it existed, and going to my local library to see if they had a copy, I found it among the fifty or so tatty things on the “Withdrawn, For Sale” table. It’s only right, I suppose, that you should find a book about coincidence in that sort of way. If you find a copy yourself, read it, because it deserves to be better-known.
* from the collection Nothing To Be Afraid Of
** Another writer I’ve been meaning to post about, but haven’t
Do you like it when random people from your past bump into you in the street?
In my case, I generally don’t think I do want to get in touch with many more people from my past. All the friends I wouldn’t want to lose, I’m still in touch with; I still see them at least every year or so. The rest of my schoolfriends, to be honest, I don’t particularly care about. It might sound harsh, but it’s true. If I’d wanted to stay in touch with them, I could have done.
I’m thinking about this now, because yesterday afternoon I was sitting in a pub, having a bit of a munch with a few friends, when some random people start pushing their car into the car park. They come into the pub, and idle time away by the bar waiting for the AA to arrive. I glance at them and don’t think anything of it; but then, listening in, I suddenly recognise one of their voices. I sneak another look: it’s someone I knew fairly well at school.
I hesitated for a moment. But I didn’t particularly want to talk to him. I last saw him ten years ago, and have barely thought about him since. I didn’t want to tell him how my life is going now, what I’ve been up to, who these friends I’m with are, how I know them.
I looked up for a moment, and caught him looking at me, as if he was trying to place where he’d seen me before. I turned back to my friends, and back to the conversation.
Have you ever noticed that sometimes one little thing seems to be popping up all over the place?
Earlier today, browsing the interweb, I read a short Freaky Trigger item about Uncle, a series of children’s books from the 1960s that I’d never ever heard of before. Which is a shame, because – according to this Economist article about them* – they sounded to be exactly the sort of children’s books that I’d have loved if I had known about them when they were still in print.
So then, later on, I’m browsing an internet dating site, and reading the profile of an attractive-looking person. And, what do they list among the 100 things they couldn’t live without? The Uncle books, of course.
I’m on the lookout now. The slightest mention of J P Martin’s Uncle books anywhere, and I’m going to jump up and shout: “Aha! A third coincidence!” before running off to my nearest second-hand bookstore** to search frantically for copies. Because they must be significant somehow. Right?
* I have to say, the Economist isn’t my usual reading.
** As the nearest decent one I can think of quickly is about 40 miles away, this might take a while. I might not run all the way there.