Coincidence by J.W. Ironmonger-Review, Interview and Giveaway
by J.W. Ironmonger
Release Date: Re-release February 18, 2014
Thirty years ago, on the date in June known as Midsummer’s Day, a young girl is mysteriously orphaned. Now, after a life of bizarre and troubling circumstances, she becomes obsessed with the idea that she too will die on Midsummer’s Day . . . until she meets the one man who may be able to save her
Azalea Lewis’s life has been dominated by coincidences-a bizarre, and increasingly troubling, series of chance events so perfectly coordinated that any sane person would conclude that only the hidden hand of providence could explain them.
REVIEW: COINCIDENCE is a fictional storyline intertwined with a little bit of historical reality that focuses on the mathematical probability of events, chances and coincidences shaping the life of Azalea Yves Folley Lewis. The novel is told through flashbacks, memories, recounting of and current day events from just prior to Azalea’s birth to the end of the story.
COINCIDENCE is a story about the probability that the life altering events in one woman’s life all occur on the same date every ten years-Midsummer’s Day June 21. Thirty years ago, on June 21, a young child of approximately three to four years old is found wandering the empty fairgrounds and her mother’s whereabouts is never known-until a badly decomposed body washes up on shore more than one year later-but the two events are never connected-until now.
J.W. Ironmonger pulls the reader into the search for the truth. We follow as Azalea Yves’s young life is thrown into turmoil –from the death of her mother; to a life in Uganda with her adopted parents; and a struggle to survive in a country at war with itself. At thirty years of age, Azalea will ‘accidently’ meet a man who studies the probability of coincidences and they begin a relationship based on chances and the what-ifs and whys of life. We are witness to Azalea’s struggles to uncover the past-a past she knows nothing about-but a past that is interconnected to everything and everyone in her life.
COINCIDENCE is a philosophical look at chances and probabilities. The storyline is slow to develop as J.W. Ironmonger builds on the early events that are the catalyst of Azalea’s life. Once the scenario has been established, the reader is pulled into a story where the reality of the day is played out in the life of a young teenage girl hoping to survive against the odds. Fast forward twenty years when Azalea begins the journey back as she approaches the Midsummer’s Day-June 21 and whatever it has to offer.
J.W. Ironmonger has written a story of probabilities and mystery; what-ifs and whys; and never giving up. COINCIDENCE is a story that takes a philosophical look at fate and predestination-has your life been planned out by a higher power? Or is everything that happens just a matter of coincidence and accidental meetings?
Copy supplied by the publisher HarperCollins
Reviewed by Sandy
TRC: Hi JW and welcome to The Reading Café. Congratulations on the February 2014 release of COINCIDENCE.
JW: Well thank you so much for having me. I feel greatly privileged to be talking to The Reading Café …
TRC: We would like to start with some background information. Would you please tell us something about yourself?
JW: I’m an Englishman, and I live in the beautiful rural county of Shropshire in England, along with my lovely wife Sue and our assortment of animals. I’ve always been a writer, but I’ve hidden it well. Writing success came, for me, in my fifties, so I’m making the very most of it now.
TRC: Your bio reads like a travel itinerary with stops throughout much of Europe, Africa and the Middle East. What are/were some of your favorite places to visit? To live?
JW: My father worked at Nairobi University, so I was born in Kenya. It was absolutely the most exciting place to grow up. When I was seventeen my family moved back to England. For me it was like a bereavement. I still miss East Africa – the noises, the colors, the smells …and of course the people. It has to be my favorite place to live.
I’ve been lucky to travel so widely. A few years ago I drove, with a friend, in a ‘banger rally,’ from London to the Gambia, through eight countries, and across the Sahara desert. That was my greatest adventure – until just a year or so ago, Sue and I travelled to Indonesia and became possibly the only travelers ever to have seen a Javan rhino and her calf. That was magical. But East Africa is still where my heart belongs.
TRC: How, if any, did your travels influence the premise of COINCIDENCE?
JW: When I was just sixteen I worked a vacation as a spanner-boy on building sites in the very north of Uganda. I’ve never forgotten the stunning beauty of this remote part of the world. I remember one night, sitting out on a veranda at a small mission school, drinking the local beer, discovering what an agreeable life the missionaries had made for themselves, and learning just how hard they were working with refugee children from Sudan. Not long after I left Uganda, the region became embroiled in a long civil war. I would watch with horror the rare news reports that made it to the West – stories of child soldiers, and brutal massacres. I would often wonder about that little mission school. How had it fared? This was very much in my mind when I sat down to write Coincidence. I used the mission school from my memory, and for me it became the heart of the novel; the place where the story would all end, for better or for worse.
TRC: Would you please tell us something about the premise of COINCIDENCE?
JW: I’ve always been fascinated by coincidences. They happen to us all from time to time. When they do it’s tempting to imagine they’re part of some master-plan of the universe – proof perhaps that everything that happens, happens for a reason. That’s what Azalea Lewis believes. Her life has been affected by a series of unhappy coincidences, and she has discovered within them, a pattern, that she now thinks will lead to her inevitable death.
So Azalea consults an expert on Coincidences. He’s Thomas Post, a man who can explain every coincidence through simple mathematics. But what happens when two such different views of the universe meet? Can Thomas and Azalea get along? Could they fall in love? As the climax of Azalea’s coincidences draws closer, can she convince Thomas to believe her fears? This is a story about love, chance, death, and free will. Can we take control of our own destiny? And if we do, where might it lead us? That’s the story at the heart of ‘Coincidence’.
TRC: What challenges or difficulties (research, logistics, background) did you encounter writing this particular story?
JW: I wanted to make the coincidences in the story a surprise, even for readers who think they know what is coming. And I wanted the narrative to unravel in a non-linear way – so we learn about key events first, and then go back in time to see how they unfolded. Logistically this was a nightmare. I ended up with an enormous chart of events covering more than fifty years, but it did help me ensure that everything worked, in the way and on the days they were supposed to work.
I also wanted, in the story, to shine a light on the forgotten conflicts in Uganda, and on the character of Joseph Kony, whose murderous ‘Lords Resistance Army’ still operates in this part of Africa. I let Azalea grow up there, in the mission school of my memory, so her life could be touched by the troubles. I remember the region well from my own childhood, but in Coincidence the story would develop up to the present day. How much would this hidden corner of Africa have changed? In 2011, while writing the book, I went back to see, on a road trip with my son Jon. We searched for the mission school (unsuccessfully, alas) but we learned a lot, and the experience would inform the final chapter of the book
TRC: Are the storyline characters based in reality or a culmination of fact and fiction?
JW: Apart from the notorious Joseph Kony, who makes a brief appearance, all the characters are invented. They draw characteristics from people I know, but I couldn’t point to any one person and say he was the inspiration for Thomas, or she for Azalea. I made them up.
TRC: If you could virtually cast the leading characters in this storyline, which models or actors best represents your ideal image?
JW: I love this question. Benedict Cumberbach would have to be Thomas. He has the right lugubrious English manner. Azalea needs to be striking, intelligent, and a natural redhead. I would insist on Jessica Chastain. Unless Rachel McAdams was available, of course.
TRC: How do you keep the plot unpredictable without sacrificing content and believability?
JW: In a novel about coincidence a writer can get away with some un-believability – but not too much. In the end, it was equally important for Thomas to be able to explain Azalea’s coincidences as it was for her to see them as pre-ordained. I hope that the characters and the situations are sufficiently grounded to keep the plot believable, and the situations unusual enough to keep the surprises coming, but in the end that has to be the reader’s call.
TRC: When writing a storyline, do the characters direct the writing or do you direct the characters?
JW: I go along with Laurence Sterne who said, “I begin with writing the first sentence — and trusting to Almighty God for the second.” I’ve found that as soon as my characters are on the page, they start asserting themselves – sometimes in the most unpredictable ways. It can play havoc with the plot, but what can you do? I’m little more than a witness and a reporter on my characters, and I rarely (if ever) tell them what to do.
TRC: The mark of a good writer is to pull the reader into the storyline so that they experience the emotions along with the characters. What do you believe a writer must do to make this happen? Where do you believe writers fail in this endeavor?
JW: I am in awe of writers who successfully carry this off. As a reader I want to care about the characters in the story, and that means living comfortably in each character’s skin as the story develops, seeing the world through their eyes, and feeling their hurts and emotions as they happen. It doesn’t have to be someone you identify with – I cried reading Black Beauty – and he was a horse. I don’t think there is a clever trick or a technique to help writers do this. I suspect it owes more to detailed craftwork, to creating honest consistent characters, and richly illustrated situations. When it happens, it is amazing. If I can ever achieve it as a writer, I would consider myself blessed.
TRC: Writer’s Block is a very real phenomenon. How do you handle the pressures and anxiety of writer’s block?
JW: I think if you’re suffering from writer’s bock, then you’re trying to write the wrong thing. Not every novel you start will develop into your masterpiece. Some will fail on the first page; others might run for several chapters before you swallow that difficult pill and accept that it isn’t working. That’s writing. I’ve learned that letting go of a project and starting a new one is sometimes the best thing you can do if you love writing. Once you find a voice and a story that works, it will write itself, and your writer’s block will vanish. My hard-drive is full of abandoned projects. Some of them are almost novel-length. That’s okay. I understand that if I’m not enjoying the writing, then readers won’t enjoy the reading.
TRC: Many authors bounce ideas and information with other authors or friends and family. With whom do you bounce ideas?
JW: I love my family dearly but I don’t share anything with them when it comes to writing, except, perhaps, for the vaguest outline, ‘ it’s a novel about coincidences,’ that’s about it. The idea of bouncing ideas off friends or fellow writers terrifies me. My wife, Sue, is the first to read anything I’ve written – but only the finished manuscript – never a sample chapter. I plan the story while I‘m walking my dog. So only me, my characters, and my dog, Poppy, are in on the secret.
TRC: On what are you currently working?
JW: I’ve just submitted the manuscript for my third novel, ‘Not Forgetting the Whale,’ the story of a village that seals itself off from a financial apocalypse, and the tale of the whale that lives in the bay. I’ll be starting edits on that book over the next few months. In the meantime I’m about quarter of the way through a fourth book. It’s called ‘Super-Recognizer.’ But more than that … ah well, you’ll have to wait and see.
Nuts. Probably a selection – unsalted
Sticky toffee pudding
Favorite TV Show
Frasier. The X Factor. Or Downton Abbey. Too many to choose from.
Last Movie You Saw
Dark or Milk Chocolate
Milk – always. With nuts.
Secret Celebrity Crush
Julia Roberts (of course)
Last Vacation Destination
Do you have any pets?
A golden retriever (Poppy), a fat cat (Bumble), and sixteen hens.
Last book you read
Those hotel toasters that only deliver warm bread
TRC: Thank you JW for taking the time to answer our questions. Congratulations on the release of COINCIDENCE and all the best.
JW: Thank you – I’ve enjoyed it.
J.W. and Harper Collins are offering a paper copy of COINCIDENCE to one lucky commenter at The Reading Cafe.
1. Please register using the log-in at the top of the page (side bar) or by using one of the social log-ins.
2. If you are using a social log-in, please post your email address with your comment.
3. LIKE us on FACEBOOK and then click GET NOTIFICATION under ‘liked’ for an additional entry.
4. LIKE us on Twitter for an additional entry.
5. The giveaway is open to USA only.
6. The giveaway runs from April 8 to April 11, 2014