Last summer and autumn I spent a few months unable to shake the feeling – the completely pointless and foolish but no less urgent feeling – that the novel I’d completed at the start of the year had somehow predicted my stepsister’s death. I half knew I was being absurd, but I was neck deep in grief, a state of suspended logic. The possibility that I’d unwittingly tapped into her fate and used it as fuel for a story sickened me, and I won’t (or maybe still can’t) go into details but the parallels made me ache.

I called a psychic. I went to Quaker meetings. I took up meditating and took it down again. I cried through a seance. I went silent with loved ones and made confessions to strangers. I wondered if answers could be elsewhere, so I bought impulsive plane tickets, flew elsewhere, found nothing, came back.

And I talked to other writers, asking if they’d ever written that sort of terrible prediction. Some of those writers had their own stories, but most just had concern. Eventually I stopped thinking about it and began to write again.

Over a year later I was between two panels at the Brooklyn Book Festival and even though I was tired and have a strong dislike of crowds I started wandering through the throngs, pushed by some vague sense of intent. I stumbled on a friend and after catching up with him for a few minutes I noticed that we were standing five metres from a table holding a sign that said Will Eno would be signing books for an hour and next to that sign was Will Eno himself, pen in hand, waiting. Eno’s plays had come to my attention a few months before, just as the Crisis of Fate was winding down. A review I’d written of Eno’s most recent production, The Open House, had only that week gotten approved for publication after a long delay. I bought some scripts and as Eno signed them I mentioned I’d seen and enjoyed The Open House. Spoiling nothing, I can say The Open House involves the death of an ailing patriarch and the suggestion of life being renewed, coming in cycles, so I was struck when Eno told me that during the run of the play his own father became ill and died the day before his first daughter was born.

I’ve always been one to get excited by coincidences, so I was excited just to have this unplanned run-in with Eno, but when he reopened the familiar question about the parallels between our waking lives and the dream-state of fiction, I felt high on the sense that I’d been led to just the right moment and heard just the right thing. I told and retold the story to anyone who would listen. Some saw the significance. Others changed the subject to more real things – say, the possibility of rain or what I wanted for dinner.

How can I explain that it was the next day I got an email from Granta asking me if I had a few words to say about fate? There’s no explaining it.

And what conclusion could we draw from any of this? Most likely, there’s not one to draw. Questions of fate – whether any part of our lives are fated or whether creativity is in conversation with destiny – are answerless questions, a Rorschach test that reveals less about the future than it does our internal present.


Photograph courtesy of Kim Davies

Bad Seeds