He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, By Chance, and reported the following:
One night in the winter of 2001 a man named Gary Hart was driving down a motorway in England. He fell asleep and his vehicle veered off the road, went through a gap in the roadside barrier and finished on a railway line. Hart was uninjured. He called the police, but was still talking on his phone when a fast passenger train hit his vehicle and then collided with an oncoming coal train. Ten people died and forty were seriously injured.Learn more about By Chance at the Random House website.
Gary Hart was put on trial. The popular press called him a murderer. Crowds gathered outside the court, screaming and spitting at the accused man as he passed. The judge said that Hart was the sole cause of the accident and must accept all the blame; he was found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving and sentenced to five years in prison.
But Gary Hart had no harmful intent; he simply fell asleep at the wheel. Hands up if you have done the same, or come close to it. He fell asleep, which happens very often; but in this case a series of unlikely coincidences combined to make it a tragedy. It is an excellent example of the operation of what philosophers call 'moral luck': guilt and innocence, it seems, are frequently determined by chance.
Hence my novel. It concerns an ordinary man – a simple, innocent man – who yet commits a terrible act, a blameworthy act, after which his life takes an extraordinary and unpredictable turn. On page 69 the central character – his name is James Bolsover – is struggling to write a story. He is a technical writer, an engineer without experience in fiction, and he is writing a story because he is in despair. He has married a young and lovely woman, only to find that she is nervous and shy – afraid of sex, afraid of making love. Now he is trying to charm her, entice her, with a bedtime story, and thereby draw her into his arms. The story is a romance of a traditional kind – stolen in part from Romeo and Juliet – whose climax is about to be reached. Very soon we will discover whether Bolsover's plan will work, and how its outcome will affect the rest of his life.
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