I knew when I created the character of Hal that I wanted her to be someone who was comfortable with deceiving others, and good at it, and so when it came to giving her a job, I decided that she needed a profession that would mesh with that, and give her the skills to pull off a con. Since the novel begins in the seaside resort town of Brighton, I decided to make Hal a tourist tarot reader, but a deliberately cynical one. One who does not believe in the power of the cards, and who bases her readings not on the cards her client chooses, but on her own reading of their character, and what she believes they want from the reading.
I didn't know very much about tarot when I started writing, but one of the things I had not expected was how much fun I would have researching the cards and integrating them into Hal's readings and the plot. With that in mind, here are a few of my favourite cards...
The Eight of Pentacles
Pentacles are the suit of the earth – sometimes called coins, they tend to represent money and wealth, as well as professional achievement and the world of work. What I love about this card is that many of the pentacles suit show fortune just appearing out of no-where, or lying about on the ground. This card reminds us of the importance of working at something. It shows a young man labouring over his task of carefully etching out eight pentacles. He's part way through his task with six completed pentacles hung up in front of him. He's deliberately ignoring the town full of people behind his back – he's totally concentrated on his creation. I feel like this card is a good metaphor for being a novelist, shutting yourself away to craft something out of nothing.
The Three of Swords
The Swords are the suit of action, courage, bravery and protection, but this card reminds us that however much we strive to protect ourselves, and others, heart break and pain is part of life. Rain clouds cover the sky, suggestive of the tears that must fall, but also perhaps reminding us that just as the clouds will eventually part, eventually our tears will cease and we'll be able to learn from what's happened and move on.
Sometimes when I do signings I have a deck of tarot cards in front of me, and let people choose one as a book mark. Mostly people shy away from cards like this one, because they look so dark, but at a recent reading a little girl shyly picked it out. When I asked her why, she said “Because it's really dark and scary and cool.” I have to admit, I kind of love the card for the same reason! It's just a really dramatic image. But, as I explained to the girl at the signing, there's also a positive message buried in this card. Although the woman is hedged around with dangers and literally cannot see a way out (because she is blindfold), in fact, if you look carefully at the card, there are no swords in front of her – if she can bring herself to take one step, she'll be out of danger. This card reminds us that sometimes, in a difficult situation, the best course of action is simply to hold your nerve and move onwards.
When Harriet Westaway receives an unexpected letter telling her she’s inherited a substantial bequest from her Cornish grandmother, it seems like the answer to her prayers. She owes money to a loan shark and the threats are getting increasingly aggressive: she needs to get her hands on some cash fast.
There's just one problem - Hal's real grandparents died more than twenty years ago. The letter has been sent to the wrong person. But Hal knows that the cold-reading techniques she’s honed as a seaside fortune teller could help her con her way to getting the money. If anyone has the skills to turn up at a stranger's funeral and claim a bequest they’re not entitled to, it’s her.
Hal makes a choice that will change her life for ever. But once she embarks on her deception, there is no going back. She must keep going or risk losing everything, even her life…