Saturday, 27 January 2018

Learning for my Art...

Make sure you know your birds!
Image courtesy of Jrrobinantony via Wikipedia.
Being a writer, I’ve decided, has to be the most stimulating job there is. The research process takes you down a lot of highways and byways, some of them dark and some of them full of sunlight and pixie dust. 

They do say you should write about what you know, but sometimes characters take you places where you haven't been before. The more diverse your characters, the broader your own range of knowledge has to be. If you have a character who’s a birdwatcher, that character’s going to notice the birds around them and they’re going to recognise their songs. That means that you need to know what sort of birds they’re likely to see, where and when. So, no yellow wagtails in the deep winter of the Western Isles, please. 

I’m treading very carefully on strange ground at the moment. A main character in my work in progress has a hobby that’s alien to me: she reads the tarot cards. And that’s a steep learning curve. 

I’m lucky to have a friend who’s a tarot reader and happy to give me advice — but I can’t rely on her goodwill indefinitely. (“What card reading would give me this message?” “What set of cards would be relevant to that situation?”) That means I have to take some responsibility on myself and learn. 

I’m at a very early stage. The first thing I’ve had to do is drop all my preconceived ideas about tarot cards. They don’t tell your fortune. They offer you a reading of the situation that’s up to you to interpret. So that’s the first thing. 

The second is to learn to read the cards. I have a book, I have my friend, and I have a particularly good website — but although they all use the same cards, they give slightly different descriptions of what that card means. For example the infamous Hanged Man — Wikipedia has it as meaning “self-sacrifice more so than it does corporal punishment or criminality”, while other sources give it a  second meaning to go alongside this: that the old must give way to the new. Applying different meanings to every card (and those meanings also vary as to how the cards are laid out, but that gets very complicated) means a lot of reading and a lot of thought. 

And then, as a writer, it gets even more difficult. Laying out the cards and deciding what they say is one thing. Finding a spread of cards that gives the messages you want your characters to receive is altogether different. The only way I can see that working is to buy a set of tarot cards and try it for myself.


  1. Great post, Jennifer. I read Tarot cards as well. To me the Hanged Man symbolizes balance and calm, as we hang from the tree of life. Have you read the Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom? Very comprehensive.

    1. Oh, how interesting! That's a third interpretation, then. No, I haven't read that, but I'll follow that up.
      By training I'm a scientist, but as a writer I have a completely open mind.

  2. I do agree that being a writer takes you down all sorts of interesting by-ways. And now I'm fascinated by your tarot card 'problem', looking forward to seeing how it turns out in print :)

  3. This intriguing post reminds me of Ann Lamott's brilliant book Bird by Bird - Instructions on writing and life. Tarot cards are a bit like life. You never know where they're going to take you.

  4. I have a pack of Tarot cards in our cupboard. We bought it about 25 years ago, but unfortunately the instruction booklet was too confusing. I have yet to use them properly. Hats off to you for using it in your writing.

  5. Sounds an interesting project, Jennifer and wonderful that you're learning as you write. I know very little about tarot cards, so look forward to reading your WIP and learning something too. : )

  6. I've always been fascinated - and slightly scared I admit - by tarot cards. Looking forward to how you deal with it in your book Jennifer.