The Banker's Niece

Read exclusive extracts from my new novel The Banker's Niece. Click here for Chapter 1.

Monday, 28 February 2011


I first met Cheryl fourteen years ago, in 1997. It was a hot sunny day in August and I was browsing round our village's annual street market when a friend called me from her cottage on the High Street.
    'Would you like your aura read?'
    I followed my friend into her front room. I knew roughly what auras were - some sort of energy field around the body - but I wasn't sure that I wanted to know too much about mine. I was a little nervous about what might be there.
    Cheryl was sitting at a table in shadow under the stairs. She was blonde, slight, in her twenties. She took up a piece of paper with an outline of the human body printed on it and began colouring it with crayons. She seemed to be looking through me or behind me and listening to information from another place. Then she started to tell me about myself.
    I was transfixed. It wasn't so much what she was saying. It was her certainty. She was speaking the truth and she knew it.
    That night I couldn't sleep and the next morning at nine o'clock I raced back down to the village and hammered on my friend's door. After about five minutes the door opened. My friend was in her dressing-gown. I'd woken her up. When she invited me in for a coffee I couldn't stop crying.
    'Would you like to see Cheryl again?' she said.
    Would I ever.
    Over the next few months I went back and forth between Cheryl's house and mine. Each time I saw her, she taught me something new: how to trust my intuition, meditation, visualisation, affirmations. Finally, after about a year, she taught me to read tarot cards.
    There's only one thing certain about tarot cards - that nothing is certain, that no one knows anything about them, where they come from, what they really mean. The first known pack surfaced in Italy in 1415. They are of course related to playing cards but they differ in having twenty-two picture cards or 'major arcana' as well as cards in four suits.
    These days there are innumerable designs of tarot packs but the picture above comes from the first and best-known modern pack. It is called the Rider-Waite tarot after the publisher, Rider, and Arthur Waite who 'supervised' the artist, and it came out in 1910.
    At the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth there was a revival of interest in the West in pre-Christian and non-Christian religions and spirituality - such as alchemy, astrology, magic, Hinduism and Buddhism. In fact, it was the people responsible for this revival who first coined the term 'new age' and who (among others) predicted Big Changes for humans at the start of the twenty-first century. They saw in the tarot a repository of ancient wisdom and in the major arcana a portrayal of human spiritual development, hidden on cards to stop it being suppressed by the Christian Church.
    I'd always been fascinated by the pictures on tarot cards and I'd read some of the theory too but they'd never really come alive for me - until Cheryl. She used a modern pack called the Cosmic Tarot (still in copyright so I can't show you any of the cards) and I was startled by the faces of my friends and of famous people staring at me out of the pictures. She told me briefly what the cards were each supposed to mean but then she told me to use my own instincts. What did I see in a card? What was I feeling? Could I put the cards together and make a story? Each time I looked at a card I saw something different.
    The major arcana are in a sequence one to twenty-one. The Fool, who has no number, comes at both the beginning and the end of the sequence. He is us at both the beginning and the end of our spiritual journey.
    We set out, full of enthusiasm. We think we have shaken off all our cares and found happiness at last - a rose, the view, the fresh air, the sun - but there is a precipice at our feet. The dog is barking a warning but we are not listening.
    When The Fool comes at the end of the sequence he is quite different. He has authority now. He deserves his freedom. He knows there is a precipice at his feet but that doesn't stop him being happy. The dog shares in his joy.
    I don't like the concept of animals as 'pets'. I don't like animals being farmed. Call me foolish if you like, but I have a vision. One day, not only will humans be free, but animals will too.

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