The Big Idea: Nick Stone

Personally, I’m not much for fortune-telling… and yet even lil’ ol’ rational me has been known to look at the fortune inside a fortune cookie and be amazed that it contains the right words at the right time. Is it coincidence? An example of the human mind being able to read way too much into very general words? Proof that the universe speaks to us through cookies? Got me. I personally suspect one of the first two, although the third, to be quite honest, would amuse me.

Nick Stone knows whereof I speak: His latest crime thriller, The King of Swords, features tarot and tarot cards as instrumental elements of his book — and as you’ll read, his use of the cards is not accidental. My prediction (based on having read the piece, not psychic ability) is that you’ll find Stone’s Big Idea here very interesting, indeed.


I suppose I was fated to this, to writing a novel about tarot cards. My novel is called King of Swords. The King of Swords is a tarot card denoting a man in authority. He can either be your best friend or your worst enemy, depending on the circumstances – and where the card appears. In my novel, it turns up in people’s stomachs.


I got my first tarot reading in 1985, when I was eighteen. Most people who get their fortunes read are in some kind of trouble, usually emotional – on the receiving end of bad break ups, or on the shelf with end in sight. That wasn’t me. I was simply curious about the things. Jane, a friend of mine at school, had talked to me about how she got her cards read every six months, and how accurate the readings were. I was deeply sceptical. Wouldn’t someone she saw every six months remember at least some aspects of her life, and use that casual intimacy to spin any old portentous yarn? No, she insisted, her reader was the real deal. Her reader had told her she was gong to marry “a foreigner”. At the time she was giving me weighty glances. I guess I qualified as a foreigner – part-Haitian, brown skinned. It never got beyond that between us, the suspense dots, but Jane did indeed marry a foreigner. An American she met in London.

My first reading was a non-event. It cost me £8.00 (which Jane told me was way too much – her reader charged her a fraction of that). I actually suspected the reader was a fraud, or, at best, someone who’d deluded themselves they had powers. (Those are, from experience, the two categories phoney readers fall into – the con artists who overcharge you, and the borderline mentally ill who mistake treatable schizophrenia for psychic insight – of these, more later). She was told me her name was Mary Elizabeth, but I knew it wasn’t. I’d spied an overdue phonebill on her mantelpiece which said her name was Sharon Brandt. I can’t remember the exact particulars of the reading, but two things she told me have stuck – she said I was going to travel, and that I would marry “a dark skinned beauty”.

I did travel after that. I spent eighteen months in what was then West Berlin. I did meet a “dark skinned beauty” (a Brazilian) and, for a while I seriously contemplated following her back to LA.

I didn’t have another reading for about seven years. In that time I taught myself to read the cards. It’s not that difficult. Once you learn the meanings of the things, the kind of reader you are depends, to a certain degree, on how well you can tell a story. Writers would make brilliant tarot readers.

I used to read the cards for friends. I never charged a penny. I was told that it was fundamentally wrong to charge a red cent for a reading, because – a reader told me – like water, psychic powers are a free gift from God, and meant to be used to help others. A reader is only meant to charge the bare essentials. If a reader charges you more than $10 – $20, I promise you they’re fakes.

My readings were pretty accurate. Although I knew the people I was reading for, I’d tell them things I couldn’t possibly have known. I got a lot of repeat business.

I’ve long stopped reading the cards out of respect for my wife (yes, she’s “a dark skinned beauty” – and there’s more to tell). She’s from a Jamaican Baptist family. Her grandfather was a preacher. The cards creeped her out after I gave her a reading which came true.

Am I psychic? Not that I know of. How then did I predict my friends’s fortunes with such accuracy? I haven’t got a clue. I tell myself they were lucky guesses, based on my interpretations of what I had before me. But, to paraphrase Dean Martin, how lucky can one amateur reader be?

A lot of people think fortune telling is bullshit. I don’t blame them. The industry is full of bullshitters – greedy opportunists who prey on the desperate and lonely. It’s a really easy con too. The desperate and lonely always need someone to talk to. All you need to be a good fake reader is good listening skills, an attention to detail and a passable bedside manner. You’ll make a fortune. I’ve had my fortune read by such people. Some of them don’t even know the basic meanings of the cards. I’ve always had fun turning the tables on them. They never see me coming.

One of the best fortune tellers I met was in Haiti. There, fortune telling is rife. My mother used to tell me stories of using ouija boards in the school playground, of people who could tell you your fate by simply looking into a glass of water.

The man I met in 1996 was a remarkable character. He was my late great uncle Fritz’s soothsayer. Fritz set me to see him because he insisted that I wasn’t going to stay in Haiti (as I’d planned to), but that I was going to go back to England because I had serious work to do. Books to write, he’d specified. Although, at the time, I wanted to write, I was having problems turning dream into reality. A lack of focus, a lack of environmental stability.

The man was called Ernest Dupoux. He was in his nineties, frail, stooped and rheumy eyed. He lived in a remote shack. To my surprise he smoked very heavily. Haitian cigarettes (called Comme Il Faut (As it must be)) are incredibly strong – straight from the pipe car exhaust coupled with a donkey kick in the chest strong . Ernest sat me down and without gimmickry (cards, crystals, runes, chicken entrails), lights, incense or trickery basically told me how my entire life would turn out. When he’d finished he told me I’d forget everything he said, and would only remember the details of our meeting in increments, after significant events came to pass.

I’ll spare you the details, but for this. He told me I’d meet my future wife in “May”. He also added that I’d know what she would look like, because I’d see her in a dream the day before. The day I met my wife (on May 22nd 1999), I dreamt that I was running towards a beautiful, dark haired, caramel skinned woman in a beige overcoat. That was indeed the woman I met the following day. I kid you not.

And yes, he told me I’d write.


The King of Swords: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Visit Nick Stone’s Web site here. Read an excerpt from The King of Swords here.

20 Comments on “The Big Idea: Nick Stone”

  1. I’m not here to dispute what Nick is saying. If anything, I think we all need something magical in our life, something that transcends the tedium of mundane life. Even if we would never admit it out loud – yes, I’m looking at you, science people.

    Remember when we were kids and everything was magic?

  2. I’m a fully paid-up science person (atheist and everything), and I… have a lot of tolerance for tarot, actually. Not because I think there’s such a thing as psychic powers, but because it’s a useful psychological tool. Denial is pretty powerful, and if cards and symbolism can punch through that, then great. It’s worked for me a couple of times. Not a message from the cosmos, then, but a message from yourself.

  3. There’s lots of fakes out there, but I’m the real thing, my ouiji board told me so. Oh please.

    This may be a good book, I don’t know, but this is not the introduction that would make me want to read it. Don’t you get enough of that stuff in your spam filter?

  4. #4 tudza: He only needed one sentence to get my interest in the book, and that was ‘In my novel, it turns up in people’s stomachs.’

    As for the rest, I thought it was an entertaining and personal read of the author, which sells me on the author, and not just his book. I’ve already been to his site since reading this post and plan on buying The King of Swords, and will most likely purchase Mr. Clarinet soon after. I like the ideas for the novels and I like Mr. Stone’s style.

  5. I have to agree with Tudza (#4). I couldn’t want to read this book less, now that I know the author really believes it. If I knew the auther thought it was pure fiction I would be more inclined.

    #2 As someone who views himself to be a rational person in the scientific bent I find the thrill you speak of everywhere. I don’t need the idea of “magic” to create this thrill. Isn’t it more thrilling to not only watch the amazing, but understand the amazing?

  6. Heh. I have a friend who gives readings from a deck of Barbie cards he has. Of course they’re for fun.

    I think of Tarot as a more fun sort of Rorschach test, actually.

  7. For those of us who pride ourselves on our rationality, the Tarot really does just serve as a sort of focus, a way to take ourselves out of ourselves and see things from about 15 degrees out of skew.

    And yes, the story he tells makes me even more interested in reading what he’s writing. I mean, good lord, you’ll miss out on a heck of a lot of great fiction out there if you dismiss everyone who has some sort of interesting quirk…

  8. #6: Respectfully, how would you explain synchronicity – events that are causally unrelated but together have meaning. For example, thinking of a particular person who you may not have seen in a long time just before they call you (“Oh hey! I was just thinking about you!”). Or maybe you’ve been thinking about needing to start being a little more green and then you pass an advertisement for a recycling program.

    Personally, I found this Big Idea well-written and interesting. It’s definitely perked some interest in this author and his books – I’ll shortly be making a trip to the local library to see what they have of his.

  9. Donald@9: It’s a bug in human cognitive processing. We’re much better at remembering data points that agree with our preconceived notions than we are at remembering data points that don’t. For example, how often have you thought about a friend and NOT had him/her call you? Now that you think about it–all the time, right?

    This effect is also behind the “My iPod is reading my mind!” syndrome. You only notice the song choices that reinforce the mind-reading theory.

  10. I’m sold as well. Sounds like an interesting book, I will keep an eye out for it. (I also read David Skibbins’s tarot mystery series, but he doesn’t do as much tarot in them as you’d think, for a narrator who does readings for a living.)

    I wish I was that good at readings!

  11. I had a great aunt who was a fortune teller (and there aren’t very many mormon fortune tellers). I never met her, but all my older relatives claimed she was very good. My mother insisted that this aunt came back to visit her in a dream, and told her it was OK to let me do something I wanted to do but which my mother was very much against.

    I had one tarot reading once, and it was quite accurate.

    I still think it’s all meadow muffins.

  12. A good friend of mine, an Armenian woman, would invite me over for Turkish coffee. After we drank, she would turn the tiny cups upside down on the saucers, and then read my fortune in the thick residue that trickled down inside my cup. I was always supposed to marry a tall, dark-eyed man. Still waiting!

  13. The one tarot reading I’ve ever had – free, from a friend who does tarot as a hobby – was frighteningly accurate and specific about my problems at the time and the solutions to those problems. I followed the advice to the letter and everything worked out exactly as I’d hoped.

    Psychological trick? Perhaps. But it’s a GOOD trick.

  14. I’ve always enjoyed the confessional tone in each writer’s Big Idea. The seeds that become a novel are powerful and magical, and in many ways, a gift of insight. How Big Ideas come about intrigues me and I respect every author’s way of interpreting the sudden insights that come from daily living and make them come alive in a story.

  15. Typo, his or yours?: “Her reader had told her she was gong to marry” (…).

    I enjoyed the anecdotes. B., Ottawa, Can.

    (P.S. I *like* “gong to marry”: it feels like “all hot to marry”.)

  16. I am definitely going to check out this book. And, as a tarot reader of 40 years, I can definitively tell you that we are not all frauds, loons, and idiots. Really. I also actually charge money, though not often, because it is not a primary business. After all like any lawyer or accountant I have spent 40 years honing my skills, and it is a skill as well as an aptitude. And it is not a Rohrschach substitute. Ah well, thanks to my friend who sent me here .
    Glorious Yule to all

    Nanette Furman

  17. I like the idea of the tarot as a Rorschach substitute.

    Of course, Rorschach’s deck would be a few cards short, and what IS there is overwhelmingly Towers and Hanged Men.

  18. Mr. Stone sounds like he’s come up with a really interesting novel. If anyone is interested in an insightful explanation of techniques used by fake psychics, I can’t recommend Ian Rowland’s Full Facts Book of Cold Reading enough — although you’ll almost certainly have to manage an Interlibrary loan to get hold of it. In his Big Idea Nick says “Writers would make brilliant Tarot readers,” and Rowland’s book can make you better at both.

    And now I’m off to grab The King of Swords.

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