The worst thing about the massive black Olivetti daisy wheel machine that circumstances had landed me with in 1981 was the amazing sum of money that the finance company demanded. The monthly payments were four times greater than our mortgage, and the entire sum added up to a touch under £5,000, which was enough to buy a small house in some areas in those days! I asked the finance company if I could stretch out the loan and reduce the monthly payments, but they didn’t want to know.
The machine was an electronic typewriter with a boxy arrangement welded to its side, containing two five and a half-inch floppy disc drives that ran the word processing program and contained the data. It also had what was called a “thin window display” that showed one line of memorised typing at a time, and a daisy wheel printer.
At that time, I had two young children, a husband, and a full-time office job along with a secondary job as part-time astrologer, palmist and Tarot reader. Now I also looked around for word processing work that I could do on the infernal machine, and in time, I worked up a good clientele for the Olivetti… but then I had a brainwave.
I couldn’t help noticing the increasing interest in the Tarot, so I decided to write some articles on the subject and sell them to a magazine. I had always read the cards intuitively, but now I had to research their true meanings, which wasn’t easy in those pre-Internet days. I scraped together everything I could find and, adding my own fund of knowledge and experience, I created a database of information on the seventy-eight cards. The task was well under way when my best friend, Anne, fell ill, so in order to cheer her up and keep her amused, I took her a bunch of grapes and the lever arch file full of written material for her to look at. Unbeknownst to me, Anne had once worked for a magazine. She looked through the file very carefully and said, “This isn’t suitable for a magazine, but it would make a cracking book.”
“A book!” I exclaimed. “Blimey Anne, I left school at fifteen, so how could someone like me write a book?”
“Well, you’re doing it now, aren’t you? And it looks all right to me,” replied Anne.
She asked me to hand her down a copy of “Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook” from her bookshelf, while explaining that I needed to make up a synopsis, some sample chapters and a few sample pages of material, and add a brief profile of myself. She suggested that I finish the book and make as good a job of it as I could, while sending out the submissions. She flicked through the Yearbook and marked half a dozen publishers that I should approach. Two of the publishers sent rejection slips and three said the book was interesting, although the subject was too specialized for them. However, one of the letters suggested that I contact the Aquarian Press, and as it happened, that was one of the names on Anne’s list.
A couple of months later, the Aquarian editor phoned me and said he would like to publish my book. I nearly died of shock! It was the last thing I had expected – although to be fair, my Tarot cards had been telling me for a while that some kind of success was on the way.
In time, the book came out under the title of “Fortune-Telling by Tarot Cards”. It was the first really accessible and usable book on the Tarot, and it coincided with a massive increase in interest in New Age topics at that time. Since then, the book has sold over a half million copies and it has been translated into a dozen languages. The editor at Aquarian, Simon Franklin, wanted to know if I could write anything else; when I told him that I was a competent astrologer and palmist, and that I could produce on those subjects and many others in the realm of divinations, he told me to get on with another book.
The first royalty payment for sales of “Fortune Telling by Tarot Cards” arrived just as I was paying the last monthly instalment to the finance company for the Olivetti. Amazingly, the royalty cheque came to just under £5,000! Many other books followed for Aquarian and for Thorsons, which was another company in the same group, and then for HarperCollins, after they took over the group towards the end of the 1980s.
Eventually, the New Age had become Old Hat, Aquarian closed for good, and while Thorsons carried on, it sank into near oblivion. Simon died of diabetes and much later, both Anne and my husband died of cancer.
Everything and everyone was sliding into the past, but then I met my current husband, Jan. We started our first publishing business, which we called Zambezi Publishing and found knowledgeable authors to write mind, body and spirit books for us. In time, I took back the rights to my old Aquarian books, and I updated and upgraded them so that we could republish them – and they are still selling!
We now have a second publishing company called Stellium Ltd that is reserved for fiction and ebooks, but through Stellium, we now also offer self-publishing services for those who want to publish any kind of book, both fiction and non-fiction. Nowadays, self-publishing has become an essential addition to a publisher’s list of services, because it has become practically impossible for a budding author to get into mainstream publishing; for many reasons – that will probably become the basis of another article – most of the bigger publishers (and agents as well) have closed their doors to new submissions.
One way and another, I have a lot to thank that old Olivetti for, haven’t I?