A Writer's Process: Cherry Gilchrist

Just over a year ago, I sat alone in the house, struggling to write a book proposal.

I was on a deadline to turn out a detailed outline for a book on the Tarot, along with a sample chapter, and marketing back-up too, such as the ‘why my book is different’ pitch. I had an invitation to submit to a publisher in the USA, so all I had to do was develop the idea.

I say ‘all’, but it’s one of the hardest parts of writing a book. I mostly write what I call ‘creative non-fiction’, a mix of personal experience, imagination, ideas, and real-life observation, rather than a dry compilation of facts.

I’m with biographer Michael Holroyd when he says its high time we found a better word rather than slapping a ‘non’ label on it.

But nevertheless, it is not the same as novel writing and needs a firm hand in the early stages to map out the course of the book. I need to work out how I am going to develop the ideas; the blueprint that I lay down now will inevitably guide the way I write the book later on. The outline embodies my vision, and must sustain the spirit of the book.  So it’s worth trying to get it right at the beginning.

The proposal writing usually marks a new stage for me, when I’m well along the line with gathering thoughts and material and am ready to shape them.

I’ve learned over the years that ideas take their time, and you can’t hurry them too much. But I’ve also learned to love deadlines, which concentrate the mind wonderfully and stop me from being too precious about my work.

So here was a deadline – the publisher’s December acquisitions meeting – and I took the opportunity to write the proposal on a solitary retreat at home, while my husband visited his family in Yorkshire. I do not normally shut myself away as a writer – I’ve written on planes and trains, in hotel rooms, cafes and odd corners. But on this occasion, I embraced the chance. The days fell into a pattern; I interspersed long hours at the keyboard with blissful walks by the river Exe in the late autumn sunshine, and cooked myself simple meals -  baked potatoes, fried eggs and chocolate featuring prominently on the menu! And I resisted the temptation of diverting to admin or domestic tasks. The windows will always need washing – leave them until another day.

At the end of the five days, I had finished the proposal; the publishers liked it, issued a contract, and in early 2015 I started writing ‘Tarot Triumphs’. I wish that were the end of the story!

But some months later came a bolt out of the blue – they were going out of business.

It was a huge shock, but I hastily revised the manuscript into a ‘good-enough’ state, and after further submissions, it was accepted by Red Wheel Weiser. Publishing is tough: a writer has to be philosophical, and my view is that some you win, some you lose, and better not to become embittered along the way. I’m keeping my fingers crossed now that there won’t be any further glitches, and the story will end here.

Tarot Triumphs: Using the Tarot Trumps for Divination and Inspiration, by Cherry Gilchrist Red Wheel Weiser, to be published Fall 2016.