Title: The Witch’s List
Author: Andrew Cairns
Series: (The Witch’s List #1)
Pub. Date: June 24th, 2016
Genres: Thriller, Mystery
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Sandy Beech doesn’t believe in witches and the supernatural. However, certain strange events occur which put his scepticism to the test: a burning book, a falling crucifix, a mysterious illness, and a fire in a convent which kills all twelve nuns. On her death bead, Bernadette, the last surviving nun, warns him to control his lusts and avoid African women. Sandy finds this difficult, since he is attracted to exotic, dark-skinned women and after his hedonistic university exchange year in Paris, marries Rocky from the Ivory Coast. Five years later, childless and with the marriage souring, they decide to visit Rocky’s home country. Sandy is drawn into a world of strange beliefs and practices: he finds out about the Witch’s List – a list of people destined to die, and is attacked by various animals starting with a ferocious dog in Abidjan. He delves further and further into the realm of African witchcraft, but the horrific truth remains obscure… The Witch’s List is the first of a trilogy.
AN EXCERPT: Chapter 1: Witches and Warlocks
I didn’t use to believe in witches. Not really. Of course, growing up in Scotland, there were always stories of witches and wizards, ghosts and ghouls, monsters and zombies and so on, but as in most ‘civilized’ western countries, such stories were mainly regarded as folklore; on a par with pixies and elves. You didn’t really believe in them, they were just fairy tales. Remember the stories?
There was one, more ‘serious’ book on witches in our secondary school library though. And it freaked us all out a bit. It must have been one of the most browsed texts in there – due to its filthy pictures of witches performing various ceremonies – black masses and the like – naked! In most libraries there are some books with scuddy pictures, classed under erotic literature or art; even in the children’s section there’s always some big kid that’s got his hands on the encyclopaedia and invites you over to show you a picture of the topless, tribal African woman. This one, ‘Witches and Warlocks’, was a non-fiction work, detailing very graphically, and very sexily we all thought, a range of witchcraft and black arts practices. It had somehow found its way into Saint Saviours’ RC (Roman Catholic) school, despite the establishment being as staunchly Catholic in its syllabus and overall culture as it comes. It was in the reference section, on the religious books shelf, and I’m sure none of the teachers knew of its existence, much less its saucy content. The librarian was a rather dozy woman in her thirties, with short blond hair; always had her nose in some novel. I assume it was her that ordered a copy. She must have done it absent-mindedly, not really checking out its profane and pornographic content. Or maybe she was some kind of closest anarchist or rebel. Who knows?
My best friend at the time, Martin Cardosi, always one to lead me into mischief, showed me the book at one point; we must have been in second year, aged thirteen, hormones beginning to rage.
“Here, Sandy, come and check this out.” He shoved the big tome into my hands.
I flipped through it, speechless, mostly just looking at the shocking pictures but taking in some of the vocabulary: black mass, pentagram, hex, coven, sect, orgy…
“I’d like to join one of those devilish sects, just to take part in the orgies,” said Martin, grinning.
“Idiot! You’d probably go to hell.”
After we’d had our fill of the images, Martin put the book back on the shelf and said, “Don’t forget to touch the Bible after, just to be on the safe side.”
We both touched the Bible before leaving.
From then on we secretly consulted the book, at least once a week, hiding behind one of the shelves and ogling at the pictures.
Q AND A WITH ANDREW CAIRNS
Who are you and what do you do?
I am a consultant IT Project Manager. I live in the suburbs of Paris with my wife and two daughters. I grew up in Dundee, studied in Glasgow/Nancy/Paris and after working a couple of years in the UK, moved to France where I have worked in Nice and Paris. My first wife was Ivorian and we visited her home country, the Ivory Coast in 1999. THE WITCH’S LIST book is based on some of my experiences and stories which I came across out there.
What do you hope the reader will get from reading your book?
I hope the reader will get first and foremost the enjoyment of reading a thrilling, interesting story with universal themes of coming-of-age, cuture clash, and belief-systems. I hope they will discover a bit more in particular about some of the beliefs and practises of the Ivory Coast in contrast to Western culture (in this case Scotland and France – the other two locations of the story). I want the reader to be taken on a physical and emotional journey as he or she follows protagonist, Sandy Beech as he grows up and encounters another culture with strange beliefs, notably witchcraft.
As a child, what did you think you might do with your life?
I thought I might become an inventor or mad scientist! I thought I could put both my intelligence and creativity to full use in such a job. I ended up in IT Project Management, which doesn’t leave much room for creativity, so as an outlet I do some writing and play musical instruments in my spare time.
Was there a point in your life where your view of the world/universe changed?
My visit to the Ivory Coast was one such point in my life. It is one thing to see poverty in developing countries on television or read about it, but quite another thing to experience it first hand, living with local people in an African village. This was one of the motivations behind writing the book, to describe the life in a small Ivorian village: the poverty and hardship, the inequalities and divisions, but also the friendliness, the solidarity, and the vitality.
What do you hope to be remembered for most?
I hope I will be remembered for my openness and fearlessness in exploring other cultures/beliefs.
With whom, living or dead, would you most like to have a conversation?
I would like to have a conversation with Tahir Shah, one of my favourite authors who kindly endorsed “The Witch’s List” and gave me some advice on writing and publishing via email. His books such as The Caliph’s House, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Beyond the Devil’s Teeth, Trail of Feathers, In Search of King Solomon’s Mines, House of the Tiger King… give fascinating insights into the magical beliefs and strange practices of other cultures, as he goes off on quests like looking for Solomon’s Mines or for the bird-men of Peru. He makes bridges via his writing between East-West, North-South, sceptics and believers, and the conventional and non-conventional. An inspiration for my own writing and voyage in life!
What key piece of advice would you give to your 16-year-old self?
Don’t be too influenced by other people and notably the conventional behaviour of your immediate entourage. You can follow alternate paths, explore unusual interests and passions, be original!
Has there been a key teacher in your life?
It would have to be my Chemistry teacher from Saint Saviour’s (who inspired one of the characters in the first part of the book). While being a great, enthusiastic Chemistry teacher, he also ran the chess-club and was an accomplished guitarist. He had a very manic personality and zany sense of humour. I think most of all he encouraged people to work hard and excel. He marked many of us who attended that school (for example Paul Motwani who became Scotland’s first chess grand master).
What do you hope to achieve next in life?
I hope to achieve success with my first novel, “The Witch’s List”, and to continue to be inspired to write the next two parts of the trilogy. I am currently working on the second book, which will be based largely in North-Africa and will further explore witchcraft and beliefs.
What drew you to this genre?
“The Witch’s List” is a mixture of some of the genres which I enjoy reading – coming-of-age, supernatural, thriller. I was initially going to write a more classic horror book, just based on the beliefs in the witch’s list in the Ivory Coast, but I thought it would be more interesting to make it more personal and draw on my own experiences from growing up in Scotland, moving to France, and discovering the culture and beliefs of the Ivory Coast.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Andrew Cairns is a Scot, living in the suburbs of Paris with his wife and two daughters. He enjoys travelling and notably visited the Ivory Coast in 1999; experiences and stories which he heard out there inspired this book.