Jun 24, 2016


Article - Irrational African Black Magic?

The continent of Africa abounds with stories of black magic and witchcraft. Unlike in Western culture where witch stories have mostly been shelved along with fairy-stories or history, in Africa such tales remain an integral part of the various cultures and belief-systems. 

The idea for "The Witch's List" came from a visit to the Ivory Coast, where I was introduced to the notion of a mysterious list maintained by a witch of obscure identity: if your name is on the list, so they believe, it means you're going to die. As a sceptical European, I was rather surprised how seriously people took this witch's list, even Ivorians like my wife at the time, who'd lived most of her life in France. When someone fell ill in the village people would whisper, "Perhaps she's on the witch's list?" Fingers were pointed at this person or that, suspected of being in league with the witch, of adding someone's name to the list or even of being the witch. If someone received some unexpected money or success, they might be accused of having obtained such good fortune by being in league with the witch.

While in the West, we might laugh at such practices as superstitious nonsense, a few centuries ago in Europe witchcraft was common practise. Under the reign of Louis IV, for example, several members of the aristocracy were implicated in murder using witchcraft in the 'Affair of the poisons'. It caused a huge scandal, with 367 arrests and 36 executions including 'La voisin' - a fortune teller and poisoner, found guilty of witchcraft and burned at the stake. 


1. 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.

2. Name of your book and brief description?
"The Witch's List" by Andrew Cairns
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.

3. 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, culture 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.

4. 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. 

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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!

8. 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!

9. 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).

10. 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.

11. Do you think thrillers and politics can make good bedfellows?
Yes, the proof being in some of the great political thrillers such as THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE by Richard Condon or THE CONSTANT GARDENER by John le CarrĂ©. My own book also touches on the politics of the Ivory Coast with its recent military coups, assassinations and civil war. I think even if the book isn't about politics it can be interesting to look at what politics are going on in the background and how they influence the characters in the story, for example the political divisions  in the Ivory Coast, heighten ethnic tensions and increase the exploitation of migrant workers.

12. 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.

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