Andrew Cairns’ debut novel, The Witch's List, is released on 24th June. Cairns grew up in Dundee, but now lives in Paris with his wife and two daughters.
What do you hope the reader will get from reading The Witch’s List?
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 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.
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 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!
Was there a point in your life where your view of the world changed?
My visit to the Ivory Coast was one such point. My first wife was Ivorian and we visited her home country, the Ivory Coast, in 1999. 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.
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.
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?
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 and 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 and West, North and South, sceptics and believers, and the conventional and non-conventional. An inspiration for my own writing and voyage in life!
What do you hope to achieve next?
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.
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