Inspiration by Andrew Cairns

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Black Magic Inspiration

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.

I found my inspiration for writing The Witch’s List Trilogy through travels in Africa, meeting people who still have strong beliefs in witchcraft and black magic, and listening to some of their incredible stories. I also try to draw from some of my own experiences and use my imagination to think about how things might have worked out differently, if I’d made different decisions at certain points in my life.

I first encountered black magic on 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 sceptic 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.

So that was my main inspiration for writing the first novel, and when I began writing it, I thought it would be interesting to integrate a coming-of-age tale about a naive young Scot who gets drawn into this web of black magic. Ideas for writing the trilogy came to me: to use three phases in the main character’s life as parts in the trilogy – adolescence / the beginnings of adulthood; adulthood / marriage; and children / growing old. I also wanted to look at some of the traditions and belief-systems in different geographical regions: West Africa in the first part, North Africa in the second part, and as for the third part, well… I don’t want to give too much away yet! I’m also attempting to show how the character’s conscience and morals evolve over time, basing the three different parts on the concept of nafs in Islam, which translates as the self or the ego. The three main stages of the nafs are: the inciting nafs, where lower basic instincts dominate; the self-accusing nafs, where the conscience is awaked and some sense of right and wrong develops; and finally the nafs at peace where the soul becomes tranquil and one’s faith and resolve to do good are resolute.

Other sources of inspiration include authors such as Tahir Shah, Iain Banks, Paul Auster, Douglas Kennedy, and William Boyd; not forgetting – since the trilogy falls loosely in the horror / supernatural genre – horror greats like H. P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, Dean R. Koontz, and Dan Simmons.

I would also like to recommend a new author I discovered recently, Eowyn Ivey. Her two novels are based in 19th century Alaska. The first one, The Snow Child, is based on a Russian folk tale about a girl made out of snow coming alive. The second is a story of exploration and adventure in the unforgiving climate of Alaska, with myths and supernatural elements an integral part of the tale.

 

 

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Andrew Cairns is the author of the Witch’s List, a witchcraft themed novel released in June, 2016. The novel follows sceptic Sandy Beech, who marries an exotic Ivorian woman, and drawn into her world, finds himself subject to mystefying and dangerous black magic. He is forced to confront his deepest beliefs as he attempts to extricate himself from these events before they kill him.

His second novel, One More Arabian Night: Book II in the Witch’s List trilogy, takes Sandy on a new adventure to Morocco, where he hopes to wed the beautiful Hurriya, a medical student whom he met in Paris. He must come to grips with the local customs and superstitions: miraculous water, djinns, polygamy… and once again witchcraft!

 

 

 

Interview with Alice K. Boatwright Author of the Ellie Kent Mysteries

 

 

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Alice K. Boatwright

Alice K. Boatwright is the author of the award-winning Ellie Kent mysteries. In the first book, UNDER AN ENGLISH HEAVEN, life brings the skeptical American Ellie Kent to an English village as the vicar’s new wife; but death keeps her guessing how long she’ll be there. Winner of the 2016 Mystery & Mayhem Grand Prize for best mystery, UNDER AN ENGLISH HEAVEN has attracted an enthusiastic following.

The series continues with WHAT CHILD IS THIS? It’s now Christmas in Little Beecham . . . a season to celebrate with caroling, mistletoe, and mince pies. Ellie Kent is looking forward to her first English village Christmas, but a missing Oxford student and an abandoned baby soon draw her away from the fireside into danger.

 

 

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Interview

 

Who is Ellie Kent and where did she come from?

Ellie Kent is a divorced American professor of English literature in her mid-30s who falls in love with Graham Kent, a widowed English vicar in his mid-40s, marries him, and moves from San Francisco to his home in a Cotswold village. That is her biography, but, as to where the idea for her came from, I would have to say that, like all of my characters, she began as a mixture of me and not-me characteristics and slowly revealed herself as an independent being through the stories about her.

 

 

What is your method of character creation?

I don’t have any one method. Characters come to me in a variety of ways – for example, I wrote a story about a girl I saw on BART (the Bay Area subway) who had her hair dyed like a rainbow. Another was inspired by the idea of writing about someone who thought Marilyn Monroe should star in the movie of her life. Often I give my characters qualities that are the opposite of mine, which I think is a way of telling myself “This is not me.” For example, my women characters are almost always taller than I am and have dark hair. Wish fulfillment! They can also do all sorts of things that I would never attempt to do. . . such as solve a murder mystery. When I first conceived of Ellie, I was visiting England, but I lived in San Francisco, taught part-time, and longed to be able to move to England.

 

 

 

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How do you go from character creation to telling her story?

By the time I began writing UNDER AN ENGLISH HEAVEN, my husband (who is neither English nor a vicar) and I had left the US and were living in an English village. I knew from the start that I wanted to write about my love for England, its culture and traditions – as well as all of the changes Ellie would be faced with as an ex-pat and newlywed in a strange country. These issues became the backdrop for the mystery and an integral part of the book. I also knew that I wanted to write about the period from Halloween to Remembrance Day and plot elements, such as that Ellie would be accused of murder and would try to solve the mystery to clear her name. I knew the identity of the dead man from the first . . . but all of the details of his story took several drafts to become clear. I never outline. I prefer to let a story to evolve like a photograph that develops gradually and comes into focus over time.

 

What are the elements of good storytelling?

The bottom line is that the story offers believable characters striving against the odds to achieve what they need or think they want – and succeeding or not.

 

 

 

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How did Ellie and Graham meet?

They met by accident at the home of Ellie’s parents in Berkeley, California. Her father is a retired professor who taught for a year at Oxford during Graham’s time as a student there. Years later, when Graham is on a sabbatical in the Bay Area, he visits his former professor – and meets Ellie. Over several months, they become friends and lovers, and then decide to marry when it is time for him to return to England.  The first book takes place less than two months after their marriage.

 

What is the Cotswold village of Little Beecham like?

Little Beecham is a fictional, but typical, Cotswold village of honey-colored limestone cottages and shops, originally built to support a now-ruined manor house. The high street boasts a village store/post office, butcher shop, pub, antique shop, used bookstore, and library. It is book-ended by the 800-year-old St. Martin and All Angels Church at one end and the village school at the other, with a village hall just on the outskirts. Surrounded by woods and fields, it is picturesque without being a tourist attraction. It is located in Oxfordshire about 25 miles from Oxford.

 

Describe your editing process and the importance of rewriting.

For me, writing is rewriting.  I do my first draft very fast – like a sketch covering the whole canvas. Then I carefully build up the picture over about seven main drafts. Along the way I make notes, write character studies, draw maps, create timelines, consult experts, do research. As I get closer to the end, I print out the whole manuscript and read it aloud. Very close to the end, I share the manuscript with readers whose perspective I value and an editor. I also do my own final copyedit.

 

 

 

Diagram of Writing Process.

 

 

 

What do you like about having an amateur sleuth?

I love the traditional English mysteries with amateur sleuths, especially Miss Marple, Miss Silver, Harriet Vane, Agatha Raisin, Mary Stewart’s heroines, and others. Amateurs have to be brave, imaginative, and willing to improvise. They have no structure to rely on, no job description, no license.  Although I enjoy reading many types of mysteries, I have never been interested in writing any other kind.

 

What do you enjoy most about writing mysteries?

I like the fact that the traditional plot structure provides a scaffold on which to build the story, but you can vary the other elements as you wish. Creating the puzzle at the core of the story is a very interesting challenge because, as author, you know too much to experience it as the reader will. Finally, it is satisfying to write books where justice is served and good triumphs (at least to some extent). I think we all need that message these days.

 

 

 

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What are the most challenging aspects of writing?

The most challenging aspect of writing is sticking with your project through all the phases of uncertainty until it is the best book you can write. . . then following it through the further uncertainties of publication and public response. In writing, persistence is at least as important as talent.

 

What’s next for you?

I am working on the third Ellie Kent mystery, another book that has a mystery element but is not a murder mystery, and several short stories.

 

 

 

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Alice is also the author of the award-winning COLLATERAL DAMAGE, three linked stories about the Vietnam War told from the perspective of those who fought, those who resisted, and the family and friends caught in the crossfire.

She has taught writing at UC Berkeley Extension, the University of New Hampshire, and the American School of Paris. After 10 years of living in England and France, she now makes her home in the Pacific Northwest.

 

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Interview with M.R. Mackenzie Author of the Anna Scavolini Thrillers

 

 

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M. R. Mackenzie was born and lives in Glasgow, Scotland. He studied at Glasgow University and has a PhD in Film Studies. In 2016, he contributed a chapter on the Italian giallo film to Cult Cinema: An Arrow Video Companion.

In addition to writing, he works as an independent Blu-ray/DVD producer and has overseen releases of films by a number of acclaimed directors, among them Dario Argento, Joe Dante and Seijun Suzuki.

His debut novel, In the Silence, reached #2 in Amazon UK’s Scottish crime fiction bestsellers chart.

 

 

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Interview 

 

Why did you decide to get a PhD in Film studies?

If I’m being completely honest, a major factor was that, at the time, I was in my early twenties and had very little idea as to what I hoped to do with my life. I’d just completed a Masters in Film Studies, which I’d enjoyed, and felt I had certain things to say about an obscure body of films – the Italian “giallo” thrillers of the early 1970s – which no one else was saying. One of my lecturers, who later became my thesis supervisor, encouraged me to do a PhD, which I took as a vote of confidence and duly submitted my application. In doing so, I was able to avoid the big bad world for another five and a half years, while at the same time exploring, in considerable depth, a body of films I really like. The end result was a 90,000-word doorstop that people tell me has enhanced their understanding of and enjoyment of giallo films… though I did come out the other end knowing I didn’t want to spend another minute in academia!

 

 

 

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What was it like writing your first book?

Strangely enough, a lot like writing my PhD thesis, both in terms of overall word count and the sheer amount of time I spent on it! In the beginning, I wasn’t really sure what I was doing or if I was even capable of writing a novel, but I persevered and, over the course of several years, kept coming back to the manuscript, chipping away at it, refining it, adding layers to it… If I was doing it again today, it wouldn’t take me anything like as long – indeed, I wrote the first draft of the manuscript I recently finished in little more than two months – but at the time it was an essential learning process for me as I was effectively teaching myself how to write a novel from scratch, so there was a lot of trial and error involved.

 

 

How does your writing process differ between screenplay and manuscript?

It’s funny you should ask, because In the Silence, my first novel, actually started life as a screenplay. I wrote it very quickly: it took me somewhere between two and three weeks to go from the initial idea to a finished (albeit seriously rough) first draft – so I suppose you could say the biggest difference is time! I tend to find that there’s not actually a whole lot that separates the two mediums when it comes to the early planning stages. With both, I write copious notes and spend a long time figuring out the structure, the twists and turns, where the various act breaks occur, and then only start the actual process of drafting once I have a very thorough outline from which to work. A crucial difference, though, and one that I’ve learned to really appreciate as I’ve left scripts behind in favour of novels, is that, when you’re writing prose, you’ve got an opportunity to really get inside your characters’ heads. You’re party to their inner thoughts and emotions in a way that you’re simply not with a film. When you’re writing a script, you have to convey everything through action and dialogue, whereas, with a novel, you’re free to draw on a much broader and in my view richer toolset.

 

 

 

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What did you experience writing about criminology lecturer Anna?

Writing Anna is definitely an interesting experience. In many respects, we have a lot in common, while in others we’re polar opposites – not least the fact that I’m a 6 ft 3 man while she’s a 5 ft 2 woman! She’s someone who tends to have very definite opinions about things – again, some of which I agree with, while with others I disagree with her completely. In real life, I’m not sure how well we’d get on – though I suspect I’d probably just play it safe and agree with everything she said – but I do admire her determination and tenacity… even if it sometimes gets her into trouble. Over the course of In the Silence, I take her to some very dark places indeed, and I can tell you for a fact that I don’t half as much resilience as her.

 

What do you enjoy writing about crime fiction?

It’s a really good question and one I’m not sure I can adequately explain. I find myself drawn to crime and horror, both on the page and on the screen, both as a reader/viewer and as a writer. I suspect there’s something about the vicarious thrill of exploring our darkest fears from a position of safety – a bit like going skydiving or on a rollercoaster. But I also think that, more than pretty much any other type of “genre novel”, crime fiction tells us something about society. All the best crime novels, in my opinion, comment on or reveal some sort of truth about the world today, whether it’s something their authors put there deliberately or something that’s seeped into the bones of the story without its creator being conscious of it. Also, I really love a good mystery and putting all the clues together, whether I’m the one coming up with them or just the one trying to figure them all out.

 

 

 

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Tell about Zoe Callahan in your next book, Cruel Summer.

Zoe was a secondary character in In the Silence, and for Cruel Summer, I elevated her to the position of central protagonist. I designed her to be the polar opposite of her best friend Anna. Where Anna is studious and a bookworm, Zoe is a party girl. Where Anna has very definite opinions about the way the world is and how it should be, Zoe doesn’t really have what you would call an ideology. Her emotions are very intense, but her response to any given situation is always governed by how it affects her or the people she cares about in the immediate sense as opposed to having a highly developed moral or philosophical set of beliefs. That makes her a lot of fun to write, because her responses are always very raw and visceral. She has a keen sense of right and wrong, and when she perceives an injustice as having taken place, she’s incapable of sitting on her hands and doing nothing. But because she’s naïve and impulsive, she tends not to think through the consequences of her actions, so her attempts to make things better quickly end up having precisely the opposite effect…

 

 

Who is Dominic Ryland and what motivates him?

Ryland is a mysterious figure, and intentionally so. He’s a charismatic but previously largely unknown politician who is suddenly thrust into the spotlight when certain shadowy figures, who are pulling the strings behind the scenes, pressure him into running for leadership of his party. We fairly quickly discover that he’s not a nice man at all, though I’ve deliberately kept his motivations, and the nature of the hold his “handlers” have over him, vague. If you want to find out where he really comes from and what motivates him to do what he does, you’ll have to read the book!

 

 

Does Cruel Summer have any thematic elements?

The main theme of Cruel Summer is justice – more specifically, exploring the limitations of the judicial process and both the rights and wrongs and the implications of taking matters into one’s own hands when the official system lets you down. Smashing the system, standing up to power, dispensing your own idea of justice – all these things are incredibly appealing, but as Zoe learns to her cost, all actions have consequences, and other people may end up paying the price for your follies…

 

 

 

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Zoe Callahan is having the summer from hell… and it’s about to get a whole lot worse.

She’s stuck in a dead-end job, her relationship is going nowhere, and the memory of the Kelvingrove Park Murders three years ago continues to cast a long shadow over every aspect of her life.

When a prostitute is brutally assaulted by Dominic Ryland, a rising political star with a suspiciously spotless personal reputation, Zoe leaps at the chance to distract herself with a noble cause, and sets out on a one-woman crusade to bring Ryland to justice.

But in doing so, she quickly finds herself on the wrong side of some very dangerous people – people who have reputations to protect and who would think nothing of silencing Zoe by any means necessary.

An explosive thriller set against the backdrop of a sweltering heatwave, Cruel Summer is the sequel to M.R. Mackenzie’s critically acclaimed In the Silence and the second instalment in the Kelvingrove Park Trilogy.

 

 

Available May 28 pre-order now: Cruel Summer

 

 

M.R. Mackenzie image

 

 

M. R. Mackenzie was born and lives in Glasgow, Scotland. He studied at Glasgow University and has a PhD in Film Studies. In 2016, he contributed a chapter on the Italian giallo film to Cult Cinema: An Arrow Video Companion.

In addition to writing, he works as an independent Blu-ray/DVD producer and has overseen releases of films by a number of acclaimed directors, among them Dario Argento, Joe Dante and Seijun Suzuki.

His debut novel, In the Silence, reached #2 in Amazon UK’s Scottish crime fiction bestsellers chart.

 

M.R. Mackenzie