The Witchdoctor’s Bones
by Lisa de Nikolits
on Tour July
In The Witchdoctor’s Bones a group of tourists gather. Some have come to holiday, others to murder. Canadian Kate ditches her two-timing boyfriend and heads to Africa on a whim, hoping for adventure, encountering the unexpected and proving an intrepid adversary to mayhem.
The tour is led by Jono, a Zimbabwean historian and philosopher, and the travelers follow him from Cape Town into the Namib desert, learning ancient secrets of the Bushmen, the power of witchcraft and superstition, and even the origins of Nazi evil.
A ragged bunch ranging from teenagers to retired couples, each member of the group faces their own challenges as third world Africa pits against first world greed, murderous intent and thwarted desire. The battle between goaded vanity and frustrated appetite culminates in a surprising conclusion with shocking twists.
With the bones of consequence easily buried in the shifting sands, a holiday becomes a test of moral character.
Unpredictable, flawed, fun-loving, courageous, bizarre, weak, kind-hearted and loathsome; the individuals in this novel exist beyond the page and into real life.
Seamlessly weaving history and folklore into a plot of loss, passion and intrigue, the reader is kept informed and entertained as this psychological thriller unfolds.
Writing and Reading:
Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events?
Yes, I definitely draw from both, but the personal experience is really only the catalyst, the match to the flame. The story ends up being entirely different from my own personal experience.
For example, the idea for The Witchdoctor’s Bones came from a trip I took to Namibia, a safari.
I have always wanted to write a book about Africa but until I took that trip, I had no idea what that story would be. I finished the trip and I realized that the journey, fashioned in the style of an Agatha Christie novel, would lend itself to a book.
And then yes, I drew on current African practices as well as history. But the characters in my book bear no resemblance to the people who were on the trip with me and while I used the route we travelled, none of the experiences in the book happened in real life.
And, although I use personal experiences to ‘spark’ ideas, I believe that my stories exist ‘out there’ and I welcome them to come in and visit with me and use me to find their way into the world. It’s as if I’m the owner of a Bed & Breakfast for stories — come on in, we’ll sit around a campfire and tell tales! So, yes, I do draw from personal experiences; although sometimes only in the smallest of ways; a bus trip and a poisonous bush in real life ended up being a huge, long novel that was all fiction.
Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story line brings you?
I start with the tiniest of ideas and then bounce things around and see where they go. For example, I wrote a short story a while back and it had an open ending. A few people really liked the story and wanted to know what happened and now I think this could be a novel. All I’ve got is a short story that for all intents and purposes has done nothing more than introduce me to a couple of characters who have potential to be interesting and I’m putting feelers out there to see what transpires. I have a feeling they might want to go to Tasmania but I’ve got no idea what they’ll do there. I went to Tasmania some years back and it resonated with me. Not every place I go does that; I went to Peru and there was nothing, not even the tiniest ‘ping’ of ‘write about me’… To this point in my writing, I’ve never known an ending in advance, and the endings have also been known to change even in final edits. I am never married to my endings.
Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?
No routines, I just write whenever I can. I like to wear a hat, it helps me concentrate. I also need my study to be just so, even if I’m not writing in there. I need things to be in order on my desk and everything needs to be nice and shiny. Oh, and I do love a fragrance! Sometimes it’s Vanilla or White Musk from The Body Shop, sometimes it’s Downtown by Calvin Klein, sometimes, if I am feeling extravagant, it’s Issey Miyake. Fragrances, like hats, help me think better!
Is writing your full time job? If not, may I ask what you do by day?
I’m a magazine art director. I’ve had the honor of working on magazines such as marie Claire, Vogue, Vogue Living. I currently art direct Cosmetics which is a lot of fun. I’m not sure I could be a full time writer, I think I’d find it too stressful! I really enjoy designing, it’s much more fun than writing which can be quite traumatic; you constantly wonder if the story is going anywhere or if you are doing the best you can with it.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Lionel Shriver, Annie Proulx, John Irving, Harry Crews, John Steinbeck, Betty Smith, D.J. McIntosh, Michael Ondaatje, Miriam Toews
What are you reading now?
Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver, Manuscript Found In Accra by Paul Coelho, Big Brother by Lionel Shriver, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak – I can’t seem to bear to finish it, I read a page a day.
Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us a little about it?
I’ve got two novels ‘in the bag’; Between The Cracks She Fell (about a girl who loses her job, her boyfriend and her house and she moves into an abandoned old school), and The Nearly Girl (about a girl with an interesting psychosis in that she nearly gets things right but she gets everything just wrong; she gets dates/buses/tasks/recipes slightly right but wrong enough to make her life in the normal world untenable).
The fledling novel I am currently working on is the one based on the short story I mentioned here and it’s in the very earliest of stages; I’ve got a few characters I like, a diamond ring and beyond that, nothing! I keep throwing suggestions out into the ether, to see what will ‘stick’!
Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?
Rydell: Kevin Spacey
Kate: Jennifer Garner
Helen: Claire Danes
Richard: Damian Lewis
André: Chris Hemsworth
Manuscript/Notes: handwritten or keyboard?
Both! I also have three computers, one at work, two at home. I write bits on post-it notes, in journals, on the backs of hydro bills. I also make sure have a notebook when the ideas are initially coming. I write mostly on my computer once I have my idea outlined but when I am letting the idea for the novel take shape, I write longhand.
Favorite leisure activity/hobby?
Playing my guitar. I am learning the classical guitar. I like being at home, puttering around. I like talking to my cat. Isabella Creamy Diva, I like taking photographs, going on roadtrips and watching a good movie. I love travelling to some place I’ve never been. I like doing yoga and going for walks down at the lake. I have lots of leisure activities!
Vanilla cake with lemon icing and canned whipped cream! I guess that’s not really a meal but if I died and went to heaven, that would be my daily breakfast!
Read an excerpt:
Originally from South Africa, Lisa de Nikolits has been a Canadian citizen since 2003. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Philosophy and has lived in the U.S.A., Australia and Britain.
Her first novel, The Hungry Mirror, won the 2011 IPPY Awards Gold Medal for Women’s Issues Fiction and was long-listed for a ReLit Award.
Her second novel, West of Wawa won the 2012 IPPY Silver Medal Winner for Popular Fiction and was one of Chatelaine’s four Editor’s Picks.
Her third novel, A Glittering Chaos, launched in Spring 2013 to much acclaim and is about murder, madness, illicit love and poetry. It received the IPPY 2014 Silver Medal for Popular Fiction!
All books published by Inanna Publications.