Lucy Cox meets a first-time novelist who feels he’s been chosen to write a crime fiction thriller set in the secret world of cancer research.
Andrew Harris didn’t believe in ghosts until he rented a holiday home in Scotland that was seriously haunted. His terrified partner saw an angry, dark-haired woman in a blue taffeta dress storm across the bedroom straight into the far wall. Taps came on in the middle of the night, candles lit themselves, a Christmas Tree suddenly appeared and a vase of bluebells sprouted a single narcissus.
“We were terrified” Harris recalls “and beat our retreat on the Thursday. I even spoke to the ghost on the telephone. It was very weird”
The ghostly scenes were recaptured in the first draft of The C Clef, Harris’s debut novel that weaves a refreshingly original story in and out of a spiritual world we all know exists but has never been accepted by the clinical correctness of modern-day science.
“Sigmund Freud died in his 80’s at the very start of the Second World War. His work on psychoanalysis has been grudgingly accepted by a scientific community that remains very sceptical. The interpretation of dreams, the role of the subconscious mind and the whole issue of our spirituality are subjects more comfortably classified under the same headings as ghosts and the psychic world” Harris explains.
To say The C Clef has been meticulously researched is an understatement. Harris visited Freud’s house in Vienna and read extensively through the works of that Austrian Jewon his journey of discovery. “Freud was diagnosed with oral cancer when he was 67 years old. At the time he was suffering from depression. His physician didn’t risk telling him how serious his condition was for fear that he might take his own life. I wonder now if he might have drawn an inference between the two conditions – cancer and depression - had he known.”
Harris’s research also took him into the nightmare world of Auschwitz, the huge Nazi death camp where barbaric medical experiments were conducted in the name of medical science. “I engaged an English-speaking guide to show me round. It was a numbing experience I’ll never forget. It was the sheer size and scale of the camps; the unbelievable cruelty and overwhelming sense of injustice; there was a total lack of all humanity. Block 10, where the medical experiments were carried out, has never been opened to the public”
Throughout the research and writing of The C Clef, Harris kept asking himself why he was doing this. He has no medical training. Everything he has learned about cancer has come from conversations with medical practitioners or through books and scientific journals. In addition he has no previous experience in writing any published work. The C Clefis his first book.
“Bizarrely it feels like I’ve been chosen to write this book. Thirteen million more people will develop cancer this year. That’s an epidemic. I’ve lost too many friends to this terrible disease. Everyone I know has had their lives disrupted in some way by cancer. It’s time we really pushed to find a cure”
Harris is clearly passionate about this issue and feels frustrated that we are not doing more to eradicate cancer from the face of the Earth. In the Acknowledgements he comments that the cancer research industry represents an ecosystem in perfect equilibrium. It is well-funded, populated by the sharpest minds and is undoubtedly pushing forward the frontiers of medical science. But are we looking for a cure or better forms of treatment to improve survival rates?
Harris points out that the ongoing research is largely concentrating on drug development and not on the likely causes of the disease. The pressure to find new drugs seems intense and attracts billions of investment dollars.
But the big question still remains - why does the first cell turn cancerous? And how do we stop that happening.
“One publisher identified The C Clef as really a non-fiction book dressed up as a crime fiction thriller. There could be some truth in that” Harris adds.
But the reader should be reassured that the tone of the book is uplifting and inspirational. It might deal with serious issues, but The C Clef is also a rattling good read. The action takes place in the present day, with references to other dark periods in our history. It is a real ripper of a novel that takes us on a tantalising journey with its redundant mid-life executives and career women who have everything but romance.
You need to get ready for racy office sex scenes, violent murders, twists and turns, codes and clues, and chilling psychopaths as it takes its very human characters on a tense thriller ride from London through Europe and then… but that would be giving too much away.
In his novel, the World Health Organisation puts up a US$7.5 billion prize for whoever is the first individual or organisation to find an irrefutable scientific cure. It proves to be a catalyst that stimulates questions about the cause of the disease and whether, unknowingly, we trigger cancer in ourselves.
Harris would like to widen the conversation about possible cures for cancer. He wants to ask the World Health Organisation why they haven’t tried this approach and introduced some element of competition into the cancer research community.
The idea, he says, is not so far-fetched. “It only took 66 years from the Wright brothers’ first manned flight in 1903, to landing a man on the moon in 1969. As a species we are capable of extraordinary feats. But there needs to be the pressure of competition. Two World Wars, the Cold War and The Space Race between America and Russia provided that competition to fly higher, faster, safer…..to fly to the moon.”
Although born in Liverpool, Harris migrated to New Zealand in 2008 and has since become a Kiwi. “It was a proud moment when I was granted citizenship and received my black passport.”
Harris, who now lives in Hawkes Bay, thinks we need more original thinking to deal with our global problems – cancer, poverty and over-population. He believes fiction is one way to provoke the necessary conversations around this. And his Human Spirit Series – of which The C Clef is the first book – seeks to do just that.
Why me? Whatever spiritual force has chosen him, Harris has certainly answered the call. He is so committed to writing “thought-provoking, informative and entertaining books” that he has set up his own publishing company, Faithful Hound Media, to do so.
It’s an original way to start a conversation. And, in case you need a further incentive to buy The C Clef, Harris is donating $1 per book in support of the Malaghan Institute for Cancer Research.