Magical books and the law

  • 04 August 2022

When embarking on his Masters, Andy Sagar (Law 2014) saw writing children’s fiction as an escape from his academic work, a creative pause. He received a three-book deal in the first week of a PhD exploring the evolution of the law from witchcraft to the modern law about psychic con artists and fraudulent mediums.

Rather than separate his academic pursuits from his creative writing, Andy sees them as mutually supportive. Indeed, his academic work is a theme of later books.

“I just like writing and thinking about stuff, whether it’s fictional or non-fictional, and shaping it into something I can write about. They both come from the same instinct,” says Andy, who joined Gonville & Caius College as an undergraduate and has remained since, with the exception of a year working as a Research Assistant in the Faculty of Law.

Andy’s book Yesterday Crumb and the Storm in a Teacup is the first in a new fantasy series for readers aged eight to 12, about a girl with fox ears who has never fitted in.

He adds: “I wanted to be a writer since reading The Hobbit aged seven or eight and I think ever since then I’ve stayed in that mindset. I’m writing for my eight-year-old self.

“I wanted to do a PhD because I wanted to learn more about the subject matter itself: people who pretend they can see the future and talk to ghosts and how the law deals with it.”

Andy is looking at specific cases and how they affect the wider laws in the country.

He says: “For example, I looked at one case in the 1940s of a woman trying to do a séance in court. The judge didn’t let her and I’m interested in why the law doesn’t want you to perform a séance in front of a jury? It’s a really interesting question to me.

“It’s very complicated and it ties into lots of other things: the courts never wanted to define what the supernatural was; they didn’t want someone to prove the supernatural in court; and, also they didn’t need you to identify a victim.

“The bare fact of performing a séance or pretending you could fortune tell in the 1940s was, in itself, enough to justify criminalisation.

“From my perspective these three things together tell me that the law is set up in a way that cannot understand the supernatural. It doesn’t have the conceptual equipment to define what a ghost is, or to define what it would mean to see the future. Because of that the judge refusing to let her perform a séance is a symptom, rather than an underlying cause.”

That is not to say Andy believes in the supernatural.

He says: “It’s a case study for understanding how narrow-minded law is in general. For me it’s more about questioning what law thinks is reasonable more widely.

“The goal is to unearth some of the assumptions that underline all legal discourse, not just discourse about the impossible. By analysing how the law deals with the impossible we can also glean insights into how law deals with the possible.”

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