THE last person to be executed in Scotland for witchcraft is the subject of a new book.

Philip Paris, originally from Gateshead but now living in the Highlands, has already written books which have a connection to Scotland, a country he has always had a love of. 

His new work, The Last Witch Of Scotland, is a mix of fact and fiction and takes Janet Horne, who is believed to be the last woman executed in the British Isles for witchcraft, as its subject.

Many sources say the execution took place in June 1722, just nine years before the witchcraft acts in Scotland were repealed, after she was arrested in Dornoch.

Her daughter had been born with a slight birth defect which made Janet a target for rumours. 

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Spealing to The National, Paris said: “Janet Horne is a famous story but it’s also one which is quite poorly documented. She was an innocent woman though I’m sure of that.

“I felt there was a story waiting to be told.”

Paris’s debut novel, The Italian Chapel, is based on a true story and focuses on a group of Italian prisoners of war living on Orkney who eventually built a chapel on the island.

His second novel, Effie’s War, is set in the Scottish Highlands in 1943 and focuses on a farm who receives notice to quit their farm.

Despite originally hailing from England, Paris explains that he’s always had a passion for all things Scottish.

“Even when I was living in England, I took up Scottish country dancing and playing the bagpipes and that was before I even moved up here.”

Prior to becoming an author, he worked in the printing industry and as a journalist for a trade magazine which he says gave him a “good grounding”.

With The Italian Chapel, he says that many of the characters were real people whereas Effie’s War, although based on true events, revolved around entirely fictitious characters.

The Last Witch Of Scotland therefore represents a combination of his talents – historical research and fiction writing.

He said: “We don’t know much about her (Janet's) life so I’ve had to reinvent that sensitively and realistically for the time both she and her daughter were arrested. Once they were found guilty, Janet was executed the next day but the daughter managed to escape.

“I wanted to give these two women a voice and I guess in that sense also other women that were executed and to convey something of their feelings and being so powerless to fight against the injustice.

“It was so difficult to argue against these kind of accusations at the time.”

Paris says that although much of this book has been fictionalised, it is also based on conversations with historical experts.

“As far as the characters go, I invented most of those and I had to imagine the daughter’s name because of a lack of documentary evidence.

“The trial would have been in front of a jury of 15 men for example and most of them would have had some kind of standing in the local community.”

He admits that playing around with people’s lives is a “tricky issue”. How do you combine being sensitive with being creative and entertaining?

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“It’s always an interesting issue. You have to combine sensitivity with imagination and try to keep the story flowing as a novel at the same time.

“Just keep it fair and keep it honest.”

The next few weeks will be busy for Paris as he tours Scotland to promote his book.

“No wee break for me I’m afraid”, he says, laughing.

“I’ve got a whole list of book launch events coming up so I’m getting ready for those, writing speeches and practicing them.”

The Last Witch Of Scotland, published by Black & White publishing, is released on April 13.