Deborah Harkness

Read more about Deborah Harkness.

Interview By: Tamazon

Date: January 28, 2011

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A Discovery of Witches, Viking Press, Fiction, release date 8 February 2011.

Deep in the stacks of Oxford's Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

Please describe your writing environment.

I write best at home, in a familiar space, with music playing, and never too far away from the tea kettle, The other place I love to write is on airplanes.

What main genre do you write in?

Mainstream Fiction

Please tell us your latest news!

A Discovery of Witches is earning great reviews from readers, bloggers, and the press-including recent mentions on Entertainment Weekly's "Must List" and inclusion in O Magazine. It's all very exciting! As I answer your questions, I'm ten days from the release date in both the US and the UK so it's a busy time.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Write. And listen to your instincts. After all, you have to tell YOUR story.

How does your family feel about having a writer in the family? Do they read your books?

I am blessed with an extremely supportive family, and yes, they read my books (even my non-fiction, which is a true act of family love!)

Do you write full time? What did you do before you became a writer? Or Still do?

I'm a full-time history professor at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Part of my job involves writing original works of history. So I wrote A Discovery of Witches in my free time, when I wasn't teaching or writing non-fiction.

Do you plan all your characters out before you start a story or do they develop as you write?

Very little is planned out before I write, except for the final plot destination on the last page. I like it when the characters do surprising things or-even better-when entirely unexpected characters appear on the page, leaving me to wonder "where did you come from?"

Did you pick the title for your book? If it has been changed please tell us about the process.

The title of A Discovery of Witches is based on a book written by the English "witchfinder general" Matthew Hopkins, The Discovery of Witches (1647). I love the title because discovery can mean finding something unexpected, or it can mean peeling back layers of secrets. Happily, the title stuck-which is not always true when you write a book. Sometimes the author tweaks it, other times the press tweaks it.

What inspires your writing?

All sorts of things: an image, a face, a name, a piece of music. I never know when or where inspiration will hit.

How much research do you do for your books? Have you found any cool tidbits in your research?

This is a hard question for me to answer. In many ways I've been reading and researching the history of magic and science since the 1980s, so I have a lot of notes piled up here and there. In fact, one of my research experiences played directly into the book because once upon a time, I was doing research at the Bodleian Library and I found a lost manuscript that had belonged to Queen Elizabeth I's court astrologer. That's the coolest thing that's ever happened to me in a library, and it went straight into the novel.

If you had to choose one person to have dinner with, who would it be? And why?

Can they be dead? If so, Queen Elizabeth I because she revealed so few of her secrets when she was alive. I would enjoy uncovering a few of them over the course of an evening-like whether she remembered her mother and how she really felt about her father.

What's your favorite drink?

If you mean alcoholic drink, it's wine without a doubt-though I do have a fondness for strangely flavored martinis. During working hours, I exist on cold water and tea.

Deborah Harkness