Deborah Harkness teaches European history and the history of science at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. During her 28 years long academic career she was especially interested in history of magic and science in Europe between 1500 and 1700. She is passionate about wines and keen wine blogger.
In 2008 she asked herself “if there really are vampires, what do they do for a living?”. A Discovery of Witches is the unexpected answer to that question. Our reviewer collingwood21 was delighted with the book and was curious to post few questions to Deborah.
CBF: You have worked in the Bodleian Library, which features heavily in your book, and have researched the history of science and magic, as Diana Bishop does. To what extent is Diana based on you – and where else did you draw inspiration from in creating her?
DH: All of the characters in A Discovery of Witches have some element of them in me. But Diana isn’t a carbon copy of anyone—me least of all. Instead, she exemplifies many of the characteristics I admire in others: intelligence, loyalty, fearlessness, and curiosity.
CBF: As an academic, you have published non-fiction works. How difficult was it to switch to writing fiction for a non-academic audience?
DH: I had an enormous amount of fun writing the book. Nevertheless, writing is never easy. What I discovered when writing fiction is that the characters are always doing something you would never imagine they would do!
CBF: The Discovery of Witches is the first in a series – how many more books set in this world are you planning to write?
CBF: The vampire is a very popular creature in modern fiction, but Matthew Clairmont still stands out as an unusual and fascinating character. How did you create him?
DH: I really tried to imagine how difficult it would be to live through so much change. Being nearly immortal must be a very lonely business, and having a real purpose in life would help you stay sane. That’s why Matthew is a scientist. It gives his life shape and meaning, and he is consumed with the question of how the world works.
CBF: The novel is clearly based upon detailed research in a number of areas. What did you read and where did you go to research all these background details?
DH: In some ways I’ve been reading and researching this book since around 1984 when I first took a course that explored the relationship between magic and science. So the list of books I’ve read and the manuscripts I’ve consulted is very long. Some titles for further reading can be found on amazon.com, where I shared my list of favorite magic, witchcraft, and science books: http://www.amazon.com/Discovery-Witches-Novel-Deborah-Harkness/dp/0670022411
When I was through writing the book, I found myself in awe of all the writers who embark on research in order to finish their projects and do amazing work in a very short amount of time. I’m glad I’ve had twenty-six years to think about these things!
Thanks to Deborah Harkness and collingwood21 for making this interview for Curious Book Fans.
The book will be published on February 8th, 2011 by Headline UK.
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