Tag Archives: novels with witches

Featuring Author Deborah Harkness: Under the Cover of Her Novels

Deborah Harkness, author of New York Times Bestselling novels A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night, emanates a warmth and poise that made me want to immediately sit down and chat with her about history, science, books and life all by a warm fire, with a glass of wine in hand for her and a cup of coffee for me, as if she was a long-lost friend.  Of course that didn’t really happen even if she made me feel it could, but I did meet her on Sunday as part of a presentation she gave that was hosted by the Cuyahoga County Public Library.  She spoke about her books, her writing, and her author/life balance.

Pictured above: 
Deborah Harkness and I together during her book signing on a hot day in Ohio. My glasses were sliding slowly down my face, while Deb looked radiant!

Harkness was an amazingly confident public speaker. I suppose that comes from all her years as a university professor. She’s also very witty and knowledgable and connects with readers and an audience in a very sincere way.

After patiently signing books from an extended line of people on a very hot Ohio day, while being so very kind, thoughtful, personable and accommodating to the many fans, she was introduced to a thundering of applause as the crowd cheered for the announcement that Shadow of Night had just hit the #1 spot on the NYT bestseller list. I smiled when I saw her discreetly do a “hand pump” as she waited in the wings behind the stage curtain.  The amount of whirlwind international success must be very exciting indeed, even though she already has accomplished so many academic accolades.

She spoke about how her vision for the books came to her and I had to admit I chuckled. It reminds me of something that would happen to me.  She had been in an airport with her family to head on vacation when she saw row after row of books that had to do with vampires, fallen angels, witches and the like. She thought in her head that if these entities were real, where would they be? She laughed to herself as she told us she started to follow her family around asking repeated questions because she wanted to figure out, basically, that if all these supernatural types are getting front page news, then where are they? What do they do for a living? Of course, I know myself that any person who loves education will most likely ask a million questions until they get the answer. Given my own personality, I could relate to her incessant need to understand where these entities come from and where they reside. Readers can be glad that she kept pursuing her questions and created her trilogy. Sometimes we just can’t find concrete answers and that is why fiction is so wonderful and important in our human lives. I was happy to see an academia-type person step outside the non-fiction “box” and take on novels.

In talking about her novels then, what makes them so overwhelmingly popular and successful?  People are intrigued by the unknown and love to use their imaginations to vicariously live through these characters created by fiction writers. While these types of characters dominate the Young Adult reading genre, Harkness noted that many of these aren’t really for serious adult readers with adult characters. With her first book, A Discovery of Witches,  she wrote it because she thought “Why should teenagers have all the fun?” With this mantra she created a fairy tale for grown-ups that included adults falling in love as well as a more detailed mystery that kept us wanting more. For the second book, Shadow of Night, she describes it as her characters delving beyond the initial stage of falling in love and that the book moved on to show how two people can stay in love and accept each other through major change and turmoil. ” That is true magic,” she stated.  For the third book in the trilogy, she said she will take readers back to the present day, tracing what happens to her characters after no one is the same after Shadow of Night.  Though she is still writing it, she tells us that by completion we will find out the real secrets of the magical book Ashmole 782.

When asked if the past will affect the future in book three, Harkness said, “We learn things from the past you can only learn in the past.” She certainly knows how to keep her readers guessing.  However, the books and characters have kept Harkness herself guessing, such as Hamish appearing to her then knocking on the door in A Discovery of Witches. She said though he wasn’t planned, Hamish is one of her very favorite characters.  In Shadow of Night, there are two such characters as well, but I don’t want to spoil who they are. She never fully knows for sure where her book will take her, stating that, “Books act like children, they don’t all behave the same way.” 

And what about considering Ashmole 782 as a character? The alchemical manuscript is quite real in so many ways isn’t it?  In academic libraries the books are cataloged by a person’s name and number. Ashmole 782 is actually the library call number for the book in the real Bodelian library at Oxford. In doing some of her research, it was an item Harkness really wanted to take a look at and honestly, she told the audience, it really is missing. Since she couldn’t find it, she thought, “Ok then, there is that annoying missing book. I’ll throw that in, too.” I’m sure readers are glad she took on the task of fictionalizing an answer to where this book might really be because it gave all the characters a purpose and kept us turning page after page.  It has the answer we all are seeking, doesn’t it? Where do witches, vampires, and daemons come from?

Another question she addressed that many people seem to have is why does her character Matthew Clairmont have to know EVERYONE? She laughs at this thought and proceeds to explains that Matthew is actually based from a poem by George Chapman, circa 1594, that was dedicated to Matthew Roydon, who appears historically to be a man that everyone knew, but one not much is recorded on. Harkness tried to research him, coming up with references of him in relation to many other famous men of the late 1500s-early 1600s, but nothing directly about him. In fact, when he was called to testify in the trial of Christopher Marlowe’s death, he was never found. She said she thought “ummm….vampires would be like Matthew Roydon. Always adjacent to the spotlight, but never actually in it.”

Difficulties between Diana and Matthew in Shadow of Night come from their needed adjustments to the time period that they time walked to. They had to learn things about each other, while also dealing with all the changes that come from living in a time where there was no expectation of privacy. Harkness describes it humorously as a “never-ending family vacation.”  Diana is dealing with being thrown into Matthew’s world in 1590 where Harkness says “it is difficult to not only be a witch, but also a woman.” They deal with Matthew reverting to old ways, not always grand in that time period, and his friends, dubbed in history books as members of the School of Night.  Also, Diana doesn’t know the old magic, she barely was learning her new magic, and beyond that it is almost a death sentence to be public about being a witch. The pair emerge from the tight cocoon of new romance into chaos. In the end, they must learn to value each other and find acceptance while staying alive and fighting for their future.

Pictured above: Deborah giving her presentation on July 22, 2012.

There are so many discussion facets that make this trilogy such a success. Harkness’ background to the books and her outline of all the different threads running through them makes the books even more interesting.

Not only do we get a wonderful book series, but the rights to the All Souls Trilogy have sold to Warner Brothers Pictures.  The Pulitzer and Tony Award winning playwright David Auburn (Proof) has written the screenplay. I can only imagine how amazing these movies are going to be. But Harkness won’t given any indication of who she pictures playing Matthew or Diana, though those are frequently asked questions. A testament to her kind heart, she doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings if they cast someone else.  “If you were an actor how would you feel if someone said to you, ‘do you know Deborah Harkness really wanted so and so to play your part?'” she stated.

Harkness said that she never really had much intent to write fiction and that the last she remembers of writing fiction was a piece from her sophomore year of high school. Although she thought of writing an Elizabethan mystery many years ago, she really couldn’t get into it.  She has, of course, written numerous scholarly articles and two non-fiction works.  She’s worked in numerous libraries all over the world and currently teaches European history and the history of science at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.  With her historical researching, teaching and writing behind her, she is right when she states, “I am a historian, and what are historians if not story tellers.”  Of course, historians are the most natural of story tellers and the most inquisitive of people as well.

So when asked what she’ll write when the All Souls trilogy is done, she states that she is not entirely sure. She has lots of ideas always running around her head, including some non-fiction ideas such as a book about the relationship between Elizabeth I and her father, Henry VIII.

Pictured above: This photo shows Shadow of Night on NYT Bestseller List this week. I stole the photo from Deborah’s fan page…so she gets photo credit. I hope she doesn’t mind.

She attributes her fiction success to what she calls quite simply, “pixie dust.”  She said, “What happened to me wasn’t supposed to happen but it did.” Her advice to other writers is “write the book that speaks to you and then take one day at a time.”

Most aspiring authors want to know how other authors get it all done. What is Harkness’ writing routine?  While writing A Discovery of Witches, she wrote two hours each morning and about two pages a day.  I was writing, teaching and living, she said.  “Write 2 pages a day for a year and you have A Discovery of Witches,” she continued. But balance can be hard.  This Fall, she is taking a leave from teaching because she had to throw in a fourth component, which is book promotion.  She didn’t feel it fair to her students to come in “looking like her hair was on fire and try to teach the italian renaissance” after a summer of major book touring all across the U.S.

From my view point up close her hair is certainly is not on fire yet, even if her books are. Her warm heart is certainly something that will keep heating up her success as she tours around the country. If you haven’t read A Discovery of Witches yet, or Shadow of Night, I urge you to do so just for the sheer fun of a good magical adult read full of romance, mystery, history, supernatural elements, and intrigue. You can’t go wrong when you put all those details together with excellent writing.

To read my previous review of Shadow of Night, click HERE.  To read an interview with Deborah Harkness, click HERE. Please note the giveaway is now closed, though the information on the books is always relevant.

To keep up on news about Deborah Harkness and her books, go to www.deborahharkness.com. And talk more to Deborah on her Facebook Fan Page at http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Deborah-Harkness/163048101811

It began with a discovery of witches…..

how will it end?


And THANK YOU to the Cuyahoga County Public Library and the Berea Branch for hosting Deborah and for moving the location to accomodate more of her fans. THANK YOU to Deborah for coming to Ohio!


Filed under Book Reviews, Feature Articles, Q and A with Authors

Interview with Shadow of Night Author Deborah Harkness~And This Week’s Giveaway!

I think the entire world is waiting *not very patiently* for the release of a certain book this week!! It’s all over the media. Without me even needing to type it I know YOU know it as Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness, author of bestselling A Discovery of Witches (which is one of my fave books of all time!!).

I myself have been waiting *not very patiently* to review it as I read it a couple months ago, but was advised to hold my blog review until publishing date, which is tomorrow (Tues., July 10). My review will come later this week and I’ll have a copy of the BOOK to GIVEAWAY as well as a cool Ashmole 782 tattoo AND six awesome pins (buttons) with art from the book (see photos below).

AND, for anyone in Ohio wishing to see her in person, she’ll be at the Cuyahoga County Public Library/Berea Branch (http://www.cuyahogalibrary.org/EventDetail.aspx?EventInstanceID=70185) for a talk, Q &A, and book signing!! I believe this is her only Ohio stop, so be sure to mark your calendars. Bring your book for her to sign, I know I’m going to try! She has lots of other stops nationwide as well and she posts her events calendar every week on her Facebook page.

Book Jacket Promo~

The thrilling sequel to the New York Times bestseller A Discovery of Witches…

Deborah Harkness exploded onto the literary scene with her debut novel, A Discovery of Witches, Book One of the magical All Souls Trilogy and an international publishing phenomenon. The novel introduced Diana Bishop, Oxford scholar and reluctant witch, and the handsome geneticist and vampire Matthew Clairmont; together they found themselves at the center of a supernatural battle over an enchanted manuscript known as Ashmole 782.

Now, picking up from A Discovery of Witches’ cliffhanger ending, Shadow of Night plunges Diana and Matthew into Elizabethan London, a world of spies, subterfuge, and a coterie of Matthew’s old friends, the mysterious School of Night that includes Christopher Marlowe and Walter Raleigh. Here, Diana must locate a witch to tutor her in magic, Matthew is forced to confront a past he thought he had put to rest, and the mystery of Ashmole 782 deepens.


While you’re waiting on my review, which is FAVORABLE since it held so much historical content from the Elizabethan Age (YES, I enjoyed the wealth of info in the book as well as the story line!!), here is the info on Shadow of Night and an interview with Deborah, put together by her publisher.


Q: A Discovery of Witches debuted at # 2 on the New York Times bestseller list with publications following in 37 countries.  What has been your reaction to the outpouring of love for A Discovery of Witches? Was it surprising how taken fans were with Diana and Matthew’s story?


A. It has been amazing—and a bit overwhelming. I was surprised by how quickly readers embraced two central characters who challenge our typical notion of what a heroine or hero should be. And I continue to be amazed whenever a new reader pops up, whether one in the US or somewhere like Finland or Japan—to tell me how much they enjoyed being caught up in Diana’s world.


Q:  Last summer, Warner Brothers acquired screen rights to the trilogy, and David Auburn, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer of Proof, has been tapped to pen the screenplay. Are you looking forward to your novels being portrayed on the big screen?  What are your favorite casting ideas that you’ve heard from friends and readers?


A. I was thrilled when Warner Brothers wanted to translate the All Souls trilogy from book to screen. At first I was reluctant about the whole idea of a movie, and it actually took me nearly two years to agree to let someone try. The team at Warner Brothers impressed me with their seriousness about the project and their commitment to the characters and story I was trying to tell. Their decision to go with David Auburn confirmed that my faith in them was not misplaced. As for the casting, I deliberately don’t say anything about that! I would hate for any actor or actress to be cast in one of these roles and feel that they didn’t have my total support. I will say, however, that many of my readers’ ideas involve actors who have already played a vampire and I would be very surprised if one of them were asked to be Matthew!


Q: SHADOW OF NIGHT opens on a scene in 1590s Elizabethan England featuring the famous School of Night, a group of historical figures believed to be friends, including Sir Walter Raleigh and playwright Christopher Marlowe.  Why did you choose to feature these individuals, and can we expect Diana and Matthew to meet other famous figures from the past?  


A. I wrote my master’s thesis on the imagery surrounding Elizabeth I during the last two decades of her reign. One of my main sources was the poem The Shadow of Night by George Chapman—a member of this circle of fascinating men—and that work is dedicated to a mysterious poet named Matthew Roydon about whom we know very little. When I was first thinking about how vampires moved in the world (and this was way back in the autumn of 2008 when I was just beginning A Discovery of Witches) I remembered Roydon and thought “that is the kind of identity a vampire would have, surrounded by interesting people but not the center of the action.” From that moment on I knew the second part of Diana and Matthew’s story would take place among theSchool ofNight. And from a character standpoint, Walter Raleigh, Christopher Marlowe, George Chapman, and the other men associated with the group are irresistible. They were such significant, colorful presences in Elizabethan England.


Q: In SHADOW OF NIGHT, we learn more about the alchemical bonds between Diana and Matthew.   In your day job, you are a professor of history and science at the University of Southern California and have focused on alchemy in your research.  What aspects of this intersection between science and magic do you hope readers will pick up on while reading SHADOW OF NIGHT?


A. Whereas A Discovery of Witches focused on the literature and symbolism of alchemy, in Shadow of Night I’m able to explore some of the hands-on aspects of this ancient tradition. There is still plenty of symbolism for Diana to think about, but in this volume we go from abstractions and ideals to real transformation and change—which was always my intention with the series. Just as we get to know more about how Elizabethan men and women undertook alchemical experiments, we also get to see Matthew and Diana’s relationship undergo the metamorphosis from new love to something more.


Q: SHADOW OF NIGHT spans the globe, with London, France, and Prague as some of the locales. Did you travel to these destinations for your research? 


A. I did. My historical research has been based in London for some time now, so I’ve spent long stretches of time living in the City of London—the oldest part of the metropolis—but I had never been to the Auvergne or Prague. I visited both places while writing the book, and in both cases it was a bit like traveling in time to walk village lanes, old pilgrim roads, and twisting city streets while imagining Diana and Matthew at my side.


Q: Did you have an idea or an outline for SHADOW OF NIGHT when you were writing A Discovery of Witches?  Did the direction change once you sat down to write it?


A. I didn’t outline either book in the traditional sense. In both cases I knew what some of the high points were and how the plot moved towards the conclusion, but there were some significant changes during the revision process. This was especially true for SHADOW OF NIGHT, although most of those changes involved moving specific pieces of the plot forward or back to improve the momentum and flow.


Q: A Discovery of Witches begins with Diana Bishop stumbling across a lost, enchanted manuscript called Ashmole 782 in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, whose secrets Diana and Matthew are still trying to uncover in SHADOW OF NIGHT. You had a similar experience while you were completing your dissertation.  What was the story behind your discovery?  And how did it inspire the creation of these novels?


A. I did discover a manuscript—not an enchanted one, alas—in the Bodleian Library. It was a manuscript owned by Queen Elizabeth’s astrologer, the mathematician and alchemist John Dee. In the 1570s and 1580s he became interested in using a crystal ball to talk to angels. The angels gave him all kinds of instructions on how to manage his life at home, his work—they even told him to pack up his family and belongings and go to far-away Poland and Prague. In the conversations,Deeasked the angels about a mysterious book in his library called “the Book of Soyga” or “Aldaraia.” No one had ever been able to find it, even though many ofDee’s other books survive in libraries throughout the world. In the summer of 1994 I was spending time inOxfordbetween finishing my doctorate and starting my first job. It was a wonderfully creative time, since I had no deadlines to worry about and my dissertation onDee’s angel conversations was complete. As with most discoveries, this discovery of a “lost” manuscript was entirely accidental. I was looking for something else in the Bodleian’s catalogue and in the upper corner of the page was a reference to a book called “Aldaraia.” I knew it couldn’t beDee’s book, but I called it up anyway. And it turned out it WAS the book (or at least a copy of it). With the help of the Bodleian’s Keeper of Rare Books, I located another copy in the British Library.


Q: Are there other lost books like this in the world?


A. Absolutely! Entire books have been written about famous lost volumes—including works by Plato, Aristotle, and Shakespeare to name just a few. Libraries are full of such treasures, some of them unrecognized and others simply misfiled or mislabeled. And we find lost books outside of libraries, too. In January 2006, a completely unknown manuscript belonging to one of the 17th century’s most prominent scientists, Robert Hooke, was discovered when someone was having the contents of their house valued for auction. The manuscript included minutes of early Royal Society meetings that we presumed were lost forever.


Q: Unlike Twilight’s Bella and Edward—hormonal teenagers who meet in the halls of a high school—your leading characters Matthew and Diana are established academics who meet in the library of one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the world.  This is a world where vampires and witches drink wine together, practice yoga and discuss philosophy.   Are these characters based on something you found missing in the fantasy genre?


A. There are a lot of adults reading young adult books, and for good reason. Authors who specialize in the young adult market are writing original, compelling stories that can make even the most cynical grownups believe in magic. In writing A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES, I wanted to give adult readers a world no less magical, no less surprising and delightful, but one that included grown-up concerns and activities. These are not your children’s vampires and witches.

Thank you Deborah for your writing and being so personable with your fans.

Readers:  STOP BACK BY MY BLOG THIS WEEK FOR THE REVIEW AND CHANCE TO WIN THE BOOK AND LOOT!!  You really don’t want to miss out on this one!!


Filed under Q and A with Authors