Monday, January 31, 2011

Interview with Deborah Harkness - Author of A Discovery of Witches

For those who fall in love with this amazing novel as I recently did, welcome! Here are some interview questions that came up for me as I was reading, which I posed to Deborah Harkness. I am grateful that she so graciously responded, and I hope you will enjoy her comments as much as I do as well as look forward to the next book in this series.

1. Can you share more about the mysterious claims of alchemy in terms the average layperson would understand?

Alchemy was dedicated to understanding and promoting transformation—materially (lead into gold, for example), physically (from mortal to immortal), and spiritually (from ignorance to knowledge).

2. Do you actually believe that certain texts have “magical” qualities and what is your experience with that possibility?

I’ve never come into contact with an enchanted text—or at least I don’t think I have—but I find reading magical anyway!

3. Are there any contemporary scientists who have considered this topic of alchemy and the Philosopher’s Stone?

There is nuclear transmutation in which one chemical element transforms into another.

4. You’ve done such a superb job of making vampires, witches, and daemons appear as normal, intelligent, passionate, and real people. Explain your ideas, please, about what Matthew explains as people preferring to fear the unknown rather than consider alternative realities with such supernatural creatures.

I think people have a complicated reaction to difference. On the one hand, we find it fascinating. On the other hand, it frightens us, and sadly, many of us don’t get beyond that fear.

5. The discussions about genetics and mating seem to gloss over “transmutations” in chromosomal heredity. Are you suggesting the edge of current scientific thought or just teasing the reader with “unknown realities” and why?

Because I’m a historian of science, I was interested in the scientific possibilities of difference—could there really be other species among us—but this is definitely a work of fiction.

6. Your ideas about time travel intrigued this reader. Are you informed about the realm of quantum physics and do you see this possibility as a latent ability within humans as well as supernatural creatures? Any ideas on this you have would be greatly appreciated.

I have a limited understanding of relativity and quantum physics, but I am no expert. When it comes to science, the seemingly impossible often turns out to be possible after all, doesn’t it?

7. You, as well as many other authors, have suggested in your novel that some of past historical leaders were also supernatural beings or possessed abilities that would definitely be called un-human. Was this deliberate or just part of the fictional connection you were making between history, science and magic?

All the decisions I made about characters in the book were designed to enrich the story in particular ways. If one in ten is a daemon, vampire, or witch, however (which is a governing principle in the world of A Discovery of Witches) then it stands to reason some of those individuals would have risen to positions of power and influence.

8. Can you tell us what some of the other names signify, which may not be so obvious to the average reader?

Two of Matthew’s work colleagues, Marcus and Miriam, have interesting names. The name Marcus derives from the Roman god of war, Mars. The name Miriam is an ancient Hebrew name, with many meanings including “bitter” and “rebellious.”

9. Will the same characters, other than Diana and Matthew be reappearing in future sequels and will they be meaner or different? Tease us, please, a wee bit.

I’m sworn to secrecy about the sequels—and to say much more than that would introduce spoilers. I will remind readers that the action of A Discovery of Witches takes place over only forty days. Diana and Matthew have only known each other for a short time. So you can expect some surprises in the future!

10. Will you be providing a Reader’s Guide to this book – or Penguin? This would be a wonderful experience to share in a reading group!

We do have a Reader’s Guide, which can be reached at through the pull-down menu for “About the Book.” The specific URL is

Thank you for these great questions, and happy reading!

Thank you, Deborah Harkness, for taking the time to add to our reader's pleasure with these interview comments!

No comments:

Post a Comment