‘A Discovery of Witches’ Author Deborah Harkness Is the Magic Expert You Need to Know About

AMC’s adaptation of Deborah Harkness’s bestselling All Souls trilogy premieres April 7th, and if the books are anything to go by, it’s going to be BIG. Not only due to their enormous popularity—the first in the series, A Discovery of Witches, was an instant New York Times bestseller, and more than thirty-seven foreign editions and translations of volumes from the trilogy have been published—but also due to their fascinating origins.

Author Deborah Harkness did not start out life dreaming of fantasy writing. Quite the opposite. Harkness came to fiction through nonfiction; academic research, to be exact. A professor of history, she teaches European history and the history of science at the University of Southern California, and it was, as she puts it, “a kind of logic problem” that led her to writing fantasy….

Read on for some fantastic facts about the creator of one of fiction’s most innovative and beloved contemporary fantasy worlds.


Matthew Goode as Matthew Clairmont and Teresa Palmer as Diana Bishop – A Discovery of Witches Season 1 – Photo Credit: Robert Viglasky/SKY Productions/Sundance Now

All Souls has its roots in Harkness’ PhD research.


Teresa Palmer as Diana Bishop – A Discovery of Witches _ Season 1 – Photo Credit: Robert Viglasky/SKY Productions /Sundance Now


As part of her research, she studied “the history of magic and science in Europe, especially during the period from 1500 to 1700, ” working in some of Britain’s most illustrious libraries, including “Oxford’s Bodleian Library, the All Souls College Library at Oxford, the British Library, London’s Guildhall Library, the Henry E. Huntington Library, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the Newberry Library.”

Prior to All Souls, Harkness published two works of historical non-fiction: John Dee’s Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy and the End of Nature in 1999, and The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution, in 2007.


It was the success of Twilight that got her thinking…


Edward, Bella, Jacob in Twilight
Image Via Movifone


According to the L.A. Times, in 2008, Professor Harkness was on vacation in Puerto Vallarta, and in the airport she was struck by the current obsession with Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight novels.

“To walk through the airport was to be hit with vampires, witches, ghosts and demons at every angle in the bookstores,” Harkness says. “It was so huge — it seemed to me much bigger than what had happened with Anne Rice. And as a historian of science, trapped in Puerto Vallarta during what turned out to be the rainy season, I thought, ‘Why do these creatures still exert such a pull on us?'”

This question got her thinking.

“People believed that the supernatural and the natural existed, intermingled. We think of ourselves as having very little in common with people in 1558. And yet there were walls of this stuff. What if 16th century people were right, and the supernatural and natural coexisted? How would that play out? It started out almost like a kind of logic problem.”


She has some amazing advice for aspiring writers…


Teresa Palmer as Diana Bishop – A Discovery of Witches _ Season 1, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Robert Viglasky/SundanceNow/Shudder/Bad Wolf


Due to her unconventional path to writing bestselling fiction, in the For Aspiring Writers section of her website, Harkness regretfully expresses that her experience is not of much use to anybody else, in terms of taking the correct steps in order to achieve successful in the field of creative writing. She does however, have some excellent advice for aspiring authors:

“Say yes.” The world is asking you to try new things, have fresh experiences, meet people, see foreign places, and learn things. Most of the time we say no. Say yes. Go for it. Try. Live. Dream. Refuse to be negative. Be generous with your own time and gifts. See what happens then.

Amen! Harkness also gives a very amusing, three-possibility answer to the question “What is your day like as a writer?” in which she details what it’s like on a good day, a normal day and a very bad day.

She is a voracious reader.


Deborah Harkness looking at ancient text in museum
Image Via Los Angeles Times


Unsurprisingly, this doctor and bestselling author is a devotee of the written word. But not only that! On her website, Harkness has a book recommendation section for fans of All Souls, with suggestions falling under categories such as Mysteries, Witches & Magical Beings, Parallel Worlds, and The Magic of Childhood. Phew! So if you’re looking for some additions to your To Be Read pile, look no further. Deborah’s got you covered.

She runs a successful wine blog!


Harkness and a friend cheers glasses of red wine with red wine bottle in foreground on table
Image Via A Word on Words


That’s right: Harkness runs a multi-award-winning wine blog, Good Wine Under $20, about which Harkness writes:

“I first became interested in wine when I was teaching at UC Davis, where I took an intensive weekend class on wine, and was close to Napa and Sonoma. Now I’m teaching in LA, and I started this blog to share my wine journeys and my passion for everyday wine culture. In addition to this blog, I have contributed to Wine & Spirits magazine; the Serious Eats blog; and my recommendations have been included in the Washington Post Express.”

Is there NOTHING this woman can’t do?



A Discovery of Witches Premieres on AMC April 7 9/8c on AMC


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