AMC’s adaptation of Deborah Harkness’ bestseller A Discovery of Witches, the first in the All Souls Trilogy, has been gaining critical acclaim since it aired on AMC on April 7th, and currently holds at 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The show, which follows Diana Bishop, a reluctant witch who discovers a bewitched manuscript which throws her into the world of magic, and compelling her to form a forbidden alliance with a vampire…
We were lucky enough to catch up with author Deborah Harkness to get her thoughts on the show, on writing, and on what’s happening with her wine blog…
- The first book in your All Souls Trilogy, A Discovery of Witches, has been adapted for TV and brought to AMC and BBC AMERICA in the US. How has the process been for you? Were you involved?
Yes, I was involved. I’m an executive producer on the project and I also wrote the initial series document or “bible” for the show. It’s been exciting to be part of a collaborative creative project. I try to approach each day as a learning experience. There’s so much to discover and all kinds of new challenges to explore.
- What has been the most exciting thing to come of the adaptation?
For me personally, it has been most exciting to see the characters come to life on screen.
It is also wonderful to have a whole new audience come to the stories through the television adaptation, and then to follow them as they find the books and the energized fan community that has sprung up around them.
- Was a possible adaptation on your mind when writing the book?
No, not at all. I thought it was a long shot the books would even be published so I was just focused on telling the story. I’ve been told I have a cinematic imagination, which I think is a fancy way of saying that I see the story in my head and try to capture what I see in words on the page.
- Have you always been interested in the supernatural?
I’m not sure what you mean by supernatural. I am interested in how hard it has been, historically, for humans to figure out their place in the world and how to thrive in it. One of the techniques that they use to cope is to imagine a world outside of the one they occupy and to invest that world with all sorts of powerful beings. In my stories there is only one supernatural element—magic. Similarly, there is only one creature with supernatural abilities: the witch. The rest are preternatural. So by that standard, I guess I’m less interested in the supernatural than many other people!
- You’ve said the success of novels like Twilight got you thinking about what it is that has always fascinated humans about the supernatural. Can you talk a little bit about what inspired you to try your hand at fiction, after publishing several non-fiction titles?
I found the modern interest in the supernatural puzzling, and wanted to be able to figure out how that could be sustained given that our scientific worldview doesn’t seem to support the existence of a world outside our own. So I started imagining – what if magic could be part of the modern worldview? What would that look like? How would someone with supernatural power fit in? It started out as an intellectual mystery to be solved, but as it progressed, my “what ifs” got more detailed and I realized I was writing a novel. It wasn’t planned or inspired in a traditional way.
- Would you return to non-fiction, or is fiction the way forward for you now?
Sure. I wrote two non-fiction books and many non-fiction articles. I was also a wine journalist. One thing I’ve learned about myself is that my “way forward” has lots of twists and turns in it.
- What is your writing routine like? Does it differ between fictional and non-fictional works?
I don’t have a writing routine. For me, a writing routine is something that gets in the way of actually writing. So many steps. So many rules. I used to feel a bit bad about that, and tried to distill a list of “a perfect day”. Even I found it intimidating. Writing is, and has been since 1982 when I went to college, part of my daily life. I do it as often as I can in a day, wherever I am, however it happens. I’ve written in my home office, my campus office, on airplanes, in trains, on napkins waiting at the drive-thru, and in cafés. You have to take the time when you can. And it’s no different whether I have an article due, a lecture to give, or a chapter of a novel that I’m trying to finish.
- As well as your amazing writing career, you also have an award winning wine blog! Could you tell us a little about this? Is it important to you to have hobbies outside of writing?
I haven’t had much time to blog since I started writing fiction, so sadly my wine blog is on indefinite hiatus. Like all of my writing, it started out with me trying to solve a problem (namely, how to set up a blog for work more than a decade ago when there were very few of them). I had just come back from wine shopping, wrote about that, and then wrote about drinking the wine I bought over the next few weeks. Pretty soon, I had a wine blog. As for hobbies, I think it’s important to have a LIFE outside of writing. If not, what on earth are you going to write about? It’s pretty easy to see how my love of wine influenced the All Souls books, in all sorts of ways.
- Can you tell us some of the books and authors who have inspired you?
I am mostly a non-fiction reader. My most important years as a reader of fiction were from the ages of five to thirty. During that time I devoured books, mostly biographies and novels. Clearly, I was most interested in people and their lives. I loved the Nancy Drew mysteries, and historical fiction (before I became a historian) most notably the works of Dorothy Dunnett, and the novels of Anne Rice. The only book I have ever stayed up all night to read was Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour. One of the last novels I remember making a huge impact on me was A. S. Byatt’s Possession. I was a graduate student, and the ethical and scholarly dilemmas in the book were a perfect companion to finishing my PhD.
- What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Write. Edit. Rewrite. Repeat.