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A Discovery Of Witches - Interview - Author & Exec Producer Deborah Harkness : A Discovery in Oxford







Deborah Harkness is the number one Sunday Times bestselling author of A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life. (Known as the All Souls Trilogy)
She is also A History Professor at the University of California and has received Fulbright, Guggenheim, and National Humanities Center, Fellowships.

Having written several academic papers her interest was sparked by seeing a variety of Vampire novels and the question arose, what they would do for a living?

Years later and after selling millions of copies we have the answer; the series of books was picked up by Bad wolf and Sky productions. The first series has just finished its 8-episode run in the UK with Deborah Harkness not only appearing in a cameo in the first episode (look next to Gillian as Diana gives her lecture in the first episode) but she is also an Executive Producer of the series.

Recently Deborah Harkness has been on a book tour promoting her new novel which tells more stories from the world of the All Soul’s characters Times Convert

I had the pleasure of catching up with her in Oxford and attended her talk at the Oxford literary event that evening.

We ended chatting about a multitude of topics but ultimately it was all about the success of the TV series and how it all came about. I asked her about some of the controversy over the casting and what she hopes for further series. (At the time of the interview, it had not been confirmed if it had been renewed).



Zandarl: I apologise if I am asking some questions, you have already been asked but some may not be known by our Spoiler TV readers.


DH: Let me put it this way the question I am most asked by my students is did Henry VIII love Anne Boleyn.

Zandarl: Just lately we have seen a lot of mystical tv shows, True blood, Original charmed now rebooted, why do you think this particular genre is so popular.?


DH: Honestly if I knew a good answer to that I would be on a private island drinking cocktails with parasols in them. It’s been this way for years my Mums favourite movie is Bell, Book and Candle, with Kim Novak and Jack Lemon. They have been with us for a really long-time what interest’s me is they resurge, there was Bewitched there was Buffy, it’s fairly constant. It’s so consistent for long periods of time when they aren’t, we should ask what made Ghost’s Vampires and spooky things drop out of sight. There has been such a renaissance in television that I think things are coming on our television screens that once upon a time were too ambitious in terms of budget and special effects, for reasons of the story they would not have worked in a film, for example, Game of Thrones. I think there are historical changes in the television and the film industry.

We are all fascinated by it we all like to think there is some rhyme or reason for the mysterious things happening around us we find perplexing.



Zandarl: As Executive Producer of the series as well as the writer, how much input did you have with casting, locations etc?


DH: I was part of the creative team from the very beginning to the very last edits this summer. I was a very hands-on Executive Producer. I was part of the casting process, the writing process, the locations, the sets, the filming, the editing, everything. It has been a really wonderful experience. I would not have sold the trilogy unless someone was willing to give me that kind of a role in it. It’s not something I would have done. It was really important to me. Happily, Bad Wolf and Sky were happy to have me along do that.

Zandarl: How did you go about casting each of the roles. Did you have anyone in mind for the roles?

DH: We definitely had no one in mind. It was a very open-ended casting process, a wonderful casting director who would assemble pools for each character.
As a result, we have ended up with a cast that is really first and foremost amazing actors and they're all sort of unexpectedly perfect to play the roles they were cast into.
We did lots of thinking through, obviously getting the main characters Diana and Matthew were crucial when it came to balancing out the cast.

Zandarl: Teresa Palmer whom I know from being in Nicholas Sparks The Choice as Diana Bishop and Matthew Goode as Matthew de Clermont, From The Good wife, Downtown Abbey to The Crown, now a Vampire?

DH: Teresa is amazing such a wonderful actress and person, a joy to be around.

DH :
Matthew Goode has been fearless in his roles not taking obvious easy choices. He is quite comfortable with not being the male heartthrob lead because he is mostly interested in acting and taking on really interesting roles, so it was great to get him.
It was exciting to think he was going to take on Matthew.

Zandarl: The online uproar over Ysabeau de Clermont being too old, which I disagree with as she carries the character superbly


DH:We never looked at the age we looked at the best person to play that role. There are ways you do things in a book that are harder to do onscreen. I think it would have been very difficult for someone in their twenties to play Ysabeau. I think she is just timeless there is something about her (Lindsay Duncan) she is an exceptional actress, it’s a gift to get her. I was thrilled

Zandarl: Marcus, blond hair surfer dude and he isn’t, a lot of fans were disappointed


DH: (In the books) He is described as blond and very California looking. Readers feel very attached to these characters they looked a certain way in there head and so it’s a change, people don’t like change and people find it hard to accept it. The moment he opened his mouth (Edward Bluemel) I
I was like that’s Marcus we couldn’t possibly do better than that and again we went for who would be the best actors.

I can say with complete honesty there is not a single member of the cast that I was not hugely pleased about and did not completely approve of. I think just a brilliant job was done with it all.


Zandarl: Alex Kingston and Valerie Pettiford as my personal favourites the two Aunts


DH: Who are just the Aunts everybody wants on screen and off. They are just delightful

Zandarl: They have such a chemistry and lovely energy between them

DH: When we were at Comic-con they were like an old married couple, it was a hilarious they do have such a good chemistry.

Zandarl: The scene in episode 7 when Sarah breaks down with Emily

DH: Wasn’t that awesome, superb writing by Sarah Dollard and superb directing by Sarah Walker. Two utterly gut-wrenching performances. We are so blessed to have this cast bringing these characters to life

Zandarl: Who can forget Miriam who has become a fan favourite, was her name inspired by anyone (my partner was convinced she had been named after Catherine Deneuve character in the vampire movie The Hunger)


DH: I was looking for a name that had a particular age to it that might have used in a particular geographical region at a particular time during the crusade.

Zandarl: Female leads are coming more predominate in Movies and Tv Shows. In A Discovery of Witches, you have Diana Bishop as a strong female character and several other strong female roles.


DH : They all have their soft moments. One of the things that aggravates me about the quote-unquote kick-ass female heroines. I find them completely unrelatable. I don’t train with a
para-military organisation, all these sorts of things that makes them even harder to aspire to. They are so unrealistic. I am really enjoying seeing in these characters is they are not wonder woman, they are not perfect. The most recent Wonder Woman brought a kind of humanity to the story and complicity to the character that she didn’t use to have. Maybe we are actually starting to believe our heroes can be quite complex, can be female, can be male, can be young, can be old and they don’t have to fulfil that kind of old stereotypical model of a superhero.
We had an enormously talented cast across the spectrum and a strong female production team, the majority of the writers, the directors, the cinematographers are female. This is incredibly rare in a television show. We had three different crew, one male director and two female directors. One male cinematographer and two female cinematographers. The writers were two male, three female. That is just so usual and a fascinating and wonderful development

Zandarl: Speaking of kicking ass women you have Miriam but you also have the Aunts, older women, married LGBT and other very relatable characters, in my opinion, is what has made the show so successful. Such diversity in character’s and cast.


DH: I really wanted this to look like the world that I live in which has got lots of different people and that’s what makes my life rich and wonderful. There is just no way I wanted to write about a world stripped of the things that I most cherish about it. I think it’s just time for that to happen. I want that to happen more in books, films and television, where it's not always about someone’s sexuality or race is the reason they are in the show.

Zandarl: We chatted about the about the diversity in the cast and the characters they portray. How it relates to her previous statement. How the characters aren’t compartmentalised.


DH:It often is this character is here to be a lesbian or here to be black. As opposed to saying, this character is here to be fantastically sharp, really clever and have this fascinating backstory. It becomes kind of a sensualizing thing. One of the things of the Trilogy was to emphasise it is our differences in the world that will make us survive, that is scientifically true that is culturally true, it is spiritually true in every sort of way shape or form. That is just that way the world works. The more diverse it is the healthier it is, and I think sometimes we need to be reminded of that.


Zandarl: What was your favourite scene or scenes from the A Discovery of Witches TV Show ?


DH: I loved witch water (Episode 7) where she (Diana) stands outside of Sept- Tours and the water just starts coming down that’s unbelievable. I love the part where they are all sitting around the table in the Bishop housekeeping room, Sarah, Em, Diana, Matthew, Miriam and Marcus and Sarah says ( to Marcus) ‘you have a problem junior’ those sort of family dynamics just slay me. I do absolutely love the stuff they did in the Bodleian, finding the book and things like that. Those are some of my favourite moments.

Zandarl: What was the inspiration for the Bishop house?

DH: I lived in an early 19th-century house, basically I felt it was both alive and definitely pitted against me, not even haunted I would have a dinner party and the pipes would freeze, I would have a load of washing and a hole would appear in my laundry room floor. One night while watching a movie I could hear munching coming out of the walls the next day I called somebody and they told me it would be voles, they tunnel under the walls and eat the insulation. I used to say I wish this house would do something useful it kept thwarting me at every turn. That’s old house ownership experience I just wove that into the story and magic it up a little bit.

She later mentioned the Bishop house was her favourite set and she was often moved offset. She would sit there writing Times convert.



Zandarl: We chatted about Oxford and places I should visit we also spoke about shooting there particularly in the first few episodes.

DH: Our first director Juan Carlos Medina is really well known, for the beautiful way he frames the shots.
What is most amazing to me he manages to make Oxford look like Oxford. It is Oxford of course but it’s not the bright sunny hot Oxford it’s the other Oxford, the darker the moodier one. To have him as our first director and get that tone up and running through out was amazing.


Zandarl: I know you can’t give any spoilers away for the finale but a question I have been asked several times is how is everything going to be tied up, we are hoping for a second season? How is everything going to be tied up in the final episode, without giving too much away are you happy with how it all turned out in the finale.


DH: It is just like the book, just read the book. I’ll be on super fan board and they will say how is it all gonna work in the end. I say you have read it you know how it ends.

Zandarl: I think this is from fans who haven’t read the books

DH:That’s probably true

They can find out very easily if they really wanted to spoil it. I am really happy with it they really stayed true to the books

Zandarl: There are little tweaks, differences from the books, here and there I have noticed?


DH: There are definitely tweaks that will make some go, oh, but I think they are more about things that are left unresolved. There is the introduction of things that I know what happened off stage and all the things that happen in book two that you won’t necessarily have seen. There is something for the devoted readers that will be new and exciting and of course, anybody that hasn’t read the books will be quite surprised by somethings that happen and the time walking bit.

Zandarl: How will they get rid of Juliette

DH: Yes that so, yeah there is a lot that happens in this finale episode as there is a lot that happens in the final few chapters of the book ( A Discovery Of Witches ). People that haven’t seen the crazy way that my mind works and will not be expecting how Juliette ends, how they make the decision for time walking all that sort of stuff.

Zandarl: The Finale is to be aired on All souls day, (Matthew de Clermont’s birthday) really good timing


DH: They started the series earlier so it would end on All Souls

Interestingly she based Matthew Clermont on Matthew Roydon, little is know about this poet other than he was around about the time Christopher Marlowe. There are other historical Easter Eggs throughout the books

Zandarl: The market campaign was really good, the chocolate bars the Metro paper in London.


DH: They took over Liverpool station. They did such a brilliant job making essential questions of the series and book part of the marketing campaign. Do you really know what your neighbour is? That Witches, Vampires and Daemons live among us. Not everyone reading this paper is human!


Zandarl: We are hoping for a second season? What are your hopes for the second season?

DH: Well first and foremost if there is one. My biggest hope for it is that it does a good job, that everyone has the courage to do a faithful portrayal of Elizabethan England, Elizabethan London which is not Victorian London, it’s not knee high in filth everywhere it’s not necessarily crowded in the same sorts of ways. There is a temptation to Hollywood it up and make it look a certain way. They tend to make it filthy and lots of toothless people wandering around, this was a country that was absolutely obsessed with cleanness because dirt carried plague or, so they believed.
I don’t know if that will happen or not, as a historian of the period and who wrote the book with a very careful eye to accuracy and authenticity, one of my biggest hope’s is they will have the courage to do Elizabethan London, not as people expect it to look but how it actually was.
Which means very multinational, very lively people were speaking multiple languages in the Elizabethan period, to portray it in its complicity and its excitement and everything. not the super chocolate-box version or super filth version we tend to get.
One of the things that honestly worries me the most that 1590 clothing is horrific it is quite possibly the worst four or five years of fashion in the century I do worry we are going to end up with ‘oh we can’t possibly wear that’ and with clothing that is twenty five years out of date . . I am hoping the sets and costumes can be really done with an eye to that historical truth-telling.

Zandarl: We see more of Marcus Whitmore’s story in Times Convert, Who would you like to play Phoebe if it was picked up

DH: No way, I’m not going there. I have managed to get this far by never ever uttering a single word. A large part is because for any of the actors who take on any of these roles it’s such a challenge already. How beloved the characters are by the readers that the last thing I want is for someone to say Deborah Harkness said in this interview she wanted so and so to play the role. I always say the same thing it is true for the first season and it will be true for all of them. I just want good actors, it’s the only thing that matters.


Zandarl: In the UK, A Discovery of Witches aired weekly, for most it was essential Friday night viewing. On Social media, you could see everyone’s excitement and suspense of what is going to happen. In America they are going to release the whole series; do you know how this came about?


DH: I don’t know how it came about. I guess due to streaming platforms, even Sky considered it at one time. I don’t know how it is going to change things, but it has been fun seeing the anticipation and excitement, the word of mouth build and grow. Which won’t happen in the same way in the states once it is released. I am sure Sundance has some plans but that is way above my pay grade.

On 17th January 2019 on Sundance and Shudder all 8 episodes of A Discovery of Witches will be available

At the event I witnessed fans ask similar questions it certainly shows what Deborah Harkness said about them being passionate about their beloved characters. I also chatted with fans, some had come because of the TV series and were now reading the books other’s had brought beloved well-worn copies of the trilogy to be signed. The fanbase is even larger than I could imagine and it continues to grow with the series which is being released in more countries over the coming months.

I would like to thank the lovely Deborah Harkness for taking time out of her busy schedule to chat with me and Headline press for organising this.


A Discovery Of Witches and the All Soul's world has a lot to give us and I am so pleased I am along for the ride.

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