A Glimpse of the Genesis of Deborah Harkness's "Time's Convert"

Adrian Liang on September 20, 2018

Deborah_Harkness_Photo_credit_Scarlett_Freund.jpgWhile speaking earlier this year with Deborah Harkness about her full-color encyclopedia, The World of All Souls, I asked her about Time's Convert, the newest novel in her All Souls universe.

Featuring Marcus, the Revolutionary War soldier whom Matthew converted into a vampire, Time's Convert reveals a new protagonist with his own story and his own problems…one of which is the 21st-century woman he's fallen in love with more than two hundred years after he became a vampire.

Adrian Liang: Did you foreshadow any parts of Marcus's story in The World of All Souls?

Deborah Harkness: One of the little hints and the teasers that we have in there is an inventory of Marcus's house in London that is put together by Marcus's fiancée, who has plans to become a vampire herself. She works in the field of art history at Sotheby's, the auction house. We include a page of that inventory in the book so that readers will get a little bit of a sense of the physical objects that surround Marcus. A lot of my readers just love following up on those little historical details and checking them out.

TimesConvert(1).jpgCan you tell me more about Time's Convert?

I have had such fun with this book. Being able to look at the stories of both Phoebe as she becomes a vampire, and Marcus's journey as he went from a warm-blooded human fighting in the Revolution and then serving as a surgeon in the Revolution, to meeting Matthew to becoming a vampire himself in the 18th century... Just comparing and contrasting the path that a 21st-century woman would take to being a vampire versus an 18th-century young man became a fascinating exercise in [exploring the questions of] how do people grow up, and how do they decide what they want, and how do they gain their independence all against this backdrop of the American Revolution? Just as Marcus was coming of age, so too was the nation that would become the United States coming of age. It was just a terrific time to for me to put those pieces together and put them in relationship to each other.

Why did you decide to focus on this conflict between hierarchy and liberty?

As I started engaging in Marcus's story, I had this notion that one of the conceits of the whole trilogy is that these vampires get interestingly stuck at the moment when they become a vampire. So a vampire who's made in 537 is very different from one made in, say, 1781. They just have a very different worldview. And even though they're around for a long time, they always take those formative experiences with them.

And then what happens? How do you deal with the changes that come about as time moves on? How does time change you? Which is really what the title of the book is all about—Time's Convert. I really loved this notion that poor Marcus, fighting for freedom, fighting to overcome hierarchy and the tradition of patriarchy—and he's in this revolutionary moment, and he thinks the whole world is going to be democratic—becomes a vampire and ends up embedded in this incredibly patriarchal, medieval family. Which, let's face it, Matthew did not tell him that at the bedside when he said, "Would you like to become a vampire?" It was all sort of, Wouldn't you like to go to university, and wouldn't you like to live forever, and wouldn't you like to heal people? And Marcus said, Terrific. Matthew never mentioned that he was going to have a very medieval attitude to being a [vampire] father that Marcus really struggles with and has struggled with for centuries.

So I thought that would be a fascinating thing to explore. What happens to an 18th-century vampire when they get dropped in the middle of a very old medieval family with their own ways of doing thing?

Do you have another book planned in the All Souls world after Time's Convert?

I probably shouldn't say this, but...yes. I have a lot of backstories for these vampires, because in order to drop them into the stories, I did it in what was the end or the middle of a long and rich life. I needed to know what happened before and what came after. I would love to go back and look at the life story of Gallowglass, who's the mercenary soldier from Scotland who fights in Ireland and becomes a vampire, and who is very much connected to the sea and to a military life in a very different way than Marcus or Matthew. I'd love to look more closely at the lives of Diana's parents—of Rebecca and Steven—and what their experiences were like, what led them to the decision to do this unthinkable thing and bind their daughter's power. I've got lots of story ideas, and I'll just have to see which one grabs me the most after I get off [book] tour for Time's Convert.

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