Be­hind the Magic

Emma Matthew­son was JK Rowl­ing’s ed­i­tor when the Harry Pot­ter books stormed the world. She re­mem­bers life in­side a phe­nom­e­non...

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Harry Potter -

What was your ini­tial re­ac­tion when you read your first JK Rowl­ing book?

I loved it right from the start – not only did it make me laugh, but it also had drama, ac­tion, magic, thrilling dan­ger. The writ­ing was so flu­ent, and in no way pa­tro­n­is­ing. The best­selling se­ries for chil­dren at the time was RL Stine’s Goose­bumps se­ries; hor­ror sto­ries, very short, so very dif­fer­ent! Our thoughts were how to break out this de­but, bril­liant writer when the best­selling books were so dif­fer­ent.

Did you see her grow in con­fi­dence as a writer?

From the very be­gin­ning it struck me how con­fi­dent and deft Jo al­ways was in han­dling the world of Harry Pot­ter, and mar­shalling her char­ac­ters. Jo had such a wealth of in­for­ma­tion about the char­ac­ters, of which only a small por­tion would ap­pear in the books, with the rest grad­u­ally com­ing out in our con­ver­sa­tions. Much to the de­light of Jo’s fans every­where of course, this in­for­ma­tion has had op­por­tu­ni­ties to ap­pear in so many dif­fer­ent ways now, from Pot­ter­more, to the films, to the play Harry Pot­ter And

The Cursed Child! This con­fi­dence would al­low us to have bril­liant con­ver­sa­tions as Jo would al­ways have a good rea­son for why she had in­cluded some­thing as she had the nar­ra­tives for the seven books firmly in her mind. Or she would take up an ed­i­to­rial sug­ges­tion and weave it seam­lessly into the nar­ra­tive with con­sum­mate skill.

Was she very pro­tec­tive of her char­ac­ters and world?

Only in a good way. Jo had such a strong vi­sion; it’s her story, her char­ac­ters, af­ter all. And work­ing with an au­thor who has a vi­sion like that – it’s won­der­ful.

How much of the story was mapped out, and how much con­ceived on a book by book ba­sis?

Jo had a strong vi­sion for all seven books, with a clear idea of the main sto­ry­line for each book. But she was con­fi­dent enough to be able to change de­tail within that over­ar­ch­ing struc­ture, as the story de­vel­oped. It’s com­mon knowl­edge now that de­tails that might seem unim­por­tant in one book would prove to have great sig­nif­i­cance later on. A true sign of a writer com­pletely in com­mand of their ma­te­rial.

What was be­hind the de­ci­sion to pack­age the books for adults as well as chil­dren?

It was anec­do­tal sto­ries that we started hear­ing, about adults be­ing a lit­tle em­bar­rassed about read­ing a book nom­i­nally for chil­dren, but clearly en­joy­ing it and un­able to stop – so read­ing it be­hind their news­pa­per on the morn­ing com­mute. So we thought: why not make it easy for the adults? It was a true in­di­ca­tion of how rich Jo’s sto­ries are, with their wide ap­peal for adults and chil­dren.

What was it like, rid­ing that roller­coaster?

Such fun. Such an ex­pe­ri­ence. I learned so much and felt very, very lucky.

How did you deal with the se­cu­rity is­sues when each new book came out?

If I told you about them I would have to kill you! I can say it did in­volve safes, se­cu­rity vans, sub­terfuge, mid­night pho­to­copy­ing amongst other things. Not your av­er­age pub­lish­ing process.

How have you seen the chil­dren’s pub­lish­ing in­dus­try change since Harry Pot­ter?

Chil­dren’s pub­lish­ing has al­ways been vi­brant and strong. But I think per­haps not al­ways given the re­spect or the ac­knowl­edge­ment that it de­served. I think Jo and Harry Pot­ter – along with the other bril­liant au­thors writ­ing to­day – opened the world’s eyes to the bril­liance of chil­dren’s books. For ex­am­ple, I am no longer asked: “When are you go­ing to ‘move on’ to books for adults?” No dis­re­spect to my won­der­ful adult ed­i­tor col­leagues!

Have any chil­dren given you feed­back about how it’s changed their life?

I heard so very many sto­ries from chil­dren about how Harry Pot­ter helped them fall in love with read­ing – to have been a part of that makes me feel enor­mously proud. A love of read­ing opens so very many doors.

Jayne Nel­son

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