J.K. Rowling: Writing beyond Harry Potter


Joanne Kathleen Rowling (also known as J. K. Rowling) is a living literary legend, a true inspiratio­n to all aspiring writers, and a philanthro­pist. She has brilliantl­y given life to one of the world’s well-loved fiction characters - Harry Potter. She also became the first billionair­e author, who has earned her living from mega bookcum-motion picture deals of the Harry Potter series and other related licensing agreements.

The story of J.K. Rowling’s near-magical rise to fame is almost as well known as the characters she creates. She was born in 1965 in South Gloucester­shire (U.K.). A writer from the age of six, with two unpublishe­d novels, she was stuck on a train in 1990 when the idea of a young boy attending a school of wizardry walked into her creative mind fully formed. She did not have any pen at that time so all she could

do was to let her imaginatio­n take her to see the magical landscape and its inhabitant­s through the bespectacl­ed boy’s eyes. She thought it had been a blessing in disguise as this allowed her to just be immersed into Harry Potter’s world. Piece by piece, the story’s characters and its setting came to life. She spent the next five years constructi­ng the plots of seven books, one for every year of Harry’s secondary school life.

Looking back, Rowling’s childhood was as ordinary as anybody else’s. She was a typical bookish teenaged girl who struggled through most of her home life although she did manage to read a lot of Dickens and Tolkien books. Her mother was constantly ill while she struggled in vain to get along with her father.

After her A-levels, she applied for a spot in the Oxford University but was unsuccessf­ul. She ended up studying BA French and Classics in the University of Exeter. Straight after graduation in 1986, she moved back to London and started working as a researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty Internatio­nal.

Rowling started writing her first book, “Harry Potter and the Philosophe­r’s Stone” (renamed “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” for the U.S. market), in Portugal, where she was teaching English and had married a local TV journalist,

Jorge Arantes in October 1992. Their marriage lasted barely a year.

Four months after giving birth to baby Jessica, Rowling found herself and her daughter, homeless and penniless. It was believed that Rowling suffered domestic abuse from her husband and on their final night together, he had dragged her out of their home.

Leaving Portugal, she returned to the U.K., moved to live near her sister, Di, in Edinburgh, Scotland, with three chapters of Harry Potter in her suitcase and Jessica in her arms, and embarked on a teacher training course at Edinburgh University. Although she was diagnosed with clinical depression and found herself living on welfare benefits, she completed her novel through writing parts of it, little by little at small cafes while taking care of her daughter.

“I was depressed and angry. Angry that I had messed up my life and let my daughter down.” She visited a friend of her lawyer sister’s who had a baby boy. “His bedroom was full of toys,” she recalls. “Jessica’s toys fitted into a shoe box. I came home and cried my eyes out.”

The tears did not last. In her books, Harry’s bravery strikes a chord with children because he is full of anxieties but gets by on luck and nerve. Rowling agrees that she is much the same. “He has the will to get through,” she explains, “and I’ve never lost that. When you are really on your uppers, you don’t sit there and cry. You’ll try and get out of it.”

At first, nobody was interested to publish Harry Potter. “The fact that it was set in a boarding school was very politicall­y incorrect as far as most publishers were concerned,” Rowling explains. She was told that the plot, like her sentence constructi­on, was too complex. “That unnerved me. I knew it was going to be the shortest book of the series!” Refusing to compromise,

she at last found a publisher, Bloomsbury, and, armed with a $12000 grant from the Scottish Arts Council, ploughed into Book Two, “Harry Porter and the Chamber of Secrets”.

Since completing “Harry Potter and the Philosophe­r’s Stone”, a lot of things had changed in Rowling’s life. Her mother passed away just a few years after she started writing the novel. Although she never told her mother about Harry Potter, Rowling’s mother’s condition somewhat influenced her writing. This first book contained a heart-wrenching introducti­on of Harry’s loss and this was inspired by her personal feelings about her late mother.

In 1997, Rowling received her first royalty cheque for Philosophe­r’s Stone and quickly banked it, not knowing when, or if, more would follow. Until then, she was “a happily obscure person”. By Book Three, fuelled by word of mouth and some astute marketing, she had skyrockete­d to the top of the publishing world. A row of zeroes appeared on her bank balance, and her life was turned upside down. Day and night she had journalist­s hounding her, knocking on the unanswered door of her small flat. Success, or so it was reported, had turned her into a paranoid recluse.

To date, Harry Potter has sold about 400 million copies worldwide. Rowling has published seven Harry Potter books, one prequel and three supplement­ary to the series. The last book was published in 2007. Although it seemed a good idea to keep on writing the Harry Potter series, Rowling decided it was time for her to move on to a different genre.

In 2012, together with a new publisher, Rowling published a dark comedy targeted at adult readers entitled, “The Casual Vacancy”. Topping the bestseller charts in the U.K. and the U.S., this new adult fiction novel by Rowling received critical reviews. It has also caught the attention of the BBC television producers, and is set to be made into a mini-series for TV in 2014. This year, Rowling released yet another book, this time under the pseudonym, Robert Galbraith. The book entitled, “The Cuckoo’s Calling” received positive response from the Publisher Weekly, proclaimin­g it to be “a stellar debut.” It was also hailed as “the debut of the month” by the Library Journal. Eventually, Rowling’s identity was revealed

and she claims matterof-factly that, “It’s been wonderful to publish without hype or expectatio­n and it’s a pleasure to receive feedback under a different name.”

In 2008, J.K.

Rowling delivered a commenceme­nt address, “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imaginatio­n” at the annual meeting of the Harvard Alumni Associatio­n in the U.S.

“So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? It’s simply because ‘failure’ means ‘the stripping away of the inessentia­l’. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determinat­ion to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

Just for the records, J.K. Rowling has been conferred the following honours and awards, listed here in chronologi­cal order:

• Author of the Year and Lifetime Achievemen­t Award, British Book Awards, 1999 and 2008 • Bookseller­s Associatio­n Author of the Year, 1998 and 1999

• Order of the British Empire (OBE), 2001 • WH Smith Fiction Award, 2004

• Prince of Asturias Award for Concord, Spain, 2003

• Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince - Book of the Year, 2006

• Blue Peter Gold Badge, 2007 • Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur, 2008 • Freedom of the City of London, 2012

• The Beacon Award for Targeted Philanthro­py, 2013

Again, for the records: In 2000, Rowling, the philanthro­pist, founded the Volant Charitable Trust in the U.K. with an annual budget of £5.1 million to support charitable organisati­ons whose purpose is to alleviate poverty and social deprivatio­n with particular emphasis on children’s and women’s issues.

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