interview with Amazon.co.uk
Divorced, living on public assistance in a tiny Edinburgh flat with her infant daughter, J. K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in stolen moments at a cafe table. Fortunately, Harry Potter rescued her! In this Amazon.co.uk interview, Rowling discusses the birth of our hero, the Manchester hotel where Quidditch was born, and how she might have been a bit like Hermione when she was 11.
Amazon.co.uk: Did you want to be an author when you were younger?
Jo Rowling: Yes, I've wanted to be an author as long as I can remember. English was always my favorite subject at school, so why I went on to do a degree in French is anyone's guess.
Amazon.co.uk: How old were you when you started to write, and what was your first book?
Rowling: I wrote my first finished story when I was about 6. It was about a rabbit called Rabbit. Very imaginative. I've been writing ever since.
Amazon.co.uk: Why did you choose to be an author?
Rowling: If someone asked for my recipe for happiness, step one would be finding out what you love doing most in the world and step two would be finding someone to pay you to do it. I consider myself very lucky indeed to be able to support myself by writing.
Amazon.co.uk: Do you have any plans to write books for adults?
Rowling: My first two novels--which I never tried to get published--were for adults. I suppose I might write another one, but I never really imagine a target audience when I'm writing. The ideas come first, so it really depends on the idea that grabs me next!
Amazon.co.uk: How long does it take you to write a book?
Rowling: My last book--the third in the Harry series--took about a year to write, which is pretty fast for me. If I manage to finish the fourth Harry book by the summer, which is my deadline, it will be my fastest yet--about eight months.
Amazon.co.uk: Where did the ideas for the Harry Potter books come from?
Rowling: I've no idea where ideas come from and I hope I never find out, it would spoil the excitement for me if it turned out I just have a funny little wrinkle on the surface of my brain which makes me think about invisible train platforms.
Amazon.co.uk: How do you come up with the names of your characters?
Rowling: I invented some of the names in the Harry books, but I also collect strange names. I've gotten them from medieval saints, maps, dictionaries, plants, war memorials, and people I've met!
Amazon.co.uk: Are your characters based on people you know?
Rowling: Some of them are, but I have to be extremely careful what I say about this. Mostly, real people inspire a character, but once they are inside your head they start turning into something quite different. Professor Snape and Gilderoy Lockhart both started as exaggerated versions of people I've met, but became rather different once I got them on the page. Hermione is a bit like me when I was 11, though much cleverer.
Amazon.co.uk: Are any of the stories based on your life, or on people you know?
Rowling: I haven't consciously based anything in the Harry books on my life, but of course that doesn't mean your own feelings don't creep in. When I reread chapter 12 of the first book, "The Mirror of Erised," I saw that I had given Harry lots of my own feelings about my own mother's death, though I hadn't been aware of that as I had been writing.
Amazon.co.uk: Where did the idea for Quidditch come from?
Rowling: I invented Quidditch while spending the night in a very small room in the Bournville Hotel in Didsbury, Manchester. I wanted a sport for wizards, and I'd always wanted to see a game where there was more than one ball in play at the same time. The idea just amused me. The Muggle sport it most resembles is basketball, which is probably the sport I enjoy watching most. I had a lot of fun making up the rules and I've still got the notebook I did it in, complete with diagrams, and all the names for the balls I tried before I settled on Snitch, Bludgers, and Quaffle.
Amazon.co.uk: Where did the ideas for the wizard classes and magic spells come from?
Rowling: I decided on the school subjects very early on. Most of the spells are invented, but some of them have a basis in what people used to believe worked. We owe a lot of our scientific knowledge to the alchemists!
Amazon.co.uk: What ingredients do you think all the Harry Potter books need?
Rowling: I never really think in terms of ingredients, but I suppose if I had to name some I'd say humor, strong characters, and a watertight plot. Those things would add up to the kind of book I enjoy reading myself. Oh, I forgot scariness--well, I never set out to make people scared, but it does seem to creep in along the way.
Amazon.co.uk: Do you write by hand or on a computer?
Rowling: I still like writing by hand. Normally I do a first draft using pen and paper, and then do my first edit when I type it onto my computer. For some reason, I much prefer writing with a black pen than a blue one, and in a perfect world I'd always use "narrow feint" writing paper. But I have been known to write on all sorts of weird things when I didn't have a notepad with me. The names of the Hogwarts Houses were created on the back of an aeroplane sick bag. Yes, it was empty.
Amazon.co.uk: What books do you enjoy reading?
Rowling: My favorite writer is Jane Austen and I've read all her books so many times I've lost count. My favorite living writer is Roddy Doyle, who I think is a genius. I think they do similar things--create fully rounded characters, often without much or indeed any physical description, examine normal human behavior in a very unsentimental and yet touching way--and, of course, they're FUNNY.
Amazon.co.uk: What books did you read as a child? Have these influenced your writing in any way?
Rowling: It is always hard to tell what your influences are. Everything you've seen, experienced, read, or heard gets broken down like compost in your head and then your own ideas grow out of that compost. Three books I read as a child do stand out in my memory, though. One is The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, which was probably my favorite book when I was younger. The second is Manxmouse by Paul Gallico, which is not Gallico's most famous book, but I think it's wonderful. The third is Grimble, by Clement Freud. Grimble is one of funniest books I've ever read, and Grimble himself, who is a small boy, is a fabulous character. I'd love to see a Grimble film.
As far as I know, these last two fine pieces
of literature are out of print, so if any publishers ever read this, could
you please dust them off and put them back in print so other people can read
My Life So Far by J.K. Rowling
I was born in Chipping Sodbury General Hospital, which I think is appropriate for someone who collects funny names. My sister, Di, was born just under two years later, and she was the person who suffered my first efforts at story-telling (I was much bigger than her and could hold her down). Rabbits loomed large in our early story-telling sessions; we badly wanted a rabbit.
Di can still remember me telling her a story in which she fell down a rabbit hole and was fed strawberries by the rabbit family inside it. Certainly the first story I ever wrote down (when I was five or six) was about a rabbit called Rabbit. He got the measles and was visited by his friends, including a giant bee called Miss Bee. And ever since Rabbit and Miss Bee, I have wanted to be a writer, though I rarely told anyone so. I was afraid they'd tell me I didn't have a hope.
We moved house twice when I was growing up. The first move was from Yate (just outside Bristol) to Winterbourne (on the other side of Bristol). A gang of children including myself and my sister used to play together up and down our street in Winterbourne. Two of the gang members were a brother and sister whose surname was Potter. I always liked the name, but then I was always keener on my friends' surnames than my own ('Rowling' is pronounced like 'rolling', which used to lead to annoying children's jokes about rolling pins).
When I was nine we moved to Tutshill near Chepstow in the Forest of Dean. We were finally out in the countryside, which had always been my parents' dream, both being Londoners, and my sister and I spent most of our times wandering unsupervised across fields and along the river Wye. The only fly in the ointment was the fact that I hated my new school. It was a very small, very old-fashioned place where the roll-top desks still had ink-wells. My new teacher, Mrs Morgan, scared the life out of me. She gave me an arithmetic test on the very first morning and after a huge effort I managed to get zero out of ten - I had never done fractions before. So she sat me in the row of desks on her far right. It took me a few days to realise I was in the 'stupid' row. Mrs Morgan positioned everyone in the class according to how clever she thought they were; the brightest sat on her left, and everyone she thought was dim sat on the right. I was as far right as you could get without sitting in the playground. By the end of the year, I had been promoted to second left - but at a cost. Mrs Morgan made me swap seats with my best friend, so that in one short walk across the room I became clever but unpopular.
From Tutshill Primary I went to Wyedean Comprehensive. I heard the same rumour about Wyedean that Harry hears from Dudley about Stonewall High (see page of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone). But it wasn't true - at least, it never happened to me. I was quiet, freckly, short-sighted and rubbish at sports (I am the only person I know who managed to break their arm playing netball). My favourite subject by far was English, but I quite liked languages too. I used to tell my equally quiet and studious friends long serial stories at lunch-times. They usually involved us all doing heroic and daring deeds we certainly wouldn't have done in real life; we were all too swotty. I did once have a fight with the toughest girl in my year, but I didn't have a choice, she started hitting me and it was hit back or lie down and play dead. For a few days I was quite famous because she hadn't managed to flatten me. The truth was that my locker was right behind me and held me up. I spent weeks afterwards peering nervously around corners in case she was waiting to ambush me.
I became less quiet as I got older. For one thing I started wearing contact lenses, which made me less scared of being hit in the face. I wrote a lot in my teens, but I never showed any of it to my friends, except for funny stories that again featured us all in thinly disguised characters. I was made Head Girl in my final year, and I can only think of two things I had to do; one was to show Lady Somebody around the school fair, and the other was give an assembly to the whole school. I decided to play them a record to cut down on the time I had to speak to them. The record was scratched and played the same line of the song over and over again until the Deputy Headmistress kicked it.
I went to Exeter University straight after school, where I studied French. This was a big mistake. I had listened too hard to my parents, who thought languages would lead to a great career as a bilingual secretary. Unfortunately I am one of the most disorganised people in the world and, as I later proved, the worst secretary ever. All I ever liked about working in offices was being able to type up stories on the computer when no-one was looking. I was never paying much attention in meetings because I was usually scribbling bits of my latest stories in the margins of the pad, or choosing excellent names for the characters. This is a problem when you are supposed to be taking the minutes of the meeting.
When I was twenty six I gave up on offices completely and went abroad to teach English as a Foreign Language. My students used to make jokes about my name; it was like being back in Winterbourne, except that the Portuguese children said 'Rolling Stone' instead of rolling pin. I loved teaching English, and as I worked afternoons and evenings, I had mornings free for writing. This was particularly good news as I had now started my third novel (the first two had been abandoned when I realised how very bad they were). The new book was about a boy who found out he was a wizard and was sent off to wizard school. When I came back from Portugal half a suitcase was full of papers covered with stories about Harry Potter. I came to livein Edinburgh with my very small daughter, and set myself a deadline; I would finish the Harry novel before starting work as a French teacher, and try to get it published.
It was a year after finishing the book before a publisher bought it. The moment when I found out that Harry would be published was one of the best of my life. By this time I was working as a French teacher and being serenaded down the corridors with the first line of the theme from Rawhide ('Rolling, rolling, rolling, keep those wagons rolling...'). A few months after 'Harry' was taken for publication in Britain, an American publisher bought the rights for enough money to enable me to give up teaching and write full time - my life's ambition.
And I've got a real rabbit now. She is large and black and scratches me ferociously every time I try and pick her up. Some things are best left in the imagination.
Transcript de linterview
de JKR par Lauren McCormick
Broadcast October 23, 2000
It's not often that an author sells millions of copies of a first novel and becomes a household name. But J.K. Rowling has done just that. The author of the insanely-popular series of books about Harry Potter, is here this morning. Also here is 11-year-old Lauren McCormick of Little Current, Ontario.
Lauren was one of hundreds of kids who phoned in from across the country to enter our "I Want to Interview J.K. Rowling" contest, and she was the winner. Lauren arrived in our studio with her own list of questions for the writer who's credited with turning millions of children into bookworms.
Shelagh Rogers: I just want to explain that Lauren will be sharing in the questioning of Jo Rowling -- we have been instructed to call you Jo, you don't like Joanne?
J.K. Rowling: No one ever called me Joanne when I was young, unless they were angry.
Rogers: We're going to be asking some of the questions that were called in on our hotline from kids across the country. Lauren, I'm going to turn it over to you.
Lauren McCormick: Is this your first trip to Canada?
Rowling: It is my first trip to Canada. I've always wanted to come here. When I was about eight years old, my father was offered the opportunity to come and work here for a year. For a moment we thought we really were coming to live in Canada and we were very excited. But it fell through. We were very disappointed.
Lauren: Where does your daughter stay when you're travelling?
Rowling: It depends. Sometimes she comes with me, this time she's being looked after by my sister, who's like 'Second-in-Command Mummy.'
Rogers: What did you think Canada would be like?
Rowling: Beautiful, and I haven't been disappointed. We went to Niagara yesterday. We've all got this lifetime 'To Do' list and visiting Niagara was one of mine. It was just stunning. Beautiful.
Rogers: Charles Dickens once said that the Falls were the second great disappointment for a honeymooning couple [laughs].
Rowling: Poor Charles, he had problems.
Lauren: I received an invitation in the mail to attend Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It was secretly sent to me by my grandmother, before she died... I was ten years old at the time I received it. I know it wasn't real. I am able to tell the difference between real and imaginary. Is there any harm in allowing a kid to fantasize?
Rowling: I don't think there's any harm at all in allowing a kid to fantasize. In fact, I think to stop people from fantasizing is a very destructive thing indeed. You're very typical of children who absolutely do know the difference between fact and fantasy.
Rogers: Lauren, how do you feel about that?
Lauren: I feel the same way as Jo.
Rogers: Fact and fantasy are both important to you though, right?
Rowling: But to receive a letter like that, that's wonderful. You know you're suspending disbelief. Nice grandmother.
Rogers: Some of my friends and Lauren's friends aren't allowed to read the Harry Potter series, right Lauren?
Rogers: There have been some issues, in certain parts of the country, about witchcraft and devil worship and that sort of thing. What do you say to that?
Rowling: I get asked this a lot, as you can imagine. First of all, I would question whether these people have actually read the books. I really would question that. These books are absolutely not about devil worship.
I vacillate between feeling faintly annoyed that I'm being so misrepresented, and finding the whole thing really quite funny. Because it is laughable that someone would say that of these books. I think anyone who has actually read them would agree with that. But there's always the rogue person who can't see what's right under their nose, and there you go.
Rogers: Jo, there's lots of fun and fantasy in these books, but there are also life lessons in these stories. What did you intend to write when you started?
Rowling: Initially, I intended to write a story. No more or no less than that. I love stories. We need stories, I think.
Every 'message' - and I put that in heavily inverted commas because I don't set out to teach people specific things... I never sit down at the beginning of a novel and think 'What is today's lesson?'
Those lessons, they grow naturally out of the book and I suppose they come naturally from me.
Rogers: I do hear that in the fifth volume, that's about to come out, that Harry is going to have to deal with death.
Rowling: Harry has already dealt with death, of course. He lost his parents very young, in book four he witnessed a murder, which is a very disturbing thing. So this is not news to anybody who has been following the series, that death is a central theme of the books. But, yes, I think it would be fair to say that in book five he has to examine exactly what death means, in even closer ways. But I don't think people who have been following the series will be that surprised by that.
Lauren: In all your books, the continuing theme is that people are not what they appear to be. Sometimes they seem dangerous, and are good. Sometimes helpful people are bad. It looks like Harry is being taught to overlook first impressions and to be suspicious of people. Do you think that's something kids need to learn more than other generations?
Rowling: You're right, this is a recurring theme in the books. People are endlessly surprising. It's a very jaded person who thinks they've seen every possible nuance of human nature.
Sometimes I get asked 'What would be your recipe for a happier life?' And I've always said 'A bit more tolerance from all of us.'
One way to learn tolerance is to take the time to really understand other people's motives. Yes, you're right. Harry is often given an erroneous first impression of someone and he has to learn to look beneath the surface. When you look beneath the surface he has sometimes found that he is being fooled by people. And on other occasions he has found very nice surprises.
Rogers: Your books have brought sort of a renewed interest in Latin.
Rowling: [laughs] I went back to my old university very recently, I did French and Classics there. I had to give a speech, which was very nerve-wracking because I'm speaking to very studious and learned people, some of whom used to tell me off for cutting lectures. And I said in my speech 'I'm one of the very few who has ever found a practical application for their classics degree.
It just amused me, the idea that wizards would still be using Latin as a living language, although it is, as scholars of Latin will know ... I take great liberties with the language for spells. I see it as a kind of mutation that the wizards are using.
Lauren: I've been wondering, what were you like as a kid?
Rowling: I would say, basically, quite an introvert. Quite insecure. I was like Hermione. Hermione is the character who is most consciously based on a real person, and that person is me. She's an exaggeration of what I was like. But like all characters who may have been inspired by a living person --and they are in the minority in my books, most of my characters do come from my imagination -- they take on a life entirely of their own when they become fictional characters. The starting point often ends up a million miles away from how the character was first written. But Hermione didn't. She's a lot like I was when I was younger.
Rogers: What was school like for you?
Rowling: We moved from a school in Bristol, which is obviously a large city, and we moved to this tiny little village school and I hated it. We had roll top desks and I had a real dragon of a teacher, who is now deceased, so I can speak freely. She used to sit everyone in the class according to how clever she thought they were, which is a really vicious thing to do.
She asked me a couple of questions when I joined the class, found out I couldn't do fractions, and put me in the 'stupid' row. Then, after a few months of teaching me, she decided I'd been seated wrongly, so she made me swap with my best friend in the clever row. So that was a very early, bitter lesson in life. Don't be too clever, it loses you friends.
So I can't say I have particularly happy memories of that school.
Lauren: Why do you think you're books appeal to adults, as well as kids?
Rowling: I can only speculate about this really, I'm very bad at being a critic of my own work. I'm far too close to it, I find it very difficult to say why I think things are so popular, and so on. I'm guessing it's because I write about things I find funny, as opposed to what I think eight year olds find funny. And I suppose other adults find it funny too, I'm clearly an adult.
Rogers: But you do have a child in your life.
Rowling: I do have a child in my life, right at the centre of my life, my daughter Jessica. She's seven.
Rogers: And has she read through the series with you?
Rowling: Initially I said I wouldn't start reading them to her until she was seven, because I do think some of the themes are a little demanding for five year olds. But I cracked and started reading them to her at six, because she was at school and she was surrounded by kids asking her about Harry Potter. I thought it was mean, because she wasn't part of this enormous part of my life and I felt I was excluding her, so I read them to her.
Rogers: A lot of kids have told us that they've read your books again, and again, and again. What do you think is different in the way children read from the way adults read?
Rowling: I'm not sure there is that great a difference.
Rogers: Do you think an adult would re-read a book?
Rowling: I do, constantly. I can quote huge passages verbatim of my favourite books, I've read them so many times. I've lost count of how many times I've read some books.
Rogers: What are your favourite books?
Rowling: Anything written by Jane Austen, anything written by Roddy Doyle. They're my two favourite writers... If I'm really tired and I just want a quick fix, I will read a mystery novel. But I would never re-read a mystery novel, that would be too dull, once you've found out who the killer is.
Rogers: Lauren, what would be the number one thing you want to know from Jo?
Lauren: Well, how can one series of books have such an extreme effect on readers and non-readers? And at the same time, school boards are banning them from their curriculum.
Rowling: Hmmmm ... Penetrating question. It is a difficult one. I've found that the series seems to cause very conflicting emotions in people generally. For example, in Britain, the two groups of people who seem to think in Britain that I'm wholeheartedly on their side are people who support the boarding school system and practicing witches - which are not two groups that one would expect to find allied in any way.
In fact, they are both wrong. I don't believe in boarding schools. I don't send my daughter to a boarding school. I didn't go to a boarding school. And I'm neither a practicing witch nor do I believe in magic.
It's just a strange thing. People have presented me with every possible argument. I've been told, on the evidence of the books, that I must be very right wing and I must be very left wing. It's very odd - extreme passions.
Rogers: We had Joan Bodger in, who's one of Canada's best-loved storytellers. She was talking about Harry Potter after we heard from the kids. And she said it took her a while to figure out where the stories had taken her, and eventually she put her finger on it as "TV Land."
Rowling: TV Land? I'm not sure I understand that one.
Rogers: Well, that children really identify with the stories because they're full of action, full of change, full of magic and things happen quickly.
Rowling: It's a theory. I wouldn't say it's a theory I'd particularly endorse, but it's a neat theory. [laughs]
Lauren: Actually, I don't watch a lot of TV at home, and I don't think it's kind of related with TV Land. I think it has reality, everyday life in it, and also medieval times - castles and knights and stuff.
Rogers: Thank you for that answer, too, Lauren Alex Longland was on our panel of young readers - I'm moving ahead in our questions here. Alex is from Toronto. She's 12. I do believe today is her birthday, as well.
Rowling: Happy Birthday, Alex!
Rogers: She'd like to know why a woman writer with a daughter
Rowling: chose to write about a boy?
Rowling: Well, I should firstly say when I started writing about Harry in 1990, my daughter wasn't born until 1993. But she's right. It's a very, very, very good point. And what is odd is that it took me six months to suddenly think this. I'd been writing about Harry for six months when I did suddenly stop and think, Hang on a moment. Why is he a boy?
The simple answer is that's the way he came to me. A boy appeared in my brain - just this little scrawny, black-haired boy with glasses on. And so I wrote him, because he was the character who came to me.
But I did stop and wonder. I did stop and think, Shouldn't it have been Harriett? And at that point it was too late. It was just too late, because Harry was too real to me as a boy. And Hermione was with me at this point, and I feel that Hermione is an absolutely indispensable part of the team. I love her as a character, and so I didn't change it. I wanted to go with my initial inspiration.
Harry is becoming more girl-fixated, shall we say, as he gets older. He's 14 now, and you will find that girls become a lot more real to him. And more important, because the books are obviously told from a boy's perspective, really. But that's changing now.
Rogers: Do you think that the popularity of the books would have changed if they'd been told from the point of view of Hermione versus Harry Potter?
Rowling: I honestly don't know. But then, that wouldn't have stopped me doing it. If Hermione had strolled into my head as the main character, then I would have done it that way. I truly never once have ever stopped and thought 'I won't do that because that won't be popular.' Because the day I do that I might as well pack up, because the fun for me all along has been writing for me. The only people I have ever listened to have been my editors, in terms of what makes the book better or worse. And occasionally I've argued against them and kept it the way I wanted to do it.
Rogers: Who won?
Rowling: It depends. I mean, I'm not a tyrant about this. I have changed things when I think they've had very valid points, and I have changed things on other occasions. I have felt particularly strongly about a passage and I have really wanted to keep it, and I have. It's never gotten acrimonious - I have great editors.
McCormick: This is a question from Bridget from Toronto, and she's 12. Bridget's wondering, "Why did you create a magical society where men and women play such traditional roles? It seems most of the women Wizards pitter and patter around the house while the men do all the dark work."
Rowling: [laughs] That's not entirely true, because if you look at Professor McGonagall, she's a very, very powerful witch, and she's in a position of power. And in fact, if you look at the Hogwarts' staff - I had this discussion with someone the other day - it is exactly 50/50. Although it is true that you do have a headmaster as opposed to a headmistress, but that has not always been the case. As you will find out, there have been equal numbers of headmistresses.
Do Witches patter around the house? No. Mrs. Weasely stays at home, but if you think it's easy raising seven children, including Fred and George Weasely, then I pity [laughs] Women who've had seven children will not see that as a soft option.
But no, I don't think that's true. I've said this before. I sometimes feel frustrated in that I'm just over halfway through the series. It's like being interrupted halfway through a sentence and someone saying, "I know what you're going to say." No, you don't. When I've finished, then we can have this discussion, because at the end of book seven, then I can talk about everything in a full and frank way. But right at the moment we're only halfway through.
Rogers: Is seven going to be do you know that already?
Rowling: Mm hmm. I know exactly what's going to be in five, six and seven. And when I've finished that, then we can have the full and frank discussion, but until then, if I give full and frank answers I'm giving away things about the plot, so I don't want to do that.
Rogers: I have to go to another member of our panel: Graham, who's 11 and from Calgary. It's not unrelated to Alex's question, but how can you think like a boy? The exact question is "How can you think like a boy? Do you have a brother or something?"
Rowling: [laughs] Do you have a brother "or something?" No, I had a cousin. He isn't dead, but I haven't seen him for years and years. My family is very small - I have very few blood relatives, but I haven't seen them for years, actually.
How can I think like a boy? I think that I have always had boys and girls as friends, and I think probably that's where it comes from. Yes, I've had good male friends as well as female friends.
Rogers: I know that as you started off, you couldn't possibly have imagined how
Rowling: Never, no. I'd have to have been insane to have imagined this.
Rogers: Well [laughs] I'm actually going to ask you about SkyDome!
Rowling: Thank you! [laughs] What happened with the SkyDome, really First of all, you can imagine, I get thousands and thousands of people asking me to go and do readings in book shops and schools, and if I did them all, I literally would not sleep, eat, see my daughter or write another word. And I can't do it.
I was asked earlier this year, and they said it would be a big reading at the SkyDome in Toronto. I was feeling very fraught at the time, because I was halfway through book four, and I said yes. And at that point, I did say yes to quite a lot of things just to stop people from asking me anything else, because I really wanted to be writing. Then I sort of emerged from the madness that was book four and realized exactly how big the reading was going to be. And then I got terrified. So thank you for reminding me this early in the morning. [laughs] I try and block it out.
Rogers: Sorry about that. Anyway, if you can get through this I think you can get through anything, really.
Rowling: I'm kind of looking at it like that. If I can do this, yeah
Rogers: How are you feeling? A lot of people have pegged you as a sort of ambassador for single parents. Do you feel that way, and is there still a stigma attached to being a single parent?
Rowling: I can only talk about Britain here, obviously. Lone parents in Britain, perhaps, don't get a very fair deal in certain ways. At first I felt slightly uncomfortable about it being called an ambassador because I felt that what I did is not a typical thing to do, and it was perhaps unfair to tell other single mothers that they could do the same thing. But I have now become patron of the Council of One-Parent Families in Britain, so I am out there trying to better everyone's deal.
I must confess to a certain bias: I grew up in a dilapidated
old farmhouse in County Wicklow, Ireland, a place with a rainy magic not unlike
the witch family's cozy but crumbling home in the second of J.K. Rowling's
"Harry Potter" books. I am also a terminal Anglophiliac, partial
to lisps and knee socks. So when my all-American techno-savvy twin boys abandoned
their nihilistic computer games to read about groundskeepers, goblins, prefects
and tea sausages, I was delighted.
As befits stories about magical powers, the popularity of Rowling's debut novel, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (published in Great Britain under the title "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone"), is a little unconventional itself -- a fire built kid by kid, fanned by whispers in classrooms on both sides of the Atlantic. Which makes it all the more phenomenal that the book, aimed at 8- to 12-year-olds, is currently enjoying its 15th week on the New York Times Bestsellers list. (By contrast, the last major "crossover" novel, Philip Pullman's 1996 book "The Golden Compass," was marketed as such by Knopf in an expensive campaign that made it a huge seller, though it did not make the Times list.)
A fresh, clear spring of thrilling narrative, "Harry Potter" is also No. 1 on the Independent Booksellers List, pulling ahead of John Grisham's "The Testament." It's no wonder that in Britain, Rowling's children's books come in two jacket designs -- one aimed at children and one plain enough that adults can read the books in public.
In the next book of the series, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," Rowling expands the fascinating world of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with surprises around every turn: a diary that writes back; ancestral portraits that primp and curl their hair at night; a behemoth groundskeeper with a soft spot for man-eating pets; a professor who died, didn't notice and continued teaching as a ghost. At one point, Harry is warned that some books are dangerous: "Some old witch in Bath had a book that you could never stop reading! You just had to wander around with your nose in it, trying to do everything one-handed!"
Rowling has written another such book. Word-of-mouth publicity on the sequel has already been so strong that its American publisher, Scholastic, has announced that it is moving up the U.S. release date from September to June.
Clearly the publisher felt pressured by loyal Potterites who had already begun purchasing copies online or smuggling them in from the United Kingdom, where it was released last July. Executive Vice President Barbara Marcus also said Scholastic plans to schedule the release dates for the rest of the series closer to British publication dates "for obvious reasons."
The story of Harry Potter's creator, Joanne Rowling, is itself somewhat magical: She was impoverished and raising her baby daughter alone while finishing the first "Harry Potter" story; a grant from the Scottish Arts Council enabled her to finish it. (Knowing this makes you cheer all the louder when Harry himself escapes the spiritual poverty of his cruel aunt and uncle to board the train for Hogwarts School and its realm of infinite possibility and rich, if odd, traditions.) Salon reached Rowling in her home in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she talked about instant fame, the "muggle" and single motherhood.
The advertising copy for your book says that you were a struggling single mother when writing "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." Could you tell more about that time?
In fact, I wasn't a struggling single mother all the time that I was writing the first "Harry" book. It was only during the final year of writing that I found myself poorer than I'd ever been before. Obviously, continuing to write was a bit of a logistical problem: I had to make full use of all the time that my then-baby daughter slept. This meant writing in the evenings and during nap times.
I used to put her into the pushchair and walk her around Edinburgh, wait until she nodded off and then hurry to a cafe and write as fast as I could. It's amazing how much you can get done when you know you have very limited time. I've probably never been as productive since, if you judge by words per hour.
What was it like when you realized the book was a success?
It sounds a bit twee, but nothing since has matched the moment when I actually realized that "Harry" was going to be published. That was the realization of my life's ambition -- to be a published author -- and the culmination of so much effort on my part. The mere fact that I would see my book on a bookshelf in a bookshop made me happier than I can say.
I had been very realistic about the likelihood of making a living out of writing children's books -- I knew it was exceptionally rare for anybody to do it -- and that didn't worry me. I prayed that I would make just enough money to justify continuing to write, because I am supporting my daughter single-handedly. I was hoping I would be able to teach part-time (by this time I was working as a French teacher) and still write a bit.
Three months after British publication, my agent called me at about eight one evening to tell me there was an auction going on in New York for the book. They were up to five figures. I went cold with shock. By the time he called back at 10 p.m., it was up to six figures. At 11 p.m., my American editor, Arthur Levine, called me. The first words he said to me were: "Don't panic." He really knew what I was going through. I went to bed and couldn't sleep. On one level I was obviously delighted, but most of me froze.
For the first time ever in my life, I got writer's block. The stakes seemed to have gone up a lot, and I attracted a lot of publicity in Britain for which I was utterly unprepared. Never in my wildest imaginings had I pictured my face in the papers -- particularly captioned, as they almost all were, with the words "penniless single mother." It is hard to be defined by the most difficult part of your life. But that aspect of the story is, thankfully, receding a little in Britain; the books are now the story, which suits me fine.
In your books, Hogwarts School is incredibly fantastic, from its forbidden forest and Quidditch fields and endless castle dungeons to its talking portraits and Harry's own snug four-poster bed. Do you see school as a potential sanctuary for children?
I'm often asked whether I went to boarding school and the answer is "no." I went to a "comprehensive" -- a state-run day school. I had no desire whatsoever to go to boarding school (though if it had been Hogwarts, I would have been packed in a moment). School can be a sanctuary for children, but it can also be a scary place; children can be exceptionally cruel to each other.
In this era of very involved parenting, do you think that the notion of boarding school and the autonomy it offers might hold an almost taboo allure for both kids and parents?
I think that's definitely true. Harry's status as orphan gives him a freedom other children can only dream about (guiltily, of course). No child wants to lose their parents, yet the idea of being removed from the expectations of parents is alluring. The orphan in literature is freed from the obligation to satisfy his/her parents, and from the inevitable realization that his/her parents are flawed human beings. There is something liberating, too, about being transported into the kind of surrogate family which boarding school represents, where the relationships are less intense and the boundaries perhaps more clearly defined.
Did any characters or scenes in "Harry Potter" stem from your experience as a single mother?
So much of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" was written and planned before I found myself a single mother that I don't think my experiences at that time directly influenced the plot or characters. I think the only event in my own life that changed the direction of "Harry Potter" was the death of my mother. I only fully realized upon re-reading the book how many of my own feelings about losing my mother I had given Harry.
In your first book, the witches and wizards stand out as slightly odd when they're in the "muggle," or normal world -- cloaked in capes with dozens of pockets. Are they meant to remind readers of homeless people?
Not necessarily of homeless people, although that image isn't far off what I was trying to suggest. The wizards represent all that the true "muggle" most fears: They are plainly outcasts and comfortable with being so. Nothing is more unnerving to the truly conventional than the unashamed misfit!
Did your teaching experience help you write for children?
I taught for about four years, mainly teenagers. It is my own memories of childhood that inform my writing, however; I think I have very vivid recall of what it felt like to be 11 years old. The classics part of my degree at Exeter College did furnish me with a lot of good names for characters -- not exactly the use my lecturers expected me to put it to, however.
One of the book's loveliest characters is Hermione Granger, one of Harry's best friends and a bookworm whose research invariably helps him unravel the mystery at hand. Hermione makes erudition seem so juicy and worthwhile, yet she's very real, prone to crushes on self-inflated types. How did you dream her up?
Hermione was very easy to create because she is based almost entirely on myself at the age of 11. She is really a caricature of me. I wasn't as clever as she is, nor do I think I was quite such a know-it-all, though former classmates might disagree. Like Hermione, I was obsessed with achieving academically, but this masked a huge insecurity. I think it is very common for plain young girls to feel this way. Similarly, her crushes on unsuitable men ... well, I've made my mistakes in that area. Just because you've got a good brain doesn't mean you're any better than the next person at keeping your hormones under control!
What were the most memorable books you read as a child?
My favorite book when I was younger was "The Little White Horse" by Elizabeth Goudge. My mother gave me a copy when I was 8; it had been one of her childhood favorites. I also loved "Manxmouse" by Paul Gallico and, of course, C.S. Lewis' Narnia books.
In both Harry Potter books, your vocabulary is extraordinarily rich and inventive. How does one encourage children to cultivate a bank of words like this?
I always advise children who ask me for tips on being a writer to read as much as they possibly can. Jane Austen gave a young friend the same advice, so I'm in good company there.
Do you think the English language is more alive in Great Britain than in the United States?
Part of what makes a language "alive" is its constant evolution. I would hate to think Britain would ever emulate France, where they actually have a learned faculty whose job it is to attempt to prevent the incursion of foreign words into the language. I love editing "Harry" with Arthur Levine, my American editor -- the differences between "British English" (of which there must be at least 200 versions) and "American English" (ditto!) are a source of constant interest and amusement to me.
Being a mother often requires a sort of generalist or Jill-of-all-trades expertise -- part nurse, playmate, chef, maid, bodyguard -- with endless distractions. It is so different from writing, where single-minded concentration and discipline is usually needed. How do you reconcile the two?
I write while my daughter is at school, and don't even try when she's around -- she's too old for naps now.
Do you have any advice for struggling single mothers?
I am never very comfortable giving other single mothers "words of advice." Nobody knows better than I do that I was very lucky -- I didn't need money to exercise the talent I had -- all I needed was a Biro and some paper. Nor do other single mothers need to be reminded that they are already doing the most demanding job in the world, which isn't sufficiently recognized for my liking.
I have read that Warner Brothers bought the film rights to "Harry Potter." How do you feel about Hollywood re-creating your characters?
A mixture of excitement and nervousness! I do think "Harry" would make a great film, but obviously I feel protective towards the characters I've lived with for so long.
How do you envision your future?
Well, I'll be writing, and that's about all I know. I've been doing it all my life and it is necessary to me -- I don't feel quite normal if I haven't written for a while.
I doubt I will ever again write anything as popular as the "Harry" books, but I can live with that thought quite easily. By the time I stop writing about Harry, I will have lived with him for 13 years, and I know it's going to feel like a bereavement. So I'll probably take some time off to grieve, and then on with the next book!
SALON | March 31, 1999
Margaret Weir is a writer in San Francisco.
The J. K. Rowling
Interview as presented by Stories from the Web
1. Where do you get your ideas from?
I wish I knew. Sometimes they just come (like magic) and other times I have to sit and think for about a week before I manage to work out how something will happen. Where the idea for Harry Potter actually came from I really couldn't tell you. I was travelling on a train between Manchester and London and it just popped into my head. I spent four hours thinking about what Hogwarts would be like - the most interesting train journey I've ever taken. By the time I got off at King's Cross many of the characters in the books had already been invented.
2. Are any of the characters in the books based on real people?
Tricky question! The answer is yes, and no. I have to confess that Hermione Granger is a little bit like I was at her age, though I was neither as clever or as annoying (I hope!). Ron is a little bit like my oldest friend and Professor Snape is a lot like one of my old teachers, but I'm not saying which one.
3. Where do you get the names from?
I collect unusual names from all sorts of different places. 'Dumbledore' is an Old English word meaning bumble bee, and 'Hedwig' as a medieval saint. I've even used street names for surnames. Some words I made up, like 'Malfoy' and Quidditch'.
4. How long have you been writing for?
Nearly all my life. I had written two novels before I had the idea for Harry, though I'd never tried to get them published (and a good job too, I don't think they were very good).
5. Will there by any more Harry Potter books?
Yes, even back on that train I saw it as a series which would follow Harry to the end of his schooldays at Hogwarts (seven years). So in the final book, Harry will have come of age in the wizarding world, and ready to leave the Dursleys at last.
6. Did you expect the Harry books to be this successful?
Never. I just wrote the sort of thing I liked reading when I was younger (and still enjoy now!) I didn't expect lots of people to like them, in fact, I never really thought much past getting them published.
7. Any clues about the next book?
I don't want to give anything away, but I can tell you that the books are getting darker... Harry's going to have quite a bit to deal with as he gets older. Sorry if they get too scary!
8. Who are your favourite authors?
My favourite writer of all time is Jane Austen, but when I was younger I liked Paul Gallico's 'Manxmouse', CS Lewis' Narnia books and Noel Streatfield.
de 60 Minutes
JK (Joanne Kathleen) Rowling born in 31 July 1965 and grew up in Chipping, Grent. She has always enjoyed writing, and wrote her first book at age six titled "Rabbit". She attended Exeter University.
She was going through a very rough time, as she was unemployed, receiving assistance from welfare, and had an infant daughter. "I was very low," she states, "and I had to achieve something. Without the challenge, I would have gone stark raving mad." She began writing the Harry Potter books while on a train trip. She had not hoped for any type of stardom, just enough money to help support her daughter, and, if she was real lucky, see her own book on a bookshelf. She continued to write the books in cafes.
In 2001, she married Dr. Neil Murray, and became pregnant soon afterward. On March 23, 2003, she gave birth to son, David.
Commentator: Three years ago, when we first introduced you to Harry Potter, more than a few people out there said, Harry who? Today, there may be someone somewhere who doesnt know him, but we cant find him. Harry Potter si the wizard hero of the worlds most popular novels. Four so far, with three more to come. And hes the star of the block buster movie, with more of those to come, too. Nothing has ever happened in the world of childrens books, or any other books, for that matter, to even approach the Harry Potter phenomena. But when we first introduced you to Joanne Rowling, Harry Potters creator, the third book was just about to come out. The scale of her success was just beginning to sink in. Thirty-six year old Joanne Rowling lives and writes in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle.
JK Rowling: The basic plot is that Harry is not only a wizard, but a famous wizard, but he doesnt know hes a wizard. He doesnt find out until hes 11. He finds out why hes got this lightning shaped scar on his forehead, he finds out that his parents were murdered, and what hes supposed to do about it. And also to confront the person who murdered them.
Commentator: Harry Potter is an old-fashioned, triumph over evil story, but full of quirks and surprises. Kids that fly on broomsticks, owls that deliver the mail. Its set in a British boarding school just for wizards called Hogwarts.
JK Rowling speaks of different names that she picked from a herbology book. She shows her drawings of Harry, Dudley, Prof. McGonagall.
Commenter speaks of how many times children have read the books, sometimes eight times each.
JK Rowling: I had that happen to me. One time when I was signing books, a mother came up to me and said that her son was here, and she dieing to meet me, but he was too ashamed of the state of his book. He asked me to have you sign it. And it (the book) was all wrinkly and covered in rubbish. The cover was all wrinkly. (laughs) And I made her go and get him, because that is exactly the state I like to see the books in. I have no track (?) with these people, these very elegant people who dont crack the spine when they read a book. I say crack the spine when you read it, cause thats what its there for.
Commentator: So many people are cracking the spine on Joanne Rowlings books that she is becoming a publishing figure of historic proportions. Speaks of her past, of JK Rowlings divorce, and ending up on welfare.
JK Rowling states that she did have money to write on paper, and not napkins. She was still teaching, and was biding her time, finishing the books. She shows some of her teaching papers, in which on the back she had written down the Gryffindor ghosts names.
Commentator: Long before JK Rowling was published, she had seven books meticulously plotted out.
JK Rowling shows an old beat up box, that has much of her work in it. She says it is one of many from her bedroom. She says that she knows where everything is. She says that box is number one. She says she likes finding surprises in the boxes, so if she filed more efficiently, she wouldnt have those little surprises.
JK Rowling says that she had to write the book while she had the chance, or she knew she wouldnt finish it. She states how she would walk her baby daughter around and, once her daughter fell asleep, she would go into the nearest café and write. Once her manuscript was done, she submitted it to some publisher, in which four or five turned down, stating it was too long for children.
When Bloombsbury, with the help of her then new agent Chris Little, finally accepted her book, was the second happiest moment in her life, after the birth of her child. She states there was no advertising for the books, but the books continually climbed the charts. She says that the children were the ones who told each other about it.
Chris Little, her agent, states that the demand came from nowhere but the playgrounds.
Kids from Connecticut speaking about reading the books, and telling each other about them, and how detailed the books are. That they no longer play games, just read the books.
Commentator states that adults love the books, too. So much that Britain has made adult versions. Just the fact that kids love this one book so much, sets it apart from others. In fact the publishers tried to mask the fact that JK Rowling was a woman, by making her use her initials.
Chris Little states this is because traditionally boys dont like to read books by girls, but girls will read any author.
Commentator: The secrets out now, and kids dont care who she is, as long as she keeps writing. Especially getting the reluctant readers to read.
JK Rowling: Yes, Ive been told that story (reluctant readers) many times. One of them, a dyslexic nine year old, stated that this was the first book he had ever read in his life. Which absolutely supports my resolution that children are grossly underestimated.
Shows her reading to children, and one asks her if any of the characters were based off herself. She says that Hermione was, which she isnt very proud of. That Hermione is very annoying, but that she was also when she was eleven. But, she states shes loosened up as shes became older, and so will Hermione.
Commentator speaks of the books being sequels, which JK Rowling states that she doesnt see them as sequels, but as one long novel, split up over seven years.
Commentator speaks of the books rights being sold to Warner Brothers for the movie. She also mentions a TV Series, and action figures.
JK Rowling says that she doesnt know about the TV Series, but she says possibly. She says she doesnt like action figures. She calls them dolls.
Commentator closes with stating that JK Rowlig just got married, and that she is still working on Book V.
An interview with J.K. Rowling
By Jeff Jensen of Entertainment Weekly
7 September 2000 - On a normal day, the train is called the Queen of Scots. Today, it is called the Hogwarts Express, the train that transports Harry Potter to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and right now it is at a station in Perth, 90 minutes outside Edinburgh, Scotland. Cottony clouds of steam are billowing out of its engine, a quaint little spectacle for the hundreds of children waiting behind a makeshift gate numbered 9 1/2. It would all be very cute, except for the shrieking that accompanies all that hot air, a piercing and ever intensifying whistle that is causing the entire crowd to cover their ears, everyone eyeballing that infernal engine, wondering if it's ever going to stop.
And then it does.
And a door opens.
Inside, on this, her last stop in a steam powered barnstorm of the U.K. in support of ''Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,'' the fourth in her series of books about a most extraordinary young wizard, J.K. Rowling, 35, sits on the edge of a table, greeting a lucky bunch of kids, their faces stony and bloodless from nervous excitement. ''Hello, contest winner,'' says the mock monarch with the dirty-blond hair and blue jeans, her warm smirk packed with affection for these, her subjects. The attendants from Bloomsbury Publishing get one of them to pose for a picture with her. ''Now,'' Rowling says conspiratorially, signing his book, ''pretend like you're thrilled to see me.''
He doesn't need to pretend. But it's all she can do to pretend that none of this is as deliriously mind boggling as it really is. As she says during a 60 minute chat en route from Edinburgh to Perth, ''You could go crazy thinking about it too much.''
How did you feel about all the marketing hoopla around ''Goblet''?
The marketing was literally ''Don't give out the book.'' And it wasn't even a marketing ploy. It came from me. This book was the culmination of 10 years' work, and something very big in terms of my ongoing plot happens at the end, and it rounds off an era; the remaining three books are a different era in Harry's life. Had that got out, there's no way the book would have been as enjoyable to read.
You sat on the title for a long time, too.
The title thing was for a much more prosaic reason: I changed my mind twice on what it was. The working title had got out -- ''Harry Potter and the Doomspell Tournament.'' Then I changed ''Doomspell'' to ''Triwizard Tournament.'' Then I was teetering between ''Goblet of Fire'' and ''Triwizard Tournament.'' In the end, I preferred ''Goblet of Fire'' because it's got that kind of ''cup of destiny'' feel about it, which is the theme of the book.
Was this the hardest book you've had to write so far?
The first three books, my plan never failed me. But I should have put that plot under a microscope. I wrote what I thought was half the book, and ''Ack!'' Huge gaping hole in the middle of the plot. I missed my deadline by two months. And the whole profile of the books got so much higher since the third book; there was an edge of external pressure.
And what exactly was that gaping hole all about?
I had to pull a character. There you go: ''the phantom character of 'Harry Potter.''' She was a Weasley cousin [related to Ron Weasley, Harry's best friend]. She served the same function that Rita Skeeter [a sleazy investigative journalist] now serves. Rita was always going to be in the book, but I built her up, because I needed a kind of conduit for information outside the school. Originally, this girl fulfilled this purpose.
Does sleazy Rita reflect how you feel about the media?
No, but when I got to the point in the writing where I had to introduce Rita, I did hesitate, because I thought, People will think this is my response to what's happened to me. But I had a lot more fun writing Rita then I think I would have done if it hadn't happened to me. Rita will be back.
The size of this book -- 734 pages. Nearly twice as long as the longest book you've written.
''What is she doing?''
Exactly. Please explain.
I knew from the beginning it would be the biggest of the first four. You need a proper run-up to what happens at the end. It's a complex plot, and you don't rush a plot that complex, because everyone's gonna get confused.
This book is quite the wide screen epic, with the Quidditch World Cup, the arrival of rival schools, the Triwizard Tournament, the ending battle...
Everything is on a bigger scale.
Yes. It's symbolic. Harry's horizons are literally and metaphorically widening as he grows older. But also there are places in the world that I've been planning for so long and thinking about for so long that we haven't yet explored, and it's great fun. That will happen in book 5, too; we go into a whole new area, physically, an area you've never seen before, a magical world.
Will we ever see Harry in America?
Unlikely. The battleground is Britain at the moment. I got asked the other day, ''Given the huge success of your books in America, are you going to be introducing American characters?'' And I thought, You're an idiot. I am not about to throw away 10 years' meticulous planning in the hope that I will buck up to a few more readers. American kids have no need to see a token American character. This is another instance of people grossly underestimating children.
One of ''Goblet'''s biggest themes is bigotry. It's always been in your books, with the Hitlerlike Lord Voldemort and his followers prejudiced against Muggles (nonmagical people). In book 4, Hermione tries to liberate the school's worker elves, who've been indentured servants so long they lack desire for anything else. Why did you want to explore these themes?
Because bigotry is probably the thing I detest most. All forms of intolerance, the whole idea of ''that which is different from me is necessary evil.'' I really like to explore the idea that difference is equal and good. But there's another idea that I like to explore, too. Oppressed groups are not, generally speaking, people who stand firmly together -- no, sadly, they kind of subdivide among themselves and fight like hell. That's human nature, so that's what you see here. This world of wizards and witches, they're already ostracized, and then within themselves, they've formed a loathsome pecking order.
You don't think this a little heavy for kids?
These are things that a huge number of children at that age start to think about. It's really fun to write about it, but in a very allegorical way.
Do the books reflect your own political sensibilities? In America, some might say you're a bit left-wing.
It's absolutely the reverse to the British press; I was told yesterday that I'm a Euroskeptic, which is a big buzzword in Britain. I actually woke up at 2 a.m. this morning, went into the kitchen to get some water, and thought, ''I know why they said that -- they haven't finished the book.'' Right at the end, Dumbledore says, ''Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.'' That is my view. It is very inclusive, and yes, you are right: I am left-wing.
But are you baking your political beliefs into these books, or are we just reading stuff into them?
There is a certain amount of political stuff in there. But I also feel that every reader will bring his own agenda to the book. People who send their children to boarding schools seem to feel that I'm on their side. I'm not. Practicing wiccans think I'm also a witch. I'm not.
Why J.K. Rowling waited to read ''Harry Potter'' to her daughter. In Part 2 of EW's interview, the author talks about Hollywood, fame, and more.
Once she was a struggling single mom, sneaking off to cafés to write after putting her daughter to bed. Now, with ''Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,'' the fourth book in her seven volume epic about the titular boy wizard, J.K. Rowling finds herself guardian of an international pop phenom and a mythic world that's bucking to be called Tolkienesque. And yet the more things change -- and they have, from the full time assistant she recently hired to keep her organized, to the hagglings with Hollywood over the forthcoming deluge of merchandise and movies -- the more things stay the same. She's still sneaking off to corner cafés in Edinburgh, Scotland, seeking solitude to write. ''It feels incredibly familiar, actually,'' says Rowling, ''as though I'm right back where I was before 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.'''
You referred to the darkness in your books, and there's been a lot of talk and even concern over that.
You have a choice when you're going to introduce a very evil character. You can dress a guy up with loads of ammunition, put a black Stetson on him, and say, ''Bad guy. Shoot him.'' I'm writing about shades of evil. You have Voldemort, a raging psychopath, devoid of the normal human responses to other people's suffering, and there ARE people like that in the world. But then you have Wormtail, who out of cowardice will stand in the shadow of the strongest person. What's very important for me is when Dumbledore says that you have to choose between what is right and what is easy. This is the setup for the next three books. All of them are going to have to choose, because what is easy is often not right.
There's a scene in ''Goblet'' where Cedric, who competes against Harry in the Triwizard Tournament, is killed by Voldemort, and at the end, Dumbledore must choose between informing the students of this evil, or keeping the knowledge from them. He chooses to tell them.
Dumbledore's decision is 100 percent me. It would have been an insult to that boy's memory not to tell the truth. But telling the truth has repercussions. People aren't used to the truth, particularly from fixtures of authority. I hated killing Cedric, by the way, just hated it.
There's some other horrific violence, too, like when Wormtail cuts up Harry's arm to get the blood to bring Voldemort back to life. Very disturbing.
Yeah, that wasn't good, I agree with you.
Have you ever thought ''Maybe I should tone it down''?
No. I know that sounds kind of brutal but no, I haven't. The bottom line is, I have to write the story I want to write. I never wrote them with a focus group of 8 year olds in mind. I have to continue telling the story the way I want to tell it. I don't at all relish the idea of children in tears, and I absolutely don't deny it's frightening. But it's supposed to be frightening! And if you don't show how scary that is, you cannot show how incredibly brave Harry is. He's really brave, and he does, I think, one of his bravest things in this book: He can't save Cedric, but he wants to save Cedric's parents additional pain. He wants to bring back the body and treat it with respect.
Saving Cedric's body reminded me of the Hector Patroclus Achilles triangle in the ''Iliad.''
That's where it came from. That really, really, REALLY moved me when I read that when I was 19. The idea of the desecration of a body, a very ancient idea... I was thinking of that when Harry saved Cedric's body.
And then you go and emotionally decimate your readers with that scene where Harry's murdered parents are drawn out of Voldemort's wand. I was in tears.
Me too. It was the first time I cried writing a Harry Potter book. I got pretty upset.
As your fan base is growing larger, and maybe even younger, do you feel any sense of social responsibility, any sense of responsibilities to their sensibilities?
I cannot write to please other people. I can't. When I finish book 7, I want to be able to look in the mirror and think, I did it the way I meant to do it. If I lose readers in the process, I'm not going to throw a party about it. But I would feel far worse if I knew that I had allowed myself to write something different. Yet, I do have parents coming up to me and saying ''He's 6 and he loved your book!'' And I've always kind of been, ''Well, that's great, but I know what's coming, and I think 6 is a tiny bit too young.'' I've always felt that. With my daughter and ''Goblet of Fire,'' I'm reading it to her. Her reading age is pretty advanced, but I said, ''I'm gonna read that one to you. It's scary, and I want to be there with you, and then we can talk about it.'' That would be my feeling if parents feel that.
What does your daughter [Jessica, 7] think of Harry Potter?
I always said I'd never read her the books until she was 7, and I think even 7 is pushing it. But I broke the rules. I actually read to her when she was 6. She started school, see, and kids were asking her about Quidditch and things. She didn't have an idea what they were all about, and I just thought, ''I'm excluding her from this huge part of my life, and it's making her an outsider.'' So I read them to her, and she became completely Harry Potter obsessed!
Does Jessica have the inside scoop on what's going to happen?
No no no no no! And kids at her school will sidle up to me and say, ''Does Jessica know what happens in book 4? Does Jessica know the title of book 4?'' And I keep saying, ''No! There is no point kidnapping her, taking her around back of the bike shed, and torturing her for information.''
You are transitioning from overnight success story to caretaker to a mythic world, one that's about to get translated into movies and merchandise. How do you feel about that?
It is worrying. I am nervous. Because I'm fighting tooth and nail -- and people have to believe me on that, because it is the truth -- I am fighting to maintain the purity of the world. That's what I'm involved with at the moment, trying to make sure that when things go out with the name Harry Potter on them, they really are Harry Potter things, not some pale imitation.
Do you have kind of control over what Warner Bros. does with Harry Potter?
Can I prevent it in terms of what's in my contract? No. But they have been very gracious in allowing me input, and I have been asked a lot of questions I never expect to be asked.
What's it been like, dealing with Hollywood?
The person I was most nervous about meeting by far was Steve Kloves, who's writing the screenplay. I was really ready to hate [him]. This was the man who was gonna butcher my baby. The first time I met him, he said, ''You know who my favorite character is?'' And I thought, ''You're gonna say Ron.'' It's real easy to love Ron -- but so obvious. But he said ''Hermione.'' I just kind of melted.
Are there any plans to come to the U.S.?
I am likely to be over there later this year. I love going to the States.
What do you like about the States?
Well, what DON'T I like about it? I really, really, really fell in love with New York. The first signing I did over there, the first boy to reach me in the queue put out his hand and went ''YOU ROCK!'' I thought that was great, but I heard myself respond and I sounded so intensely British, something like ''That's very nice of you to say so, thank you so much.'' Then there was this woman in L.A., a middle-aged sort of Palm Beach type woman, she said, ''I AM SO GLAD YOU'RE RICH!'' I'm telling you, you'd never hear that in Britain. Here, it's ''Well done.''
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