- Joanne Kathleen (J.K.) Rowling (1965 - )
While J K Rowling was not born in Scotland, she has lived for many years in the country and wrote all of her famous "Harry Potter" books in Scotland. But J. K. Rowling moved to Scotland while she was just beginning to write the first book and therefore all the books were imagined and written in Edinburgh. Perhaps she was inspired by the ancient history of the city, with its Castle high up on the rock, the narrow rambling cobbled streets and alleyways and Arthur's Seat, the hill beside Holyrood Palace, believed to be associated with the legend of King Arthur. Rowling has lived in Edinburgh for many years but has very recently bought herself a Scottish Castle near Aberfeldy, Perthshire. A perfect retreat in which to write the next three books in the Harry Potter series.
The Wizard Behind Harry
The name J. K. Rowling is a household name the world over, her books dominate the best seller lists on both sides of the Atlantic, she has won numerous literary awards as well as the prestigious OBE (Order of the British Empire) and today she is one of the richest women in Britain. But in true fairytale fashion, like Cinderella, this is a rags to riches story, but this one happens to be true.
Joanne Kathleen Rowling was born on July 31st, 1965 in Gloucestershire, England. Her sister Di was born two years later. She admits to being an imaginative child who enjoyed reading and making up stories herself. When she was about 5 or 6 years old she wrote a story called Rabbit, who caught measles and was visited by his friends, including a large bee called Miss Bee. Her favorite books as a child were Manxmouse, The Little White Horse, and The Chronicles of Narnia series. She also liked the authors Jane Austen, Ian Fleming, Noel Streatfeild and E. Nesbit. At one time her family lived next door to two children, Ian and Vikki Potter and they used to play witches and wizards together. She liked the surname Potter and never forgot these childhood friends.
Joanne attended Exeter University, where she studied French, having been encouraged by her parents that she could then have a great career as a bi-lingual secretary. She worked as a researcher for Amnesty International, as well as some secretarial jobs, moving on to the Manchester Chamber of Commerce - but she knew that office work was not a life for her. She still maintained her childhood imagination for making up fictional stories and she was still keen to make a go of becoming a writer.
Rowling recalls that it was while travelling by train from Manchester to London that the little boy wizard Harry Potter was born and she began to write the first Harry book.
"The idea that we could have a child who escapes from the confines of the adult world and goes somewhere where he has power, both literally and metaphorically, really appealed to me" she reveals, about what gave her the inspiration for the magical story.
Sadly, her mother, Anne, died during this time, having suffered for many years from multiple sclerosis. After a few months Joanne decided to take a different direction in her career, to use her language skills properly and took a position as an assistant teacher in Paris, leading to the post as teacher of English at a school in Oporto, Portugal. She settled down in Portugal very quickly, making friends and very soon she fell in love with a journalist for a TV station there. Romance blossomed and within months they were married.
In 1992, Joanne became pregnant and their baby girl, Jessica, was born in 1993. However sadly the relationship began to break down and Rowling separated from her husband and very depressed returned to Britain. She received a phone call from her sister Di who was living in Edinburgh, Scotland, who suggested Jo moved to Edinburgh to be near her. Joanne did so, and arrived with her daughter and the manuscript of the first Harry Potter book in her suitcase.
Support From Scottish Arts Council
In Edinburgh, she lived in a tiny flat and as a single, unemployed mother she needed to ask for public assistance in order to live and look after Jessica. She still continued to write about Harry. It was cold and dreary flat, so Joanne would often go to Nicholson's café on North Bridge, which was a warm and comfortable place to sit with a cup of coffee where she could write while the baby slept. The co-owner Dougal McBride remembers this regular customer in the café. "She would just rock the pram back and forward with one hand and write away with the other." He recalls. She applied for a writer's bursary from the Scottish Arts Council which she was successfully awarded, and this gave her the encouragement and the financial support to complete the story.
She completed Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in 1994, but was not quite sure how to go about publishing a book. She studied a Writers` Directory in the local library and sent copies of her book to a few agents. After several rejections, one day she received a letter. " Thank you. We would be glad to represent you on an exclusive basis," wrote Christopher Little, literary agent. Rowling apparently read this letter eight times. She knew she had been very fortunate to be accepted for she had sent an unsolicited manuscript and she was a totally unknown writer.
Little then began the task of sending the manuscript out to several publishers but it was a long, slow journey to success. Many publishers rejected the book because they believed it was too long, too slow and too literary for a children's story.
But one day in 1996 it was read by an astute young editor at Bloomsbury, who immediately loved it and saw its potential. They accepted it and offered Rowling an advance of about £2,000 - a fortune for the struggling young writer, at that time. She was thrilled to hear the news: "it was comparable only to having my daughter", she said.
Harry Potter Goes to America
Published in the UK in June 1997 it wasn't long before J. K. Rowling was recognised as a major new discovery. Harry Potter was an instant favourite by young readers and soon after the book received several awards - The British Book Awards Children's book of the year and the Smarties prize as well as many other professional accolades. The rest of the world began to take notice and Scholastic press in the United States bought the US rights, after a fiercely fought auction in New York.
Arthur A Levine the editorial director at Scholastic was about to take the biggest gamble in his life in order to out-bid the competing publishers. "It`s one thing to say I love this novel by this unknown woman in Scotland and I want to publish it. Do I love it so much? Do I love it at $50,000?, at $70,000?. - $100,000?. I had never paid so much for an acquisition before. It was a great risk."
Joanne's agent phoned her late one night from New York to prepare her for a phone call from a Mr. Levine. The call and his offer of a six figure advance came through just after midnight. Rowling remembers the moment in every detail. Afterwards she checked on her sleeping daughter and went to bed. "I couldn't sleep - I was obviously delighted but most of me was just frozen in terror."
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was published in the USA in September 1998.
Meanwhile the sequel, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was published in July 1998. With children and publishers demanding more Harry Potter, Joanne was now determined to write a complete series about Harry Potter and his adventures at Hogwarts School. In the summer of 1999 came Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and to Rowling's amazement the three Harry Potter books took over the first three slots in the New York Times best seller list.
The fourth and most popular book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, was released worldwide on July 8th, 2000 amidst a media frenzy. Before publication there had been over one million advanced copies sold with a total first print run of 5.3 million copies - a phenomenal number of books - and regarded as a world record.
Mr. Levine must have been very happy that his gamble had paid off - and more.
The Film Version - True to the Original
An offer to make a Harry Potter film, based on the first story, was offered and accepted by Joanne but on the condition that it would the story would be accurate to the book and that it would be filmed in Britain. She had visions of the story being completely transformed into an American little boy. The director is Chris Columbus, renowned for his films Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire. After months of auditions to find the right boy to play Harry, Daniel Radcliffe was picked from thousands of hopeful young actors.
The film, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, was released in November, 2001 across the world with millions of dollars taken in advance sales.
The magic of Harry Potter and J. K. Rowling continues...
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