10 Things You Should Know about Harry Potter Author J.K. Rowling
10. J.K. Rowling Is a Very Private Person
Those who have met her describe her as slight and very introverted. Scottish crime author and close friend, Ian Rankin, has described her as being “quite quiet and very introspective.” She grants very few interviews and prefers to tell her own story. She designed her website to reveal her biography to her readers, and while she doesn’t leave out the hard times in her life, she speaks only briefly about how the difficult stages in her life laid the ground for her greatest achievements, her children and her books. Ian Rankin also remembers inviting her on stage at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and Rowling graciously declining admitting that she was not sure she could get on that type of stage.
Rowling, her agents and publishers kept her work and life very secret, especially after the Harry Potter books became a global phenomenon. Rowling estimates that most of her books were read by only seven people before they were released to bookshelves around the world. There is also a story about how the manuscript for “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” was given to her publisher who took it home with him, but he was terrified just at holding it because no one could lay eyes on it. He ended up hiding it in a safe. Very recently, a book describing the inner workings of the publishing process of the Harry Potter series shows how closely guarded the books were. Even the editor of the series worked only on a computer which had never been connected to the Internet to prevent hackers from stealing the files.
9. J.K. Rowling’s Life Has Always Been Influenced by Trains
When her parents were 18 years old, they met on a train traveling from London to Scotland where they fell in love. They were married one year later, and on the 31st of July in 1965, their first daughter, Joanne, was born near Bristol, England. Dedicated fans will note that Rowling shares a birthday, July 31, with her character, Harry Potter. Rowling grew up with one younger sister in Chepstow, Wales where she went to school. She studied French and Classics at Exeter University where she rung up a 50 pound overdue fine at the university library. Rowling was described as a day-dreamer while she was at Exeter University, and lecturers remember her as being nervous and insecure. Other students, however, remember her as being popular and beautiful. She spent a year in Paris where she studied “A Tale of Two Cities,” which had a major impact on her.
Trains would also feature prominently throughout her work, with major events taking place on the Hogwarts Express, a train, which in the film, is portrayed by the West Highland Line. In real life, the train journey runs through Scotland from Fort William to Mallaig. In fact, nearly every novel begins and ends with a trip on the Hogwarts Express from Platform 9 ¾ at London’s King’s Cross Station. The Hogwarts Express is different from other trains because it runs exclusively on magic, and many of the characters anxieties and elations are shared on this train. The Hogwarts Express has been the scene of the best and most poorly hatched plans concocted by Harry, Hermione and Ron.
In real life, Platform 9 ¾ has become a major tourist attraction at London’s King’s Cross Station. The station has embraced the fans and provides an opportunity for the most dedicated to make an attempt at running through the wall. The Hogwarts Express has its own dedicated page of information of the Rowling’s Pottermore website and is a very special part of the series.
8. J.K. Rowling Was a TEFL Teacher
Rowling, who is joined on the list by with some other famous teachers like James Joyce, the Irish novelist, moved to Portugal in 1991 after being devastated by her mother’s early death from multiple sclerosis. After reading an advertisement in The Guardian newspaper in 1991, she packed her bags and moved to the northern city of Porto where she lived for a year and a half. In Porto, Rowling was a teacher of English as a foreign language, more commonly referred to by its acronym TEFL. She had hoped that the flexible teaching schedule would help her to continue to write her novel. While she was there she met a Portuguese TV journalist whom she married and had a child with, her eldest daughter, Jessica. But, in 1993, she fled Portugal and her husband, and returned to Britain, this time moving to Edinburgh on the invitation of her younger sister. Rowling describes this period of her life as an absolute failure both on a personal and professional level. The death of her mother had influenced not only her own feelings but the feelings of her character, Harry Potter. Rowling describes changing her manuscript in Portugal to reveal deeper feelings regarding Harry and his dead parents. She believes that death became much more real in both her mind and her novel during this time. She reminisces that although this period in her life was one of the most difficult, it gave greater depth to her novel and an even biggest prize, her first born daughter Jessica. Although she describes her time in Portugal as a failure, she says that it also provided a foundation for her to move forward from.
Upon her arrival in Edinburgh, she gave up teaching and began formally writing what is now known as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
7. J.K. Rowling Was Awarded an OBE by the Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II for Her Contribution to Children’s Literature
In 2001, Rowling received an award called the Order of the British Empire, or OBE, from Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales. The Prince told her that he was a huge fan of the Harry Potter novels, and that he would like to know more about the movie version of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.” A teaser trailer had just been released for the first film.
An OBE is one of the most popular honors given out by the British monarchy. There are currently five classes of the order stemming from knighthood down to an ordinary member of the British Empire. These honors are given out twice a year by the Queen as a way of marking civilian achievement. Rowling received what is called a “post-nominal” meaning, and she can sign her name as Joanne Rowling, OBE.
Several prominent authors have turn down the honor from the queen. CS Lewis, Roald Dahl and Aldous Huxley have all declined the award of the Order of the British Empire. J.G. Ballard turned down his nomination for a CBE from the Queen with a statement deploring those of a left wing persuasion who would accept and honor and kneel down in front of the Queen. Other figures who have turned down great honors from the palace include T.E. Lawrence (popularly known as Lawrence of Arabia), David Bowie, John Cleese (performer, known best for Monty Python), Francis Crick (who helped to discover DNA), and Nigella Lawson (chef and TV personality).
6. J.K. Rowling Is a Former Billionaire
J.K. Rowling was a billionaire until 2012 when a combination of charitable giving and high taxes removed her from the list. Rowling has invested and donated her money to a wide variety of both personal and global causes. In October 2013, the Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic at the University of Edinburgh opened with a 10 million pound donation from J.K. Rowling, whose mother suffered from a neurodegenerative disease and died at age 45. Rowling also started a charity, which she called Lumos, a reference to her famous novels. Lumos works to prevent the systematic institutionalization of children through Europe and tries to find them caring homes. She donated all of the auction proceeds, $1.95 million, of a special edition of her book “The Tales of Beetle the Bard” to Lumos, and the following year, the book was published widely with part of the proceeds also benefiting Lumos. She also has a charitable trust called Volant which works to fight social deprivation with a focus on women and children.
Rowling is also involved with many other philanthropic missions regarding supporting single parents and helping to relieve social deprivation. She is also active with Doctors without Borders, Maggie’s Centres for Cancer Care, Amnesty International, for whom she worked before she became an author, MS Society Scotland and Comic Relief. In 2011 alone, she gave away about 16 percent of her net worth, or near $160 million dollars. When asked about her money, Rowling says that the ultimate luxury is that she will never again have to worry about providing food for her children, remembering the petty humiliations and hardship of her recent past.
5. J.K. Rowling Dreamed up the Idea for Harry Potter on a Train
J.K. Rowling first had her idea for Harry Potter while on a delayed train service from Manchester to London in 1990. On this fateful journey, she was traveling back to London on a crowded car, and she describes the idea as simply falling into her head. She remembers being the most excited she had ever been, and then realizing that she did not have a pen to write down her ideas. She was too shy to ask to borrow a pen from any of the people on the crowded coach, and so she was forced to retreat to her imagination. This particular train took four long hours, instead of the usual two hours, and Rowling sat and day dreamed about the boy she would call Harry. In her memoirs, she wonders how much of her wild idea slipped away because she was unable to write, but mostly she believes that those four hours were some of the best ideas for the books because she was able to dream and imagine without interruption. As soon as she arrived home in London, she began to write a story about a boy with black hair and spectacles.
Little did she know, this boy would someday become one of the most famous boys in the world.
4. Rowling Has Always Written under a Pen Name
In fact, J.K. Rowling is not her real name. She was born Joanne Rowling, but adopted the ‘K’, her grandmother’s initial, at the advice of her publisher to help keep the book anonymous because they did not believe that a fantasy book about wizards would be accepted when written by a woman. Indeed, her first ever piece of fan mail was addressed to her as “Dear Sir.”
She continues writing under pen names, and most recently she tried to publish her novel “The Cuckoo’s Calling” under the name Robert Galbraith. Almost immediately, the Internet cried out and knew that Robert Galbraith had to be Joanne Rowling. Rowling has written one other book under this pen name titled “The Silk Worm.” She chose this name by combining the name of her political hero, Robert F Kennedy and her childhood fantasy name, Ella Galbraith. Writing under this name was another attempt to make her work sound as though it was written by a man, and even the editor of the book believed that Robert Galbraith was man before the true author was revealed. This time, Rowling wanted to take her writing persona away from being J.K. Rowling, the creator of Harry Potter. Rowling was revealed to the press by a friend of one her lawyers, but not before Robert Galbraith sold 8,500 copies of the books and received two offers from television production companies. Rowling notes that Galbraith’s initial success, before being outed, was similar to her own at the very beginning of her career. But, sales were not what mattered to Rowling, and as she said after her identity was revealed, if all she wanted to do was sell books she would have used her own name from the start.
3. Rowling Cares for Her Fans in a Big Way
After the end of the series, fans across the world were devastated that the magical ride of the Harry Potter series had come to an end. Rowling has never agreed that the series is definitely over, and she has continued to work on the development of the magical world ever since with books like “The Tales of Beetle the Bard” and her website, Pottermore, which is filled to the brim with information about Harry and his world. Rowling also uses Twitter to communicate with fans, and although she has only tweeted around 700 times, each of her Tweets make a big impact with her 4.5 million followers. In fact, most of her Tweets are in correspondence with her fans.
Rowling has also become famous for reaching out to fans that touch her heart and sending very personal letters and emails to children, in particular, who have really related to her characters. Rowling often admonishes bullying and has been known to send personal letters praising those children who have written to thank her for the strength that Harry gave them while they were being tormented at school by other children. There is also only one character in the Harry Potter books that is named after a real person: Natalie McDonald. Valerie McDonald, Natalie’s mother, wrote to Rowling while her daughter, nine year old Valerie, was suffering from leukemia. Valerie wanted Rowling to know how much the books had touched their family. Rowling was so touched that she wrote an email back but it only reached the family the day after Valerie’s death. Rowling turned Natalie McDonald into a character in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, not revealing the surprise to the family who only discovered their immortal daughter when they read the book.
2. In 1993, Rowling Moved to Edinburgh Where She Now Resides with Her Husband and Two Children
When Joanne first moved to Edinburgh, she was unemployed and lived in a small flat. She had to ask for government assistance in order to help her take care of her young daughter. When she first moved to Edinburgh, a flat was arranged for her at 28 Gardner’s Crescent, near Edinburgh’s West End.
The success of Harry Potter allowed Joanne to buy a much bigger and brighter flat, in the attractive area of Merchiston in the south-west corner of Edinburgh. Her family’s home in Merchiston had eight bedrooms and an office building. It was recently sold in 2013 for 2.25 million pounds. Rowling’s family now lives outside of the city in an area called Barnton. In Barnton, she purchased a 17th century mansion for a little over 2 million pounds. Rowling underwent a brief duel with a few of the area residents in order to build two magical tree houses in her garden for her young children. The tree houses would stand 40 feet high and would feature secret tunnels, a rope bridge and even turreted roofs. The building of the tree houses alone would cost 250,000 pounds!
1. Rowling Wrote Her First Book at the Age of 6
With some of her earliest memories of books, Rowling has always been immersed in a literary environment. Suffering from the measles at age four, she remembers her father reading aloud to her books like “The Wind in the Willows.” She also had love for Richard Carrey, whom young Rowling took inspiration from. Rowling remembers how she wanted to be a writer from a very early age, writing her first book when she was six years old about a rabbit named Rabbit. She describes giving it to her mother who praised her deeply and thinking, as a six year old, that she would rather like to see it published. Rowling always had a healthy appetite for books and she counted “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” by English author C.S. Lewis among her favorites as a child. She also loved “The Little White Horse” by Elizabeth Goudge and many other classic children’s books. But Rowling was not fated to be an author. In fact, she does not believe in fate but instead in hard work and luck and that hard work often leads to good luck.
The Harry Potter brand is estimated to be worth $15 billion dollars and ranges from books to films to theme parks and video games. Even the studio in which the films were made has been turned into an attraction for die hard fans who want to feel the magic come alive. It’s hard to believe that so much passion, inspiration and imagination could come from a single commuter train ride. Like her character Harry, Joanne Rowling never had an easy journey, but her hard work, dedication and immense imagination has inspired children and adults alike from all walks of life and will do so for many years to come.