and Mayhem: An Amazon.com Interview with J.K.
- Back to
- Back to
9, 2007: I just heard on NPR's Marketplace that J. K. Rawling is
now a BILLIONAIRE!!! .Yay,
worry about that. It won't change her. She will put the money to
Potter Celebration Page
- Divorced, living
on public assistance in a tiny Edinburgh flat with her infant
daughter, J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Sorcerer'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
Did you want to be an author when you were younger?
- JK 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.
How old were you when you started to write, and what was your
- 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.
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.
- 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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Where did the ideas for the wizard classes and magic spells come
- 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
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.
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.
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 them?
- Here's the
lady who wrote the books! J. K. Rowling at the famous Hogswart
Express, July 10, 2000 * (see
note about this amazing lady at the end of the
turn out at London station to bid farewell to J.K.
- ALL ABOARD THE
- By Alan
- (from The New Y ork Times on
- Near Oxford,
England, July 8:
- J. K.
Rowling, the creator of Harry Potter, insists that she does not
regard herself as a celebrity. But the assertion rings a little
hollow when you are traveling in a style once reserved for
royalty, in a personal train full of plush and brocade,
- Of course
this train -- the Hogwarts Express, named for the train that takes
Ms. Rowling's blockbuster creation to the Hogwarts School of
Witchcraft and Wizardry in all four Harry Potter books -- is the
centerpiece of a publicity stunt timed to celebrate and feed the
frenzy stirred by the latest in the series, "Harry Potter and the
Goblet of Fire," published to great hullabaloo today. And the
apparent luxury -- dining car resplendent with white linen and
crystal, sleeping car for Ms. Rowling and the entourage from
Bloomsbury, her British publisher -- is not quite the magical ride
of the novels.
- The train
rocks and rattles and wheezes. Its 57-year-old steam engine
develops a fault and has to be towed behind a diesel locomotive.
The antique cars make so much din that a reporter's tape recorder
is overwhelmed with white noise during a tightly scheduled
30-minute interview in an observation car. The train's itinerary
is to trundle for four days from book signing to book signing at
railway stations large and small where the Harry Potter
aficionados await a glimpse of the person who gave them their
- And at the
center of all this stew of hype, stress, adulation and
ever-changing deadlines stands Joanne Kathleen Rowling, a slight,
34-year-old writer from Britain's university-educated
middle-class, a onetime single mother on welfare now credited with
being No. 3 among Britain's top-earning women, with a reported $22
million-plus already gathered from a lightning career.
- But the
moment is not all triumph, and in a way this rolling monument to
success says as much about modern Britain as it does about the
phenomenon of Harry Potter. There is an expectation, for instance,
that her success automatically entitles the world beyond the
Hogwarts Express to bestow the familiar trappings of celebrity --
photographers' popping flashes, glamour to feed dreams -- as if
acclaim for her writing made Ms. Rowling the same kind of public
property others might only yearn to be.
- And there
has been a possibly curmudgeonly reluctance in the broader
literary world to allow Harry Potter -- and Ms. Rowling -- to pass
by without pointing out that however Harry Potter may be drawn as
a fictional persona (one respected literary editor called him a
"cipher"), Huck Finn he ain't. Even as the cash registers have
been ringing across the Atlantic, Ms. Rowling's work has lost out
on two prestigious prizes: the Whitbread, for book of the year,
and the Carnegie, the top British prize for children's writers.
("She was thrilled to bits just to be short-listed," said a
Bloomsbury publicist, Rosamund de la Hey.)
Rowling's books, said the author and Whitbread jurist Anthony
Holden in The Observer a few weeks ago, are "Disney
cartoons written in words, no more." (The United States reaction
seems more "celebratory," Ms. Rowling observed in the interview.
"It's a horrible cliché, but Americans do regard success
- Of course
the publication of the fourth book has been mercilessly hyped. And
with Warner Brothers planning to begin filming the first Harry
Potter movie in the fall, directed by Chris Columbus of "Home
Alone" and "Mrs. Doubtfire" renown, the exploitation of the dream
world Ms. Rowling spins around the boy wizard is only beginning.
But will that lead to an anti-commercial backlash? It is an issue,
Ms. Rowling implies, on which she is ready to take a stand.
- "I would do
anything to prevent Harry from turning up in fast-food boxes
everywhere," she said. "I would do my utmost. That would be my
approving the script for the forthcoming movie to the spinoffs it
produces, Ms. Rowling seems to be ready to defend her vision of
Harry Potter to the last. In conversations with the director
Steven Spielberg about a possible Spielberg movie of Harry Potter,
she said, as the train chuffed and hooted its way past the
hedgerows and meadows of central England, the project never went
anywhere because "this film would be my vision, and I think he
felt he would be hampered in giving his imagination free rein."
- And on the
commercialization of the fourth book, she said, "I'm quite clear
in my mind what I would like to be out there and what I wouldn't."
- On a
track to book signings and more book
- Ms. Rowling
has sought to maintain similar control over public access to her
personal life, but that has not always been possible and, much as
she sought in the earlier years of her success to pretend to
herself that acclaim would not change her life, it has.
- Earlier this
year, for instance, Britain's tabloids tracked down her
ex-husband, a Portuguese journalist named Jorge Arantes with whom
she had a brief marriage in the early 1990's. Ms. Rowling has
brought up their daughter, Jessica, single-handed. But suggestions
that her ex-husband may have helped in the creation of Harry
Potter rankle with her. "He had about as much input into Harry
Potter as I had into 'A Tale of Two Cities,' " she said tartly.
- After the
breakup of the marriage in Portugal, she returned with Jessica to
Edinburgh, weighted by depression and poverty. "If you have been
through three or four years of worrying on a daily basis about the
money running out," she said, "you are never going to forget what
acknowledged that she shook her depression in 1994 only with nine
months of counseling, realizing later that her continued ability
to write during this period was "a sign that I wasn't very badly
- Finding a
publisher for the first Harry Potter book was not easy either, she
said, and she is still at a loss to explain what, precisely, has
propelled sales of more than 30 million, most of them in the
United States, a landscape remote from the boarding-school culture
- "I can't
explain it," she said. "I don't have an answer."
offering an oblique riposte to those who have criticized her use
of language or the depth of her characterization, she said: "I
just write what I wanted to write. I write what amuses me. It's
totally for myself. I never in my wildest dreams expected this
popularity." "There's no formula," she added later.
- With the
arrival of the fourth book this weekend, of course, popularity has
turned into feeding frenzy. Hundreds of children and their parents
have waited at the railside stops, forming lines for book
signings. Batteries of television cameras at King's Cross station
in London -- where the Hogwarts Express departed for its four-day
perambulation ending in Perth, Scotland, on Tuesday -- were so
intrusive that her fans had a hard time glimpsing her. In a nation
that celebrated Diana as the People's Princess and is obsessive
about celebrity from soccer players to soap stars, did she feel
she had joined those illustrious ranks?
- No, she
said. She has sometimes been recognized and has been photographed
writing in her favorite cafes in Edinburgh. ("The first draft is
always in longhand," she said.) But "I can go completely unnoticed
down any street in Edinburgh," she said. "Celebrity is not a word
I would even apply to myself at all."
- Of course
her life has changed: just giving interviews on a personal train
underscores the transformation from obscurity. Television news has
charted the sales, in Britain, of the entire record first print
run from warehouses to bookshops: 1,027,000, said Bloomsbury's
chief executive, Nigel Newtown.
promotional tour in the United States is to follow in the fall.
"But then I go home, and life will resume its normal pattern," she
said. "It's not particularly interesting -- seeing friends,
working, raising a daughter -- the most important thing in my
life, Harry included."
- Her newest
book, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," is arguably her most
ambitious. It is the longest -- 734 pages in the American edition
from Scholastic -- and that is longer than even she imagined. She
was late delivering the manuscript. She worked 10-hour days to
produce it. She had, she said, to start over from midway through
when she realized that part of the plot had not been set up to
reach the conclusion she wanted. Not only that, the fourth book
was designed as the culminating point to which the first three had
been leading. (There are supposed to be seven, meaning three more
- For the
first time she touches on themes like political involvement,
jealousy, fame, romance and the death of a Potter ally: all rites
- "It's the
end of an era in the context of the whole series of books," she
said. "For Harry his innocence is gone."
intimated that as the series progresses the mood may darken. The
death of one character in the fourth book, she said, is "the
beginning of the deaths."
enough, though, death was not the most difficult theme to handle.
"I don't want to disturb children," she said, "but I don't want to
write about death as if it's something that doesn't happen." And
after all the whole series begins with the death of Harry's
- So what was
the hardest part?
- The answer
was a character called Rita Skeeter, a hard-bitten journalist with
a liking for fabrication and scoops, usually blending the two into
one. "I knew people would assume that this was my response to
what's happened to me," she said. But she decided to go ahead with
the character anyhow.
- One question
that begs asking after Ms. Rowling's success in the United States
is why none of the characters are Americans. In the latest books
the reader is introduced to European wizards, and there is even a
passing reference to African and American wizards. But Ms.
Rowling, who calls herself "a very British person," insists that
"you are not going to get an American exchange student brought in
- "I don't
think it would be faithful to the tone of the books to have
somebody brought in from Texas or wherever it might be," she
- *I don't
ordinarily condone advertising for particular companies, but I
make an exception in this case. Here is an E-mail note (MML) I
received as of March 2, 2001:
- Dear Amazon
- As someone who
has purchased Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling, you might like
to know that she has ghostwritten two new books--"Quidditch
Through the Ages" and "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find
Them"--to be released March 12. You can pre-order your two-book
set by following the link below:
Whisp's "Quidditch Through the Ages" and Newt Scamander's
"Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them"--charmingly reproduced
as if they were textbooks from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and
Wizardry--will be available March 12 as 64-page paperbacks.
Scholastic Inc.'s net proceeds from the sale of these books will
go to the Harry's Books fund established by Comic Relief U.K. to
help disadvantaged children in the poorest countries of the world.
J.K. Rowling is donating all royalties to which she would be
entitled. Work your wizardly magic to help kids around the
- Visit our Harry
Potter Store for recommended reading, stationery, journals,
audiobooks, and more: http://www.amazon.com/harrypotter/ Also,
visit our children's bookstore for more fantasy recommendations
for Potter fans: http://www.amazon.com/kids Happy
witchcraft accusation hits Pa. town
- January 24,
2002 Posted: 11:47 AM EST (1647 GMT)
Pennsylvania (AP) -- The police department has refused to direct
traffic at a YMCA triathlon because it says the club promotes
witchcraft by reading Harry Potter books to children.
- Penryn Fire
Police Capt. Robert Fichthorn said the eight-member force voted
unanimously to boycott the 20th running of the triathlon,
scheduled for September 7.
- "I don't
feel right taking our children's minds and teaching them
(witchcraft)," Fichthorn said. "As long as we don't stand up, it
won't stop. It's unfortunate that this is the way it has to be."
Lancaster Family YMCA began reading chapters of the Harry Potter
books to children enrolled in an after-school program in November.
- In a letter
to the township and the YMCA, Fichthorn challenged the religious
integrity of the YMCA, and questioned whether it was "serving the
will of God" in using the books.
- The wildly
popular children's books by J.K. Rowling chronicle the fictional
adventures of the young Harry Potter as he attends a boarding
school for wizards and battles his nemesis, the evil sorcerer
- The YMCA's
executive director, Michael Carr, said he was disappointed by the
department's decision, but doesn't expect it to stop about 600
triathletes from participating in the race.
Supervisor Ronald Krause said the YMCA may have to hire police
from another community to direct traffic for the race, which
includes a swim, a bicycle race and a run. Penryn is a small
community located about 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of
2002 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may
not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
I DID IT ANYWAY, didn't I! Hm. Wonder which of my transgressions
will be punished first, promoting witchcraft through this page ...
or including the AP article illegally? They're just going to have
to stand in line, I guess.
- Back to