Joanne “Jo” Rowling, was born on 31 July 1965 in Yate, Gloucestershire, England, pen name J. K. Rowling, is a British novelist, best known as the author of the Harry Potter fantasy series. The Potter books have gained worldwide attention, won multiple awards, sold more than 400 million copies to become the best-selling book series in history and been the basis for a popular series of films, in which Rowling had overall approval on the scripts as well as maintaining creative control by serving as a producer on the final instalment. Rowling conceived the idea for the series on a train trip from Manchester to London in 1990.
Rowling was born to Peter James Rowling and Anne Rowling. Her mother Anne was half-French, half-Scottish. Her mother’s maternal grandfather, Dr. Dugald Campbell, was born in Lamlash on the Isle of Arran. Her mother’s paternal grandfather, Louis Volant, was awarded the Croix de Guerre for exceptional bravery in defending the village of Courcelles-le-Comte during the First World War.
Rowling has led a “rags to riches” life story, in which she progressed from living on social security to multi-millionaire status within five years. As of March 2011, when its latest world billionaires list was published, Forbes estimated Rowling’s net worth to be US$1 billion. The 2008 Sunday Times Rich List estimated Rowling’s fortune at £560 million ($798 million), ranking her as the twelfth richest woman in the United Kingdom.] Forbes ranked Rowling as the forty-eighth most powerful celebrity of 2007, and Time magazine named her as a runner-up for its 2007 Person of the Year, noting the social, moral, and political inspiration she has given her fans. In October 2010, J. K. Rowling was named ‘Most Influential Woman in Britain’ by leading magazine editors. She has become a notable philanthropist, supporting such charities as Comic Relief, One Parent Families, Multiple Sclerosis Society of Great Britain, and Lumos (formerly the Children’s High Level Group).
On 12 April 2012, Rowling announced that her new adult novel The Casual Vacancy would be published in the UK by Little, Brown and Company on 27 September 2012.
Rowling’s sister Dianne was born at their home when Rowling was 23 months old. The family moved to the nearby village Winterbourne when Rowling was four. She attended St Michael’s Primary School, a school founded by abolitionist William Wilberforce and education reformer Hannah More. Her headmaster at St Michael’s, Alfred Dunn, has been suggested as the inspiration for the Harry Potter headmaster Albus Dumbledore.
As a child, Rowling often wrote fantasy stories, which she would usually then read to her sister. She recalls that “I 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.” At the age of nine, Rowling moved to Church Cottage in the Gloucestershire village of Tutshill, close to Chepstow, Wales. When she was a young teenager, her great aunt, who Rowling said “taught classics and approved of a thirst for knowledge, even of a questionable kind”, gave her a very old copy of Jessica Mitford’s autobiography, Hons and Rebels. Mitford became Rowling’s heroine, and Rowling subsequently read all of her books.
She attended secondary school at Wyedean School and College, where her mother, Anne, had worked as a technician in the Science Department. Rowling said of her adolescence, “Hermione is loosely based on me. She’s a caricature of me when I was eleven, which I’m not particularly proud of.” Sean Harris, her best friend in the Upper Sixth owned a turquoise Ford Anglia, which she says inspired the one in her books. “Ron Weasley isn’t a living portrait of Sean, but he really is very Sean-ish.” Of her musical tastes of the time, she said “My favourite group in the world is The Smiths. And when I was going through a punky phase, it was The Clash.” Rowling studied A Levels in English, French and German before reading for a BA in French and Classics at the University of Exeter, which she says was a “bit of a shock” as she “was expecting to be amongst lots of similar people – thinking radical thoughts.” Once she made friends with “some like-minded people” she says she began to enjoy herself. After a year of study in Paris, Rowling moved to London to work as a researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty International.
After working at Amnesty International in London, Rowling and her then-boyfriend decided to move to Manchester. In 1990, while she was on a four-hour-delayed train trip from Manchester to London, the idea for a story of a young boy attending a school of wizardry “came fully formed” into her mind. She told The Boston Globe that “I really don’t know where the idea came from. It started with Harry, then all these characters and situations came flooding into my head.” When she had reached her Clapham Junction flat, she began to write immediately.
In December of that year, Rowling’s mother died, after ten years suffering from multiple sclerosis. Rowling commented, “I was writing Harry Potter at the moment my mother died. I had never told her about Harry Potter.” Rowling said this death heavily affected her writing and that she introduced much more detail about Harry’s loss in the first book, because she knew about how it felt.
Rowling then moved to Porto in Portugal to teach English as a foreign language. While there, on 16 October 1992, she married Portuguese television journalist Jorge Arantes. Their child, Jessica Isabel Rowling Arantes (named after Jessica Mitford), was born on 27 July 1993 in Portugal. They separated in November 1993. In December 1993, Rowling and her daughter moved to be near Rowling’s sister in Edinburgh, Scotland.
In order to teach in Scotland she would need a postgraduate certificate of education (PGCE), requiring a full-time, year-long course of study. She began this course in August 1995, after completing her first novel while having survived on social security. She wrote in many cafés, especially Nicolson’s Café, wherever she could get Jessica to fall asleep. In a 2001 BBC interview, Rowling denied the rumour that she wrote in local cafés to escape from her unheated flat, remarking, “I am not stupid enough to rent an unheated flat in Edinburgh in midwinter. It had heating.” Instead, as she stated on the American TV programme A&E Biography, one of the reasons she wrote in cafés was because taking her baby out for a walk was the best way to make her fall asleep.
In 1995, Rowling finished her manuscript for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on an old manual typewriter. Upon the enthusiastic response of Bryony Evens, a reader who had been asked to review the book’s first three chapters, the Fulham-based Christopher Little Literary Agents agreed to represent Rowling in her quest for a publisher. The book was submitted to twelve publishing houses, all of which rejected the manuscript. A year later she was finally given the green light (and a £1500 advance) by editor Barry Cunningham from Bloomsbury, a small publishing house in London. The decision to publish Rowling’s book apparently owes much to Alice Newton, the eight-year-old daughter of Bloomsbury’s chairman, who was given the first chapter to review by her father and immediately demanded the next. Although Bloomsbury agreed to publish the book, Cunningham says that he advised Rowling to get a day job, since she had little chance of making money in children’s books. Soon after, in 1997, Rowling received an £8000 grant from the Scottish Arts Council to enable her to continue writing. In early 1998, an auction was held in the United States for the rights to publish the novel, and was won by Scholastic Inc., for $105,000. In Rowling’s own words, she “nearly died” when she heard the news.
In June 1997, Bloomsbury published Philosopher’s Stone with an initial print run of 1,000 copies, 500 of which were distributed to libraries. Today, such copies are valued between £16,000 and £25,000. Five months later, the book won its first award, a Nestlé Smarties Book Prize. In February, the novel won the prestigious British Book Award for Children’s Book of the Year, and later, the Children’s Book Award. In October 1998, Scholastic published Philosopher’s Stone in the US under the title of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: a change Rowling claims she now regrets and would have fought if she had been in a better position at the time. Its sequel, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, was published in July 1998 and again Rowling won the Smarties Prize.
In December 1999, the third novel, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, won the Smarties Prize, making Rowling the first person to win the award three times running. She later withdrew the fourth Harry Potter novel from contention to allow other books a fair chance. In January 2000, Prisoner of Azkaban won the inaugural Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year award, though it lost the Book of the Year prize to Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf.
The fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, was released simultaneously in the UK and the U.S. on 8 July 2000, and broke sales records in both countries. Some 372,775 copies of the book were sold in its first day in the UK, almost equalling the number Prisoner of Azkaban sold during its first year. In the US, the book sold three million copies in its first 48 hours, smashing all literary sales records. Rowling admitted that she had had a moment of crisis while writing the novel; “Halfway through writing Four, I realised there was a serious fault with the plot … I’ve had some of my blackest moments with this book … One chapter I rewrote 13 times, though no-one who has read it can spot which one or know the pain it caused me.” Rowling was named author of the year in the 2000 British Book Awards.
A wait of three years occurred between the release of Goblet of Fire and the fifth Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. This gap led to press speculation that Rowling had developed writer’s block, speculations she fervently denied. Rowling later admitted that writing the book was a chore. “I think Phoenix could have been shorter”, she told Lev Grossman, “I knew that, and I ran out of time and energy toward the end.”
The sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was released on 16 July 2005. It too broke all sales records, selling nine million copies in its first 24 hours of release. While writing, she told a fan online, “Book six has been planned for years, but before I started writing seriously I spend two months re-visiting the plan and making absolutely sure I knew what I was doing.” She noted on her website that the opening chapter of book six, which features a conversation between the Minister of Magic and the British Prime Minister, had been intended as the first chapter first for Philosopher’s Stone, then Chamber of Secrets then Prisoner of Azkaban. In 2006, Half-Blood Prince received the Book of the Year prize at the British Book Awards.
The title of the seventh and final Harry Potter book was revealed 21 December 2006 to be Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. In February 2007 it was reported that Rowling wrote on a bust in her hotel room at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh that she had finished the seventh book in that room on 11 January 2007. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released on 21 July 2007 (0:01 BST) and broke its predecessor’s record as the fastest-selling book of all time. It sold 11 million copies in the first day of release in the United Kingdom and United States. She wrote the last chapter of the book “in something like 1990″, as part of her earliest work on the entire series. During a year period when Rowling was completing the last book, she allowed herself to be filmed for a documentary which aired in Britain on ITV on 30 December 2007. It was entitled J K Rowling… A Year In The Life and showed her returning to her old Edinburgh tenement flat where she lived, and completed the first Harry Potter book. Re-visiting the flat for the first time reduced her to tears, saying it was “really where I turned my life around completely.”
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Rowling gave credit to her mother for the success of the series saying that “the books are what they are because she died…because I loved her and she died.” During this period Rowling was diagnosed with clinical depression, and contemplated suicide. It was the feeling of her illness which brought her the idea of Dementors, soul-sucking creatures introduced in the third book.
Harry Potter is now a global brand worth an estimated £7 billion ($15 billion), and the last four Harry Potter books have consecutively set records as the fastest-selling books in history. The series, totalling 4,195 pages, has been translated, in whole or in part, into 65 languages.
The Harry Potter books have also gained recognition for sparking an interest in reading among the young at a time when children were thought to be abandoning books for computers and television, although it is reported that despite the huge uptake of the books, adolescent reading has continued to decline.
In October 1998, Warner Bros. purchased the film rights to the first two novels for a seven-figure sum. A film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released on 16 November 2001, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on 15 November 2002. Both films were directed by Chris Columbus. 4 June 2004 saw the release of the film version of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, directed by Alfonso Cuarón. The fourth film, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, was directed by another new director, Mike Newell, and released on 18 November 2005.
The film of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was released on 11 July 2007. David Yates directed, and Michael Goldenberg wrote the screenplay, having taken over the position from Steve Kloves. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was released on 15 July 2009. David Yates directed again, and Kloves returned to write the script. In March 2008, Warner Bros. announced that the final instalment of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, would be filmed in two segments, with part one being released in November 2010 and part two being released in July 2011. Yates would again return to direct both films.
Warner Bros took considerable notice of Rowling’s desires and thoughts when drafting her contract. One of her principal stipulations was the films be shot in Britain with an all-British cast, which has been adhered to strictly. In an unprecedented move, Rowling also demanded that Coca-Cola, the victor in the race to tie in their products to the film series, donate $18 million to the American charity Reading is Fundamental, as well as a number of community charity programs.
The first four, sixth and seventh films were scripted by Steve Kloves; Rowling assisted him in the writing process, ensuring that his scripts did not contradict future books in the series. She has said that she told him more about the later books than anybody else (prior to their release), but not everything. She also told Alan Rickman (Severus Snape) and Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid) certain secrets about their characters before they were revealed in the books. Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) asked her if Harry died at any point in the series; Rowling answered him by saying, “You have a death scene”, thereby not explicitly answering the question. Director Steven Spielberg was approached to helm the first film, but dropped out. The press has repeatedly claimed that Rowling played a role in his departure, but Rowling stated that she has no say in who directs the films and would not have vetoed Spielberg if she had. Rowling’s first choice for the director had been Monty Python member Terry Gilliam, as she is a fan of his work, but Warner Bros. wanted a more family-friendly film and chose Columbus.
Rowling had gained some creative control on the films, reviewing all the scripts as well as acting as a producer on the final two-part instalment, Deathly Hallows.
On her website, Rowling revealed that she was considered to have a cameo in the first film as Lily Potter in the Mirror of Erised scene. Rowling, however, turned down the role, stating that she was not cut out to be an actor and, “would have messed it up somehow”. The role ultimately went to Geraldine Somerville.
Rowling, producers David Heyman and David Barron, along with directors David Yates, Mike Newell and Alfonso Cuarón collected the Michael Balcon Award for Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema at the 2011 British Academy Film Awards in honour of the Harry Potter film franchise.
Forbes has named Rowling as the first person to become a U.S.-dollar billionaire by writing books, the second-richest female entertainer and the 1,062nd richest person in the world. When first listed as a billionaire by Forbes in 2004, Rowling disputed the calculations and said she had plenty of money, but was not a billionaire. In addition, the 2008 Sunday Times Rich List named Rowling the 144th richest person in Britain. In 2001, Rowling purchased a 19th-century estate house, Killiechassie House, on the banks of the River Tay, near Aberfeldy, in Perth and Kinross, Scotland. Rowling also owns a home in Edinburgh, and a £4.5 million ($9 million) Georgian house in Kensington, West London, on a street with 24-hour security.
On 26 December 2001, Rowling married Neil Michael Murray (born 30 June 1971), an anaesthetist, in a private ceremony at her Aberfeldy home. This was a second marriage for both Rowling and Murray, as Murray had previously been married to Dr. Fiona Duncan in 1996. Murray and Duncan separated in 1999 and divorced in mid-2001. Rowling’s and Murray’s son, David Gordon Rowling Murray, was born on 24 March 2003. Shortly after Rowling began writing Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince she took a break from working on the novel to care for him in his early infancy. Rowling’s youngest child, daughter Mackenzie Jean Rowling Murray, to whom she dedicated Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was born on 23 January 2005.
In an interview with Stephen Fry in 2005, Rowling claimed that she would much prefer to write any subsequent books under a pseudonym; however, she conceded to Jeremy Paxman in 2003 that if she did, the press would probably “find out in seconds.” In 2006, Rowling revealed that she had finished writing a few short stories and another children’s book (a “political fairy story”) about a monster, aimed at a younger audience than Harry Potter readers.
As regards the possibility of an eighth Harry Potter book, she has said, “I can’t say I’ll never write another book about that world just because I think, what do I know, in ten years’ time I might want to return to it but I think it’s unlikely.” On 1 October 2010, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Rowling stated a new book on the saga might happen.
Rowling plans to write an encyclopaedia of Harry Potter’s wizarding world consisting of various unpublished material and notes. Any profits from such a book would be given to charity. During a news conference at Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre in 2007, Rowling, when asked how the encyclopaedia was coming along, said, “It’s not coming along, and I haven’t started writing it. I never said it was the next thing I’d do.” At the end of 2007, Rowling said that the encyclopaedia could take up to ten years to complete, stating “There is no point in doing it unless it is amazing. The last thing I want to do is to rush something out”. On 13 April 2012, following the release of her new website, Rowling confirmed that she had started work on the project and would donate all royalties to charity as she had previously planned.
In July 2007, Rowling said that she wants to dedicate “lots” of her time to her family, but is currently “sort of writing two things”, one for children and the other for adults. She did not give any details about the two projects but did state that she was excited because the two book situation reminded her of writing the Philosopher’s Stone, explaining how she was then writing two books until Harry took over. She stated in October 2007 that her future work was unlikely to be in the fantasy genre, explaining, “I think probably I’ve done my fantasy … it would be incredibly difficult to go out and create another world that didn’t in some way overlap with Harry’s or maybe borrow a little too much from Harry.” In November 2007, Rowling said that she was working on another book, a “half-finished book for children that I think will probably be the next thing I publish.” In March 2008, Rowling confirmed that her “political fairy tale” for children was nearing completion.
In March 2008, Rowling revealed in an interview that she had returned to writing in Edinburgh cafés, intent on composing a new novel for children. “I will continue writing for children because that’s what I enjoy”, she told The Daily Telegraph. “I am very good at finding a suitable café; I blend into the crowd and, of course, I don’t sit in the middle of the bar staring all around me.”
In June 2011, Rowling announced that future Harry Potter projects, and all electronic downloads, would be concentrated in a new website, called Pottermore. The site includes 18,000 words of additional information on characters, places and objects in the Harry Potter universe. The following month, she parted company with her agent, Christopher Little, moving to a new agency founded by one of his staff, Neil Blair.
On 23 February 2012, Rowling’s agency, The Blair Partnership announced on its website that Rowling was set to publish a new book targeted at adults. In a press release, Rowling noted the differences between her new project and the Potter series, saying “Although I’ve enjoyed writing it just as much, my next novel will be very different from the Harry Potter series.” On 12 April 2012, Little, Brown and Company announced that the book was entitled The Casual Vacancy and would be released on 27 September 2012.
Rowling, her publishers, and Time Warner, the owner of the rights to the Harry Potter films, have taken numerous legal actions to protect their copyright. The worldwide popularity of the Harry Potter series has led to the appearance of a number of locally produced, unauthorised sequels and other derivative works, sparking efforts to ban or contain them.
Another area of legal dispute involves a series of injunctions obtained by Rowling and her publishers to prohibit anyone from reading her books before their official release date. The injunction drew fire from civil liberties and free speech campaigners and sparked debates over the “right to read”.
Rowling has had a difficult relationship with the press. She admits to being “thin-skinned” and dislikes the fickle nature of reporting. “They went in one day from saying, ‘She’s got writer’s block’ to saying, ‘She’s been self-indulgent’”, she told The Times in 2003, “And I thought, well, what a difference 24 hours makes.” Rowling disputes her reputation as a recluse who hates to be interviewed. In 2001, the Press Complaints Commission upheld a complaint by Rowling over a series of unauthorised photographs of her with her daughter on the beach in Mauritius published in OK! Magazine. In 2007, Rowling’s young son, David, assisted by Rowling and her husband, lost a court fight to ban publication of a photograph of him. The photo, taken by a photographer using a long-range lens, was subsequently published in a Sunday Express article featuring Rowling’s family life and motherhood. The judgment was overturned in David’s favour in May 2008.
Rowling has said she particularly dislikes the British tabloid the Daily Mail, which made references to a stalker Rowling insists does not exist, and conducted interviews with her estranged ex-husband. As one journalist noted, “Harry’s Uncle Vernon is a grotesque philistine of violent tendencies and remarkably little brain. It is not difficult to guess which newspaper Rowling gives him to read.”
In September 2011, Rowling was named a “core participant” in the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press, as one of dozens of celebrities who may have been the victim of phone hacking. On 24 November 2011, Rowling gave evidence before the inquiry; although she was not suspected to have been the victim of phone hacking (she “hardly used her phone in the 90s”, she said), her testimony included accounts of photographers camping on her doorstep, her fiance being duped into giving his home address to a journalist masquerading as a tax official, a journalist leaving a note inside her then-five-year-old daughter’s schoolbag, and an attempt by the Sun to “blackmail” her into a photo opportunity in exchange for the return of a stolen manuscript. Rowling claimed she had to leave her former home in Merchiston, Edinburgh because of press intrusion.