The Magical Success of JK Rowling

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JK Rowling has sold more than 500 million books around the world in more than 80 languages and her characters continue to enchant generations of children.  And it all started with some jottings she put down on paper in 1990.

Joanne Rowling was born on 31st July 1965 in Yate General Hospital, near Bristol, UK.  She spent her childhood in Gloucestershire and Chepstow, South Wales.  She was a complete bookworm and knew she wanted to be a writer from an early age.

Her first foray into writing was a book called Rabbit, which she wrote at the tender age of six.  At the age of eleven, Rowling wrote her first novel – about seven cursed diamonds and the people who owned them.

The author read Classics at Exeter University – something she would later draw on to write the Latin-influenced spells in her Harry Potter books.  After graduating, she worked in a number of different jobs in London and it was on a train between London to Manchester in 1990 that she first had the idea for her most famous character.

She sketched out her ideas on paper over the next five years, gradually building up a mass of ideas, many of which were captured on tiny scraps of paper.  Rowling took these notes with her when she moved to Porto in Northern Portugal in 1992 to teach English as a foreign language.

It was there the author met her first husband, with whom she had her daughter Jessica.  Rowling has since written movingly about her decision to return to the UK with her daughter, ending that marriage.

In 1993, Rowling arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland, to begin training as a teacher.  With her, she brought the first three chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Harry Potter’s success on paper

Rowling planned her work meticulously in her paper notebooks, creating a grid system to layout the carefully constructed plot that would take Harry through his secondary education and free the wizarding world from the tyranny of his nemesis Voldemort.

After completing the full manuscript of the first Harry Potter book, she sent the first three chapters to literary agents and when one wrote back to request the rest of the manuscript, Rowling says it was the best letter she had ever received.

Talking about this time, Rowling has said, “The truth is that I found success by stumbling off alone in a direction most people thought was a dead-end, breaking all the 1990s shibboleths about children’s books in the process.”

The first Harry Potter book was published in June 1997, with a six further Harry Potter titles following.  The first film adaptation was released in 2001 with the culmination of the series being the release of the final film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, in 2011. 

During this time, Rowling married her second husband, Dr. Neil Murray with whom she has a son, David, and a daughter, Mackenzie.

Other stories and writings

Rowling has released several Harry Potter companion books in aid of charities, including the Tales of Beadle the Bard and Quidditch through the Ages and has written two stage plays: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and The Crimes of Grindelwald.

She has also written a series of detective novels under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.  Her authorship was exposed by a computer program in 2013, following an insider tip.

For young writers keen to emulate her success, Rowling recommends independence, courage, resilience and humility, discipline, and reading, saying: “You can’t be a good writer without being a devoted reader.  Reading is the best way of analyzing what makes a good book.  Notice what works and what doesn’t, what you enjoyed, and why.  At first, you’ll probably imitate your favorite writers, but that’s a good way to learn.  After a while, you’ll find your own distinctive voice.”