Joanne "Jo" Rowling OBE (born 31 July 1965), who writes under the pen name J. K. Rowling, is a British author, best known as the creator of the Harry Potter fantasy series, the idea for which was conceived whilst on a train trip from Manchester to London in 1990. The Potter books have gained worldwide attention, won multiple awards, and sold more than 400 million copies.
Aside from writing the Potter novels, Rowling is equally famous for her "rags to riches" life story, in which she progressed from living on welfare to multi-millionaire status within five years. The 2008 Sunday Times Rich List estimated Rowling's fortune at £560 million ($1.1 billion), ranking her as the twelfth richest woman in Britain. 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 fandom. She has become a notable philanthropist, supporting such charities as Comic Relief, One Parent Families and the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Great Britain.
As a child, Rowling enjoyed writing fantasy stories, which she often read to her sister. "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," she recalls, "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 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. Rowling has 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 read 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. With a year of study in Paris, Rowling moved to London to work as a researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty International.
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. "I really don't know where the idea came from", she told the Boston Globe, "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.
However, in December of that year, Rowling’s mother died, after her ten-year battle with 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, Portugal to teach English as a foreign language. While there, on 16 October 1992, she married Portuguese television journalist Jorge Arantes. Their one child, Jessica Isabel Rowling Arantes (named after Jessica Mitford), was born on 27 July 1993 in Portugal. They separated in November 1993. In December 1994, Rowling and her daughter moved to be near her sister in Edinburgh, Scotland. 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, soulless creatures featured in Harry Potter.
Unemployed and living on state benefits, Rowling completed her first novel in many cafés, especially Nicolson's Café, whenever 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 program 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 June 1997, Bloomsbury published Philosopher’s Stone with an initial print-run of 1000 copies, five hundred 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. Its sequel, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, was published in July, 1998. 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.
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 US 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 (0:00 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 has said that the last chapter of the book was written "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."
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 the series' overall impact on children's reading habits has been questioned.
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 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 has also said that she 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. Steven Spielberg was approached to direct 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. Warner Bros. wanted a more family friendly film, and eventually they settled on Chris Columbus.
She is not planning to write an eighth Harry Potter book, and has stated, "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. However, Rowling has said she will be writing 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. As of the end of 2007, Rowling has 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".
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 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.
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 the summer of 2001. Rowling 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 23 January 2005.
Rowling is a member of the Church of Scotland. She once said, "I believe in God, not magic. Early on she felt that if readers knew of her Christian beliefs, they would be able to "guess what is coming in the books. Rowling has stated that she struggles with her own beliefs. In an interview with the Today Show in July 2007, she said, "...until we reached Book Seven, views of what happens after death and so on...would give away a lot of what was coming. So ... yes, my belief and my struggling with religious belief and so on I think is quite apparent in this book.
Rowling commented on her political views when she discussed the 2008 United States presidential election with the Spanish-language newspaper El País. She said she is obsessed with the United States elections because they will have a profound effect on the rest of the world. As of February 2008, she has said that both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would be "extraordinary" in the White House. In the same interview, she also said her hero was Robert F. Kennedy.
Rowling has received honorary degrees from St Andrews University, the University of Edinburgh, Napier University, and the University of Aberdeen. On 5 June 2008, Rowling spoke at the Harvard University commencement ceremony where she received another honorary degree.
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 Goblet of Fire]."
Some have speculated that Rowling's fraught relationship with the press was the inspiration behind the character Rita Skeeter. However, Rowling noted in 2000 that the character actually predates her rise to fame: "People have asked me whether Rita Skeeter was invented [to reflect Harry Potter's popularity], but in fact she was always planned. "I tried to put Rita in Philosopher's Stone - you know when Harry walks into the Leaky Cauldron for the first time and everyone says, "Mr Potter you're back!", I wanted to put a journalist in there. She wasn't called Rita then but she was a woman. And then I thought, as I looked at the plot overall, I thought, that's not really where she fits best, she fits best in Four when Harry's supposed to come to terms with his fame.
In 2001, the UK anti-poverty fundraiser Comic Relief asked three bestselling British authors – cookery writer and TV presenter Delia Smith, Bridget Jones creator Helen Fielding, and Rowling – to submit booklets related to their most famous works for publication. Rowling's two booklets, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages, are ostensibly facsimiles of books found in the Hogwarts library. Since going on sale in March 2001, the books have raised £15.7 million ($30 million) for the fund. The £10.8 million ($20 million) they have raised outside the UK have been channeled into a newly created International Fund for Children and Young People in Crisis.
In 2005, Rowling and MEP Emma Nicholson founded the Children's High Level Group. In January 2006, Rowling went to Bucharest to highlight the use of caged beds in children's mental institutions. To further support the CHLG, Rowling auctioned one of seven handwritten and illustrated copies of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a series of fairy tales referred to in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The book was purchased for £1.95 million by on-line bookseller Amazon.com on 13 December 2007, becoming the most expensive modern book ever sold at auction. Rowling commented "This will mean so much to children in desperate need of help. It means Christmas has come early to me." Rowling will give away the remaining six copies to those who have a close connection with the Harry Potter books. In 2008, Rowling agreed to publish the book with the proceeds going to the Children's High Level Group.
Rowling has contributed money and support for research and treatment of multiple sclerosis, from which her mother died in 1990. In 2006, Rowling contributed a substantial sum toward the creation of a new Centre for Regenerative Medicine at Edinburgh University. On 1 August and 2 August 2006 she read alongside Stephen King and John Irving at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Profits from the event were donated to the Haven Foundation, a charity that aids artists and performers left uninsurable and unable to work, and the medical NGO Médecins Sans Frontières. In May 2007, Rowling gave $495,000 to a reward fund of over $4.5 million for the safe return of a young British girl, Madeleine McCann, who disappeared in Portugal. Rowling, along with Nelson Mandela, Al Gore, and Alan Greenspan, wrote an introduction to a collection of Gordon Brown's speeches, the proceeds of which are donated to the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory.
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. These injunctions have very sweeping powers and have occasionally drawn fire from civil liberties and free speech campaigners and sparked debates over the "right to read". The powers afforded by these injunctions have even been used in subsequent cases unrelated to publishing.