The Story of J.K. Rowling's Way of Life
Creator of the most famous and best-loved character in contemporary fiction, J.K Rowling is also the author of her escape from a depressing existence on the verge of destitution. On the one hand, there is J.K Rowling who wrote the ‘Harry Potter’ novels, ‘The Casual Vacancy’ and ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’; the literary phenomenon of the nineties and present day. On the other, there is Joanne Rowling (the ‘J.K’ was her agent’s marketing notch), a dreamy, rather shy, but passionate woman whose brilliance in translating her dreams into writing. In January 1994, she was broke and jobless. Just six years later, with her first book transformed into a major Hollywood film, she was reportedly worth $86 million (Smith 2001).
Joanne is well known as the author of the bestselling Harry Potter series of seven books, published between 1997 and 2007, which have sold over 450 million copies worldwide, are distributed in more than 200 territories, translated into 73 languages, and have been turned into eight blockbuster films. She has also written two small volumes, which appear as the titles of Harry’s school books within the novels. ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ and ‘Quidditch Through the Ages’ were published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books in March 2001 in aid of Comic Relief. In December 2008, ‘The Tales of Beedle the Bard’ was published in aid of the Children’s High-Level Group and quickly became the fastest-selling book of the year (Little, Brown 2014). Rowling has also written books for adult readership, releasing the tragic comedy ‘The Casual Vacancy’ in 2012 and using the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, the crime fiction novel, ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ in 2013. Both have become bestsellers since.
Joanne Rowling was born to Peter Rowling, a Rolls-Royce engineer and Anne Rowling (maiden name Volant), on the 31st of July 1965 in Yate, Gloucestershire, England. She has a younger sister, Dianne who was born when Rowling was 23 months old. Anne Rowling brought her love of books into the lives of her family and it was in Joanne’s home in Nicholls Lane that the first glimmers of her unbridled imagination took shape. When Joanne was nine, Anne gave her a book which she has since candidly admitted: “Perhaps more than any other book, it has a direct influence on the Harry Potter books”. It was ‘The Little White Horse’ by Elizabeth Goudge. The Potteresquely named heroine, Maria Merryweather is an orphan and, also like Harry, is thrust into an unfamiliar world. At the age of six, Joanne wrote her first story. It was called ‘Rabbit’. The rabbit was stuck at home suffering from the measles and was cheered up by friends who dropped in, including a giant bumblebee, called Miss Bee. The first person to hear Joanne’s stories was always her sister and it has remained this way up until the present. Dianne’s enthusiasm for this creativity has been one of the great encouragements in the life of Joanne Rowling. Her mother, too, loved to hear her daughter’s stories. This family support gave Joanne the confidence and encouragement to continue to make up stories and share them with others (Smith 2001).
Joanne is her main role model for the main female figure in the ‘Harry Potter’ stories, Hermione Granger: “Hermione was very easy for me to create because she is based almost entirely on myself at the age of eleven. She really is a caricature of me. I always felt I had to achieve, my hand always had to be the first to go up, I always had to be right”. Joanne was voted Head Girl in Wyedean Comprehensive, a title similar to Hermione’s prefect one in Hogwarts. Joanne impressed her teachers at Wyedean with her imaginative work. One teacher, Mr. Neuschwander, recalls that, although Joanne participated in class discussions, she preferred to express herself in writing: “She seemed confident in her abilities, yet perhaps a little shy at times”. Most of Joanne’s schoolmates remember her as ‘quiet and shy’, yet she would enter her close friends with her stories in which they featured as the heroines (Smith 2001). Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they’re often quiet. They work long hours with great concentration while projecting an aura of freshness and enthusiasm. This suggests a superior physical endowment, a genetic advantage (Psychology Today 2011). As a teen, she continued to read, consuming an electric mix of James Bond and Jane Austen, who would remain her favorite author. When she was fourteen, her great aunt gave her ‘Hons and Rebels’, the autobiography by socialist and feminist, Jessica Mitford. Mitford became the lifelong heroine of the impressionable teenager and influenced her path to fulfillment: “I found her inspiring because she was a brave and idealistic person- the qualities I most admire” (Smith 2001).
Joanne studied English, French and German for her A-Levels and received two A grades (English and French) and one B grade (German). Creative people tend to be quite smart. It is probably true that what psychologists call the ‘g factor’, meaning a core of general intelligence is high among people who make important creative contributions (Psychology Today 2011). However, she was rejected from Oxford, so she decided to study at the University of Exeter. Joanne ended up studying French; a decision influenced by her parents, who thought it might lead more easily to a job than a nebulous English degree. Joanne told the Daily Mail: “I wanted to do English, but I felt everyone would say ‘what’s the point in that?’ Although I longed to be a writer, I never thought it was possible so I only told close friends”. One of the books Joanne read during her university days was ‘The Lord of the Rings’ by J.R.R. Tolkien. Aficionados love to draw comparisons to the ‘Harry Potter’ books and the Tolkien epic. Both have a broadly similar strategy- exploring the eternal conflict between good and evil. In both tales, an orphan with the help of a father-like mentor figure must overthrow a dark lord. The book clearly had a substantial influence on her, as did other books from her childhood (Smith 2001).
After leaving Exeter, Joanne worked briefly as a secretary for Amnesty International. Soon after, she moved to Manchester with a boyfriend, had a mediocre ability at a succession of office jobs and she attempted to write an adult novel that proved very bad. Living in Manchester was not the happiest decision she ever made, but it led to a momentous flash of inspiration that changed her life. 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” (Smith 2001). Creative people tend to alternate between imagination and fantasy and a rooted sense of reality (Psychology Today 2011).
However, Harry Potter was not the most significant event of the year. Anne Rowling died on the 30th of December 1990 at the age of forty-five. She had lost her battle with multiple sclerosis. Her mother’s death had a bad effect on Joanne. It affected the direction of her own life and the direction of Harry Potter. To a certain extent, Joanne felt that she had been orphaned after her mother died. Her feeling lent a more serious, moral side to Harry as a character. Joanne has said that when she re-read the first book, she discovered that there was a lot of her mother in that (Smith 2001).
Joanne taught English for a year in Porto, Portugal after seeing a small advertisement in the Guardian newspaper. It was here that she met her ex-husband, television journalist, Jorge Arantes. They had a volatile relationship and it was not to improve the fact that they married on the 16th of October 1992, and had a kid together, Jessica Arantes. They separated on the 7th of November 1993;13 months and one day after their marriage. Biographers have suggested that Rowling suffered domestic abuse during her marriage, although the full extent is unknown. In December 1993, Rowling and Jessica moved to Edinburgh with three chapters of Harry Potter in her suitcase. Seven years after graduating from college, Joanne saw herself as “the biggest failure I knew”. She was a newly divorced mother of a young baby, caught in a benefits trap, stuck in poor housing and unable to improve her situation without endangering the essential payments to live. Joanne on her flat: “The best you could say about the place was that it had a roof. If I concentrated hard enough, maybe I’d be able to block out the sounds of the mice behind the skirting boards”. It was during this time that Joanne found herself slipping deeper and deeper into a depression- a deep black hole of despair. The Dementors which appear for the first time in ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ are the prison guards of Azkaban and a metaphor for depression itself. In the summer of 1995, Joanne was able to come off her £70 pound a week benefits for good. A friend gave her financial assistance with her childcare, so that she could train as a French teacher, after receiving a grant from the Scottish Office of Education and Industry. Eventually, she graduated as a teacher in July 1996 (Smith 2001).
In 1995, Joanne finished her manuscript for ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ and sent it off to various agents. She eventually found an agent, Christopher Little from the Fulham based Christopher Little, Literary Agency, who spent over a year trying to find a publisher. It was rejected by twelve major publishing houses, but eventually, Bloomsbury agreed to take the book on. The editor, Barry Cunningham also agreed to pay her an advance of $1,900. The decision to take on the book was, in large part, due to his eight year old daughter’s enthusiastic reception of the first chapter. After the book’s initial success in the UK, Scholastic Inc., agreed to pay a remarkable $132,000 for the rights to publish in America (Biography Online 2013). In Joanne’s words, she “nearly died” when she heard the news. The remarkable thing is that so many publishers turned down the first book in manuscript, and yet as soon as it was published, there was a danger of being trampled to death in the stampede to secure a piece of the action. Queues for the books in bookshops were the sort one might expect for a Beatles concert. There has never been a publishing event like the Harry Potter ones. Towards the end of 1999, the Harry Potter film deal was completed. Christopher Little had brokered a million dollar deal with producer David Heyman and Warner Bros., and Joanne was happy (Smith 2001). Joanne’s creative talent has been recognized by millions; the Harry Potter series has one over thirty awards such as the Nestle Smarties Book Prize and Book Awards, Children’s Book of the Year, among other great titles. Joanne has also received an OBE for services to children’s literature, the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord, France’s Legion d’Honneur and the Hans Christian Anderson award. She has also been a speaker at Harvard University, USA (J.K Rowling.com 2014).
Today, Joanne is still recognized as creative because she continues to write books, this time for an adult readership. The tragic comedy ‘The Casual Vacancy’ was released in 2012 and sold 125,000 copies in its opening week. Shortly after its release, the BBC announced that the book will be made into a mini series. Under the pseudonym ‘Robert Galbraith’, Joanne wrote the crime fiction novel, ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’. It was released in 2013 and when it was revealed that the book was written by her, the book became a number one bestseller on Amazon.com. The book has received critical acclaim, and ‘The Silkworm’, the second part of the series, will be released this June. Even though it has been four years since the last Harry Potter book has been released and three years since the last movie, millions are still in love with the wizarding world that Joanne single handedly created. In September 2013, Warner Bros., announced an “expanded creative partnership with Rowling”, based on a film series about Newt Scamander, the author of ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’. The first film will be scripted by Joanne and the series will consist of three films.
Joanne Rowling is now one of the most famous authors in the whole world, who in a remarkably short amount of time, has changed her life around. It is no surprise then that the Harry Potter series will always remain a children’s literary classic among the works of other famous children’s authors such as Roald Dahl and C.S. Lewis. Joanne’s rags to riches story has become a famous one; she was the first female billionaire novelist in history. However, she lost that title after donating a huge portion of her fortunes to various charities, such as the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Great Britain, One Parent Families and Lumos. Joanne is now happily married to Neil Michael Murray, an anesthesiologist and they have two children together, David Rowling Murray who’s eleven and Mackenzie Rowling Murray who’s nine. They live together in Scotland with Joanne’s other daughter, Jessica. However, perhaps the bad times- her poverty, her depression, her difficult marriage and her mother’s illness and death, gave her talent an edge; an edge that will never be forgotten.