“I was set free because my greatest fear had been realized and I still had a daughter that I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
Joanne “Jo” Rowling, born 31 July 1965, is a British novelist, screenwriter and film producer best known as the author of the Harry Potter fantasy series. The books have gained worldwide attention, won multiple awards, and sold more than 400 million copies. They have become the best-selling book series in history and been the basis for a series of films which is the second highest-grossing film series in history.
Rowling was born to Peter James Rowling, a Rolls-Royce aircraft engineer, and Anne Rowling (née Volant), a science technician, in Yate, Gloucestershire, England. Her parents first met on a train departing from King’s Cross Station bound for Arbroath in 1964. They married on the 14th of March, 1965.She attended St Michael’s Primary School, a school founded by abolitionist William Wilberforce and education reformer Hannah More.
As a child, Rowling often wrote fantasy stories which she frequently read to her sister. At the age of nine, Rowling moved to Church Cottage in the Gloucestershire village of Tutshill, close to Chepstow, Wales. She attended secondary school at Wyedean School and College, where her mother worked in the science department. When she was a young teenager, her great-aunt gave her a copy of Jessica Mitford’s autobiography, ‘Hons and Rebels’. Mitford became Rowling’s heroine, and Rowling read all of her books.
Rowling has said that her teenage years were unhappy. Her home life was complicated by her mother’s illness and a strained relationship with her father, with whom she is not on speaking terms. Rowling later said that she based the character of Hermione Granger on herself when she was eleven. Steve Eddy, who taught Rowling English when she first arrived, remembers her as “not exceptional” but “one of a group of girls who were bright, and quite good at English”. Sean Harris, her best friend in the Upper Sixth, owned a turquoise Ford Anglia which she says inspired a flying version that appeared in ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’. At this time, she listened to the Smiths and the Clash. Rowling took A-levels in English, French and German, achieving two A’s and a B and was made Head Girl.
In 1982, Rowling took the entrance exams for Oxford University but was not accepted and read for a B.A. in French and Classics at the University of Exeter. Martin Sorrell, a French professor at Exeter, remembers “a quietly competent student, with a denim jacket and dark hair, who, in academic terms, gave the appearance of doing what was necessary”. Rowling recalls doing little work, preferring to listen to The Smiths and read Dickens and Tolkien. After a year of study in Paris, Rowling graduated from Exeter in 1986 and moved to London to work as a researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty International. In 1988, Rowling wrote a short essay about her time studying classics, entitled “What was the Name of that Nymph Again? or Greek and Roman Studies Recalled”. It was published by the University of Exeter’s journal Pegasus and her journey as an author began.
The origin of Harry Potter
After working at Amnesty International in London, Rowling and her then boyfriend decided to move to Manchester, where she worked at the Chamber of Commerce. 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. When she had reached her Clapham Junction flat, she began to write immediately. The seven-year period that followed saw the death of her mother, birth of her first child, divorce from her first husband and relative poverty until she finished the first novel in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, in 1997. Rowling’s mother Anne died after ten years suffering from multiple sclerosis. Rowling was writing Harry Potter at the time and had never told her mother about it. Her death heavily affected Rowling’s writing and she introduced much more detail about Harry’s loss in the first book, because she knew how it felt. There were six sequels, the last, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in 2007.
By the summer of 2000, the first three Harry Potter books, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban earned approximately $480 million in three years, with over 35 million copies in print in 35 languages. In July 2000, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire saw a first printing of 5.3 million copies and advance orders of over 1.8 million. After a postponed release date, the fifth installment, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, hit bookstores in June 2003. The sixth installment, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, sold 6.9 million copies in the United States in its first 24 hours, the biggest opening in publishing history. Prior to its July 2007 release, the seventh and final installment in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was the largest ever pre-ordered book at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores, and at Amazon.com.
On December 26, 2001, J.K. Rowling married anesthetist Dr. Neil Murray at the couple’s home in Scotland. They have two children together, David (born in 2003) and Mackenzie (born in 2005). Rowling has one child, Jessica (born 1993), from her previous marriage.
Since then, Rowling has written four books for adult readers, The Casual Vacancy (2012) and—under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith—the crime fiction novels The Cuckoo’s Calling (2013), The Silkworm (2014) and Career of Evil (2015).
In June 2016, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a two-part play written by by Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany and based on Rowling’s story, debuted on the London stage to a sold-out audience. Although she had originally stated Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows would be the final book in the series, the play features an adult Harry Potter and has been officially touted as the eight installment of the series. The play’s cast differs from that of the original films.
What most people don’t know about Rowling is that about a dozen publishing houses turned the initial Harry Potter book down, including Penguin, TransWorld and Harper Collins. She persisted and eventually, The Christopher Little Literary Agency represented her and finally sold the book to Bloomsbury Publishing House in the UK and later to Scholastic, Inc. in the U.S.
Rowling has lived a “rags to riches” life story, in which she progressed from living on state benefits to multi-millionaire status within five years. She is the United Kingdom’s best-selling living author, with sales in excess of £238m. The 2008 Sunday Times Rich List estimated Rowling’s fortune at £560 million, ranking her as the twelfth richest woman in the United Kingdom. Forbes ranked Rowling as the 48th 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, Rowling was named the “Most Influential Woman in Britain” by leading magazine editors. She has supported charities including Comic Relief, One Parent Families, Multiple Sclerosis Society of Great Britain and Lumos (formerly the Children’s High Level Group).
Richer than the Queen
Rowling, now Britain’s 13th wealthiest woman—wealthier than even the Queen—does not plan to write any more books in the series, but has not entirely ruled out the possibility.
Why we chose Rowling
JK Rowling is our feature for this week’s episode of Stories that Touch because of her persistence and unwavering faith in herself. She used every situation as a stepping stone. She was never discouraged or fazed by scathing setbacks, instead she got inspired and made books and movies out of them.
Don’t get stuck where you are right now, that terrifying situation might be just the terrific inspiration you need. Use It!
Watch out for another inspiring story same time, next week!