Monday, April 8, 2013

Author Bio: J K Rowling

This week we get to talk about J K Rowling, because we're going to review The Casual Vacancy on Friday!

The J stands for Joanne, and the K is made up, because she doesn't have a middle name. She published as J K Rowling because her publishers didn't think kids would want to read a book by a woman. (And this was the NINETIES.  Clearly, we've come far. /sarcasm  I don't understand that mentality.  There are TONS of books, with women's names on them, that sell incredibly well.)

All the best writers always look like they're keeping a secret from you

She was born in July 1965, and grew up in Chepstow, England. She wrote fantasy stories as a child (which obviously paid off later in life). Her home life was difficult as an adolescent, and she loosely based Hermione on herself (in the sense of her bookishness and know-it-all-ness).

She received her degree in French and Classics from Exeter University. She taught English as a second language in Portugal for a time. That's where she met Jorge Arantes in a bar (they bonded over a mutual fondness for Jane Austen) and they married in 1992. Their daughter was born in July 1993. Rowling divorced her husband that November (he was abusive). She and her daughter moved to Scotland to live with her sister.

She felt like a huge failure at the time, but she found this to be liberating. All she had left were the things that really mattered: her daughter, a typewriter, and a Big Idea (the idea for Harry Potter had sprung into her mind, fully developed, on a plane ride). She says "rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life." That is, of course, through the rosy lens of hindsight. At the time, she was diagnosed with depression (which inspired the dementors) and - as everyone remembers from the early days of the Harry Potter craze - she was on welfare.

She remarried on December 26, 2001. She now has three daughters.

She finished writing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's (or Philosopher's) Stone in 1995 on a manual typewriter. It appealed to the young daughter of a publishing house chairman (she immediately demanded the second chapter after reading the first). Although she had been encouraged to take another job - because who makes money in children's books? - she was given a grant from the Scottish Arts Council to allow her to continue writing.

The rest is history. The first book was an enormous hit, and she produced the others at regular intervals, finishing with Deathly Hallows, and providing the supplementary Tales of Beedle the Bard in 2008. The books have all been adapted to film (extremely successful film, at that, smashing box office records to bits). In June 2011, the Pottermore website was launched (and is currently at 18,000 words of extra content to supplement the books and films). Rowling is so beloved, her work was included in the London Olympics opening ceremony, with a giant, inflated Voldemort (alongside other English literary characters). Rowling herself participated in the ceremony by reading some lines from Peter Pan.

After the raging success of Harry Potter, she was naturally asked about further publications. She doesn't plan on any more Harry Potter books, but she does intend to publish an encyclopedia of the Harry Potter world. Instead, she published a (very long) novel for adults: The Casual Vacancy.

Rowling was the first person identified by Forbes as having become a US-dollar billionaire from writing books. She is the second richest female entertainer in the world (following Oprah Winfrey, and let's face it, no one is ever going to make more money than that woman). Forbes removed her from their lists due to the high tax rates in England and her large charitable donations.

Rowling is well-known for her extreme generosity as a great philanthropist. She set up a trust called Volant. One of the projects it feeds is anti-poverty/children's welfare (because of her time on welfare as a single mother while writing the first HP book). It also supports multiple sclerosis research, because that is what her mother suffered from before her death in 1990 (the inspiration from which Rowling attributes much of the success of Harry Potter).

Personally, I think Rowling is a great inspiration for writers everywhere.  She came from nothing and ended up with everything, and she did it without becoming a total jerk.  I think that she's a prime example of how writing can be successful, if you really stick with it (and maybe add a little bit of luck.)


  1. I am so excited about this review. I have actually recently read the book you will review. I am interested in what you have to say.

  2. You'll have to tell us what you thought of it on Friday! WE are interested in what YOU have to say, too! :)