O passado português de J.K. Rowling
FRÁGIL, ansiosa e afável - é como os colegas portugueses se recordam de Joanne Kathleen Rowling, a escritora que em menos de três anos passou da miséria e do completo anonimato para as luzes da ribalta, com uma fortuna calculada em mais de quarenta milhões de contos.
Um sucesso que apanhou todos de surpresa, desde o mercado livreiro até àqueles que a conheceram na intimidade enquanto viveu em Portugal, entre 1992 e 1994. «Ninguém sabia que ela escrevia. Andava sempre com um bloco de notas, mas toda a gente pensava que era para desenhar. Os testes dela eram espectaculares por causa dos desenhos, do tipo fantástico, que fazia» , afirma Maria Inês Aguiar, subdirectora do instituto de línguas, «Encounter English», no Porto, onde a autora de Harry Potter deu aulas de inglês.
J. K. Rowling com o ex-marido português,
Desalinhada, mas airosa, Joanne Rowling andava sempre apressada. Depois do almoço na Confeitaria Labareda, uma meia de leite e um sanduíche, Joanne corria para o instituto. A seguir às aulas passava horas na sala dos computadores. Talvez já animada pela ideia de vassouras mágicas, fantasmas resmungões e gomas em forma de sapo, os dedos de Joanne Rowling voavam no teclado do computador da escola. «Escrevia tão depressa e com tanta energia que parecia que as mãos iam começar a deitar fumo», recorda um dos colegas.
Embora não desse a conhecer a sua veia literária a quase ninguém, mais do que um desejo, a escrita é há muito a essência do equilíbrio de J. K. Rowling, hoje com 34 anos. «Não me sinto bem quando não escrevo. Uma semana é o máximo que consigo estar sem escrever. Depois disso fico muito agitada. É mesmo uma compulsão» , confessou numa entrevista à revista «Newsweek», de Julho deste ano.
Um casal apaixonado
Já parecem longe os tempos em que as únicas entrevistas que Joanne Rowling dava eram para procurar emprego, mas o director do «Encounter English», Steve Cassady, ainda se lembra do primeiro dia em que falou com aquela jovem sardenta, de tez branca e cabelo ruivo: «Ela respondeu a um anúncio que eu tinha posto no jornal 'The Guardian' e combinámos uma entrevista. Era uma pessoa insegura, mas inteligente. Falava bem e tinha um bom currículo académico, embora nunca tivesse dado aulas. Geralmente não aceitamos pessoas sem experiência. Na verdade já nem sei porque é que a escolhi. Aconteceu» .
Deste golpe do destino resultaram os anos mais atribulados da vida da terceira escritora mais bem paga do Reino Unido. Poucos meses depois da sua chegada ao Porto, Joanne Rowling casa-se com Jorge Arantes, um intelectual dois anos mais novo, que também levava as letras nos sonhos. «Ela casou completamente apaixonada» , recorda Maria Inês Aguiar.
Ao casamento, numa conservatória do registo civil do Porto, assistiram apenas os mais íntimos - a mãe do noivo, duas amigas, também professoras no «Encounter English», e a irmã de Joanne Rowling, a qual veio expressamente do Reino Unido.
A ex-sogra Marília Rodrigues
A cerimónia discreta em nada fazia supor o final infeliz, pouco digno de contos de fada, que esperava o casal. «Eles amavam-se, mas eram muito ciumentos um do outro» , conta a ex-sogra da escritora, Marília Airoso Rodrigues, encostada à soleira da porta da casa humilde onde Joanne Rowling viveu vários meses.
Consumida pelo ciúme e pelas discussões, já grávida, a autora de Harry Potter perde 11 quilos. A seguir ao nascimento da filha, Jessica Rowling Arantes, em Julho de 1994, o fogo da paixão extingue-se por completo. Uma violenta discussão dá-lhe o último sopro. «Fui acordada de madrugada. A Joanne tinha saído de casa e as amigas queriam que eu a ajudasse a recuperar a filha, que tinha ficado com o marido. Como também sou mãe foi o que fiz. Fui lá a casa com um grupo de pessoas do instituto e devolvemos a filha a Joanne», recorda Maria Inês Aguiar.
A subdirectora do instituto portuense garante que não está arrependida do que fez, embora não esconda alguma desilusão em relação à atitude da escritora: «Acho óptimo que ela tenha chegado onde chegou. Mas não me parece correcto que não fale do tempo que passou em Portugal e que se recuse a dar entrevistas a jornalistas portugueses. Quer ela queira quer não, foi daqui que levou o início de Harry Potter e uma filha que é metade portuguesa» .
Apesar de nunca mais ter dado notícias, Rowling deixou saudades. «A Joanne viveu aqui comigo e eu fiquei muito triste quando ela se foi embora. Estou feliz com o sucesso dela porque sei que assim não vai faltar nada à filha. Só tenho pena que ela se esqueça que a Jessica tem uma avó» , diz, com os olhos marejados, aquela que foi sogra da escritora mais famosa do momento.
No Porto corre já o rumor de que o ex-marido da autora britânica prepara um livro sobre os anos que passou com ela em Portugal. Contactado pelo EXPRESSO, Jorge Arantes não negou essa possibilidade, mas recusou-se a fazer qualquer comentário.
J.K. Rowling deixou Portugal profundamente deprimida. Em Edimburgo, onde se instalou, esperavam-na tempos difíceis. Sem dinheiro para o aquecimento da casa, escrevia nos cafés, enquanto a filha, de meses, dormia. Mas, como a própria escritora conta num «site» da Internet , quando deixou Portugal «metade da mala estava cheia de folhas escritas com as histórias de Harry Potter» .
Maria Inês Aguiar, subdirectora do instituto de línguas onde a escritora leccionou
Expresso, de 11 de Julho de 2009
Valdemar Cruz, O tesouro da criadora de Harry Potter
Pode ler este artigo, aqui
2002- Foi publicado o livro
J. K. Rowling - Uma Biografia, de Sean Smith, Editorial Estampa, ISBN: 9723318083, 2002
Featured Author - New York Times
15-7-2005--Featured Author - New Page
Person: J.K. Rowling
Name: Joanne Kathleen Rowling
(pronounced like rolling)
name: J.K. Rowling
Jonathan Player for The New York Times
Nickname: Friends have always
called her Jo
Schoolmates sometimes taunted her with "Rolling Pin"
1965 in Chipping Sodbury, England (she thinks place was perfect for someone who
collects funny names)
Parents: Father Peter is a
retired aircraft factory manager and mother Ann, who died in 1990 of multiple
sclerosis, was a lab technician; the couple met on a train in 1963
Younger sister, Di
Family: Daughter Jessica,
born in 1993; was briefly married to Jessica's father, a Portuguese journalist
Home: Lives with daughter in
Education: Bachelor's degree
in French from Exeter University
author of the best-selling children's books about Harry Potter, had been on a
different career path before creating the adventures of an orphaned boy who goes
to wizard school. Her parents had encouraged her to study languages so she could
get a good job as bilingual secretary. "That was a big mistake,"
Rowling says. "I am one of the most disorganized people in the world, and
as I later proved, the worst secretary ever." In 1990, she moved to
Portugal to teach English. When she moved to Scotland in 1993, Rowling dedicated
her time to writing the Harry Potter series.
was never paying much attention in meetings because I was usually scribbling
bits of my latest stories in the margins of the pad, or choosing excellent names
for the characters. This is a problem when you are supposed to be taking the
minutes of the meeting."
Rowling, on being a secretary ("The Not Especially Fascinating Life So Far
of J. K. Rowling")
What was Rowling's first story about?
first story Rowling ever wrote down, when she was about 5 or 6 years old, was
about a rabbit called Rabbit. He got the measles and was visited by friends like
Miss Bee. Rowling says her sister, Di, was the person who "suffered"
her first efforts at storytelling. "Rabbits loomed large in our early
story-telling sessions; we badly wanted a rabbit," says Rowling in her
online autobiography. She also wrote other stories but didn't tell anyone.
"I was afraid they'd tell me I didn't have a hope."
created child wizard Harry Potter on a train ride from Manchester to London.
"I was staring out the window," she says in People magazine, "and
the idea for Harry just came. He appeared in my mind's eye, very fully formed.
The basic idea was for a boy who didn't know what he was." Rowling is
creating the book series to correspond with the seven years Harry spends at
Hogwarts, a school for wizards and witches. She expects to finish in 2003.
can be both genuinely scary and consistently funny, adept at both broad
slapstick and allusive puns and wordplay."
Paul Gray, reporter (Time, September 1999)
How many years did Rowling spend creating the first Harry Potter book?
the beginning, she spent all of her free time writing notes about characters,
places, games, scenery. "Those five years really went into creating a whole
world. I know far more than the reader will ever need to know about ridiculous
details," said Rowling in a Time magazine interview.
worked on parts of each book in the series while writing the first book so all
seven will fit together. After moving from Portugal to Scotland, Rowling set a
goal to finish the book before had to take a job as a French teacher. Her baby
daughter would nap in the cafés where Rowling went to sip coffee and write
Rowling has a knack for writing what kids want to read, she insists she never
consciously set out to write for children. The appeal to young readers lies in
the Harry Potter fans reading about peers who have real control over their
destiny. In her own youth, Rowling was a quiet student who at one point was
beaten up by a fellow classmate. "For a few days I was quite famous because
she hadn't managed to flatten me," she says. "The truth was that my
locker was right behind me and held me up."
really can, with no difficulty at all, think myself back to 11 years old."
Rowling (Time, September 1999)
How old is Harry in the first book?
writes from the perspective of an 11-year-old boy as he goes off to wizard
school, away from his "muggle" (read: non-magical) foster parents. The
series will end when he is 17. Rowling's 300-plus page novels entertain both
boys and girls. In an interview with "CBS This Morning," Rowling
talked about how children's imaginations sometimes lead them to believe that
they could not POSSIBLY be the offspring of their oh-so-dull parents. "I
think nearly everyone I knew went through that at some point -- and then the
idea that not only are you leaving this boring existence, but you really are
special. You're not only magical, but you're famous as well."
knows it is not easy to make money being a writer. She collected a handful of
rejection slips before her agent sold the first Harry Potter book to British
publisher Bloomsbury Press for $4,000. In the autumn of 1999, "Harry Potter
and the Prisoner of Azkaban," "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone,"
"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" concurrently claimed the top
three spots on the best-seller lists of USA Today, The New York Times and The
Wall Street Journal.
didn't write with a target audience in mind. I never thought about writing for
children - children's books chose me. I think if it is a good book anyone will
What was the original title of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"?
"Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone"
first Harry Potter novel was sold in Britain in June 1997 and went to the top of
the adult best-seller lists. American editor Arthur Levine bought the American
rights for Scholastic Press for $105,000 and sold it in the United States under
a new title in September 1998. Soon after, Warner Bros. announced that Heyday
Films had bought the rights to two Rowling novels, and a script is expected by
2000. Rowling says she now has "enough money to enable me to give up
teaching and write full time -- my life's ambition."
Far & Wide
Potter books have been translated into at least 28 languages, and millions of
children and their parents are reading the books. Some fans even snap up the
British versions from online booksellers before they come to a local U.S.
bookstore. Rowling says she writes for readers age 9 and up. When on tour,
Rowling enjoys talking to children, liking how they ask questions as though
Harry's world really exists.
not (George) Lucas, it's not Disney, it's not merchandise-driven. It disproves
that children just want to watch TV and play on the computer."
Diane Roback, Publishers Weekly children's book editor (USA Today, September
Where does Rowling get all the interesting names and words for the Harry Potter
From her sister, from places in her travels and from stories in history
has been collecting interesting names and words throughout her life. For example,
Hedwig was a saint, Dumbledore is an old English word for bumblebee and Snape is
the name of a place in England. Other words like muggle and quidditch are
invented. Sometimes, like with the title of the first book, a few words are
changed from British English to something more Americanized for the U.S.
audience. Rowling says very few changes have been made in the manuscripts, but
she and American editor Arthur Levine "decided that words should be altered
only where we felt they would be incomprehensible, even in context, to an
some corners, Rowling's books are generating controversy. Some parents don't
want the Harry Potter series to be mandatory classroom reading, saying it is
violent and promotes witchcraft and the occult. The author says she finds the
parents' concerns absurd. "I have met thousands of children, literally
thousands of children now. Not even one time has a child come up to me and said,
'Miss Rowling, I'm so glad I read these books because now I want to be a witch.'
... They are children, they see it for what it is. It is a fantasy world. They
understand that completely."
real danger is not in the books, but in laughing off those who would ban them.
The protests against Harry Potter follow a tradition that has been growing since
the early 1980s and often leaves school principals trembling with fear that is
then passed down to teachers and librarians. -- Judy Blume, children's author
New York Times, October 1999)
With whom did Rowling discuss her early work on the Harry Potter books?
five years, no one read a word Rowling wrote. "You know, all these
characters were in my head; I never discussed them with anyone except my sister
one time." And Rowling didn't even believe her sister's assessment that
what she was writing had a shot at being published. "... She was my sister,"
Rowling says. "Obviously, I was thinking, 'Well, she WOULD say that.'
chapters, screensaver, book discussion guides, reviews, from Scholastic Press
using Shockwave 7, from Scholastic Press
to publishers around the world, from Harry Potter Website
Not Especially Fascinating Life So Far of J. K. Rowling
was born in Chipping Sodbury General Hospital, which I think is appropriate for
someone who collects funny names. My sister, Di, was born just under two years
later, and she was the person who suffered my first efforts at story-telling (I
was much bigger than her and could hold her down). Rabbits loomed large in our
early story-telling sessions; we badly wanted a rabbit.
Di 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. 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. And ever since Rabbit and Miss Bee, I have wanted to be a writer, though I rarely told anyone so. I was afraid they'd tell me I didn't have a hope.
We moved house twice when I was growing up. The first move was from Yate
(just outside Bristol) to Winterbourne (on the other side of Bristol). A gang of
children including myself and my sister used to play together up and down our
street in Winterbourne. Two of the gang members were a brother and sister whose
surname was Potter. I always liked the name, but then I was always keener on my
friends' surnames than my own ('Rowling' is pronounced like 'rolling', which
used to lead to annoying children's jokes about rolling pins).
When I was nine we moved to Tutshill near Chepstow in the Forest of Dean.
We were finally out in the countryside, which had always been my parents' dream,
both being Londoners, and my sister and I spent most of our times wandering
unsupervised across fields and along the river Wye. The only fly in the ointment
was the fact that I hated my new school. It was a very small, very old-fashioned
place where the roll-top desks still had ink-wells. My new teacher, Mrs Morgan,
scared the life out of me. She gave me an arithmetic test on the very first
morning and after a huge effort I managed to get zero out of ten - I had never
done fractions before. So she sat me in the row of desks on her far right. It
took me a few days to realise I was in the 'stupid' row. Mrs Morgan positioned
everyone in the class according to how clever she thought they were; the
brightest sat on her left, and everyone she thought was dim sat on the right. I
was as far right as you could get without sitting in the playground. By the end
of the year, I had been promoted to second left - but at a cost. Mrs Morgan made
me swap seats with my best friend, so that in one short walk across the room I
became clever but unpopular.
From Tutshill Primary I went
to Wyedean Comprehensive. I heard the same rumour about Wyedean that Harry hears
from Dudley about Stonewall High (see page of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's
Stone). But it wasn't true - at least, it never happened to me. I was quiet,
freckly, short-sighted and rubbish at sports (I am the only person I know who
managed to break their arm playing netball). My favourite subject by far was
English, but I quite liked languages too. I used to tell my equally quiet and
studious friends long serial stories at lunch-times. They usually involved us
all doing heroic and daring deeds we certainly wouldn't have done in real life;
we were all too swotty. I did once have a fight with the toughest girl in my
year, but I didn't have a choice, she started hitting me and it was hit back or
lie down and play dead. For a few days I was quite famous because she hadn't
managed to flatten me. The truth was that my locker was right behind me and held
me up. I spent weeks afterwards peering nervously around corners in case she was
waiting to ambush me.
I became less quiet as I got older. For one thing I started wearing
contact lenses, which made me less scared of being hit in the face. I wrote a
lot in my teens, but I never showed any of it to my friends, except for funny
stories that again featured us all in thinly disguised characters. I was made
Head Girl in my final year, and I can only think of two things I had to do; one
was to show Lady Somebody around the school fair, and the other was give an
assembly to the whole school. I decided to play them a record to cut down on the
time I had to speak to them. The record was scratched and played the same line
of the song over and over again until the Deputy Headmistress kicked it.
I went to Exeter University straight after school, where I studied French.
This was a big mistake. I had listened too hard to my parents, who thought
languages would lead to a great career as a bilingual secretary. Unfortunately I
am one of the most disorganised people in the world and, as I later proved, the
worst secretary ever. All I ever liked about working in offices was being able
to type up stories on the computer when no-one was looking. I was never paying
much attention in meetings because I was usually scribbling bits of my latest
stories in the margins of the pad, or choosing excellent names for the
characters. This is a problem when you are supposed to be taking the minutes of
When I was twenty six I gave up on offices completely and went abroad to
teach English as a Foreign Language. My students used to make jokes about my
name; it was like being back in Winterbourne, except that the Portuguese
children said 'Rolling Stone' instead of rolling pin. I loved teaching English,
and as I worked afternoons and evenings, I had mornings free for writing. This
was particularly good news as I had now started my third novel (the first two
had been abandoned when I realised how very bad they were). The new book was
about a boy who found out he was a wizard and was sent off to wizard school.
When I came back from Portugal half a suitcase was full of papers covered with
stories about Harry Potter. I came to live in Edinburgh with my very small
daughter, and set myself a deadline; I would finish the Harry novel before
starting work as a French teacher, and try to get it published.
It was a year after finishing the book before a publisher bought it. The
moment when I found out that Harry would be published was one of the best of my
life. By this time I was working as a French teacher and being serenaded down
the corridors with the first line of the theme from Rawhide ('Rolling, rolling,
rolling, keep those wagons rolling...'). A few months after 'Harry' was taken
for publication in Britain, an American publisher bought the rights for enough
money to enable me to give up teaching and write full time - my life's ambition.
And I've got a real rabbit now. She is large and black and scratches me
ferociously every time I try and pick her up. Some things are best left in the
sonho de qualquer candidato a escritor: acertar na lotaria literária. J.K.
Rowling era uma mãe solitária e sem dinheiro que ia para os cafés de
Edimburgo escrevinhar umas noveletas e alinhavar umas ideias no papel para os
romances que a tornariam uma escritora. Enquanto ia entretendo a filha pequena,
sem dinheiro para pagar a uma ama, Rowling imaginava-se uma autora de histórias
de modesto sucesso, o suficiente para pagar as rendas e a conta. O pai da filha,
um português, ficara em Portugal. Um dia, parece que num comboio em andamento
entre Londres e Manchester, apareceu-lhe uma personagem mágica chamada Harry
Potter. Um rapazinho com dotes de feiticeiro, que anda numa escola de aprendizes
Clara Ferreira Alves
THE TIMES FRIDAY JUNE 30 2000
J. K. Rowling: the interview
BY ANN TRENEMAN
Depression, fame and Hollywood - after 30 million books and £15 million, the reclusive J. K. Rowling opens up.
Joanne Kathleen Rowling does not do anything by half. For months she has been writing, writing, writing - up to ten hours a day - to finish the fourth Harry Potter book. Now she is in recovery mode and giving her first interview for a long time. I say that I have heard that she has become a recluse and hates interviews. She gives me a look as if to say don't believe everything you read. Then she launches into the interview like a bat out of hell.
She talks so fast that it is just possible she has found a way to avoid breathing altogether. The only time I see her inhale is around a Marlboro Light. She claims this was to be a non-smoking day. I'm not sure how this squares with five cigarettes in two hours. She is hyped up, helter skelter and is serious and funny at the same time. "We've been everywhere!" she exclaims at the end. "We've done jewellery, we've done depression." She laughs, puffing away. Clearly the recluse phase is over.
We have met once before, two years ago, when she was 32. Neither she nor Harry was famous then and we sat at the long, imposing table in the library at Bloomsbury Publishers in Central London while her four year old child Jessica played with a Hercules doll and demanded to be taken to the loo.
Rowling was thrilled that Harry Potter had sold 30,000 copies. "I never dreamed this would happen. My realistic side had allowed me to think I might get one good review in a national newspaper. That was my idea of a peak."
Well, there are peaks and then there are the Himalayas and for the past two years Rowling has been travelling with the sherpas pretty much full time. The Harry Potter books have sold more than 30 million copies worldwide and been translated into 31 languages. They totalled 98 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list and in Britain last year occupied three of the top five slots. Harry has been on the cover of Time, and Rowling has been accused of plagiarism, always a sign you have arrived. And there is a film, which means that she really is lunching in Hollywood these days. Next Saturday sees the launch of the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which at 640 pages is one of the biggest children's books of all time.
Exhausted? Well, you would be if you had to witness the negotiations between Bloomsbury and my bosses for this interview. In fact, there were initial signs that Rowling had become rather grand. She was now the kind of person who has "people", as in "my people will talk to your people". And rumour was that she had become "a bit of a madam". Certainly she had broken the news barrier; every other day there is something about her in the papers.
So I expected her to arrive at the Edinburgh hotel for the interview with at least a smallish entourage, if not dark glasses and a lapdog. In fact, I went to the foyer to look for just such a person only to stumble over someone else. She was short (5ft 4in) and grinning. On closer inspection it was Rowling. "It's the hair," she says. Indeed, the hair that had been long and dark is shorter and lighter. But it is not the hair. It is the fact that she has failed to acquire that burnished sleekness that is the preserve of the rich and famous. In short - and this is not meant to be rude, just informative - she looks like one of us.
Joanne Rowling is no good at small talk. In fact, there is a chance she is incapable of it. Within minutes of sitting down she is talking about death and fate. She is intense and animated and, really, you do have to concentrate to keep up. I try to find a pat answer but give up after a while.
Perhaps the problem is that everyone thinks of Rowling's life as a fairytale and, in many ways, it has been. In 1993 she was indeed a poor single mum who had left her new husband back in Portugal. She did write much of Harry Potter at an Edinburgh café while she nursed an espresso for two hours (minimum) as Jessica slept in her pushchair. She did send it off to an agent who said, yes, thank you very much. And now, of course, she is rich and famous and in the Himalayas.
Yet Rowling concentrates not on the fairytale but on what came immediately before. The fact that she has been seriously depressed and desperately short of money are defining factors for her. She is also aware that without that failed marriage in 1993, there would be no Jessica and possibly no Harry. Life does not come in a neat package, I say, and she pounces on this. "People do want life to be neat. That is undoubtedly true. But you know the four great truths of Buddha: the first one is 'Life is Suffering'. I love that. I LOVE THAT. Because I think YES. Life is not supposed to be neat. And it's a comfort. It's a comfort to all of us who have messed up. And then you find your way back, bizarrely. And I'm sure to mess up again at some point - though, I hope, not on such a grand scale."
Can she believe what has happened to her? Does she ever wake up and say I cannot believe it?
"Pretty much every morning."
Well, I say (getting into this word emphasis thing), it IS unbelievable. "Hmm, it has overshot the mark. I remember thinking during book two that we had reached saturation level but then, with the next one, The Prisoner of Azkaban, everything exploded. I mean exploded. I could not believe it. I could not." What does she mean? "Well, I mean that it was on The Nine O'Clock News! Call me naive but that wasn't anything that I expected. And then newspapers which shall remain nameless started banging on my door. I never expected to be doorstepped. It kept happening and I hated it. And then stuff starts appearing in the press that is untrue. And then you really start getting a taste of what happens to those I would always consider proper famous people."
She says that she knew it only be a matter of time before they found her former husband, a journalist whom she met in Portugal while she was teaching English. "I married on October 16, 1992. I left on November 17, 1993. So that was the duration of what I considered to be the marriage." So what happened exactly? "I never talk about that. But obviously you do not leave a marriage after that very short period of time unless there are serious problems. I'm not the kind of person who bales out without there being serious problems. My relationship before that lasted seven years. I'm a long-term girl. And I had a baby with this man. But it didn't work. And it was clear to me that it was time to go and so I went. I never regretted it. So I thought they would go for him and they did."
So who, exactly, are they? Rowling, who never says one sentence if 25 will do, embarks with relish on a story. "OK, I'll tell you. On the Sunday that this interview appeared I did not have a clue what had happened. The phone rang at about am and it was a friend. He said 'Are you OK?' I said 'I'm fine, how are you?' "He said 'Oh, you are doing OK then?'
"He was talking to me like I had just had major surgery. So I said 'Shouldn't I be OK?' "He then said 'Oh my God, you don't know'. " She says that he then tried everything to get off the phone. "Eventually he did tell me and all I could think of to say to him was 'What WERE you doing reading Mail on Sunday!?' And he completely lost it. He went, 'Uhhh, someone left it behind in the café!' Anyway, what can you do? It's done. In a way it was a relief. I knew it would happen. Once it's done, it's done."
But it is not really that simple. Rowling says she no longer reads what is written about her, though I'm not sure I believe her. A friend convinced her to read a piece last year, saying it would make her laugh. "It said I had become irascible, irritable, paranoid about protecting my privacy and never wanted to give interviews because success had turned me into some sort of Howard Hughes figure."
I check her fingernails. Not long enough, I say. "Actually it wasn't Howard Hughes. It was more like children's literature's answer to Salinger. You know, 'Darling I want to be left alone with my art!' And it did make me laugh. I have to laugh because day to day I lead an extremely ordinary life in terms of what I do and where I go. Very mundane."
Mundane? But she is now worth a lot of money. ( Forbes magazine's rich list has put her book earnings at £15 million).
"Yes, I have got more money than I ever dreamt I would have. Great! I have stopped worrying about money. For a few years there I really worried about money. I lived with it like it was a person living with me."
But, I ask, aren't you going to buy something, like a yacht perhaps? This makes her bark with laughter. Rowling says that, like any girl, she likes to go shopping. Then she looks down at her jeans. "I saw you look at my jeans and think 'Why don't you go shopping!" But, I persist, most people in your position would have bought something by now.
Then, suddenly, she deviates from her script on this subject (I know this because she announces that she is) and embarks on another story. "OK, it was about a week after my ex-husband had sold his story. Then there was a story that was totally fabricated. Nobody had printed an entire article that been fabricated before. I know, I know, but I'm a virgin to this business, you know? If that story hadn't appeared the previous week, I'm sure I would have been 'OK, you can lie about me but I know it's not true'. But I was in a weakened state."
You were vulnerable, I say.
"I was VERY vulnerable at that point. Then, as usual, the worst sign that I am upset and it really doesn't happen that often I couldn't write. I went out that day intending to write. I went to a café and just sat there doodling; I couldn't do it. That made me even more depressed. I thought, now they've attacked the one thing that was really constant. Now I can't write! Great! So I was walking down Princes Street and thinking 'What shall I do?' and then I just thought 'I know, I will go and spend a lot of money on something I really want'. I went into a jeweller's and bought this ring. It was the first time in my life that I bought something that I knew was expensive without asking the price. I think the jeweller thought I was a nutter."
I ask the obvious question: diamonds?
"Aquamarine," she says with satisfaction. "A big one. I had it altered and when I got it back I said 'This is my Statement Ring, my No One Is Grinding Me Down Ring'. A friend said 'Let's face it, you could give someone a hell of a scar if you hit them. It really is a knuckle-duster'."
Joanne Rowling was born in Chipping Sodbury General Hospital in July 1965. Her father was an apprentice engineer at Rolls-Royce who worked on aircraft engines, her mother was part French and part Scottish. Her parents met at the age of 19 on a train as it left King's Cross - Rowling claims it is the most romantic station in the world and married at 20. Rowling was born nine months later and then came her sister Di. They lived in Yate, outside Bristol and then Winterbourne - it was here, on a street of semi-detached houses, that she lived four doors away from the Potters. She stole their name, as she has stolen so many others, because she is a word magpie. She especially loves strange names. Chipping Sodbury makes her chortle and it cannot be the first time that she's said it. Later, while taking her photograph in the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, she is thrilled to find a plant name plate that says Bogbean.
It is impossible to talk to Rowling about her childhood without also talking about Harry Potter and his life at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Part of this is because she has ransacked bits of her past and given them to Harry and his friends, Hermione and Ron. But part of this also is that Rowling spends a lot of time inside Harry's world, and it is real to her. Every character has a family tree, a psyche, even dietary requirements. She's in charge, so she knows their futures, but doesn't let much slip. She likes secrets. She came up with the idea for Harry Potter on a delayed train and knew from the beginning there would be seven books - one for every year he is at boarding school - and she wrote the final chapter of book seven years ago. It was hanging around the house for ages before she realised it should be put somewhere safe. What, like a bank? "No, safer than that."
The character of Hermione is Rowling as a young girl: hard working, bookish, a worrywort. Rowling says she was painfully swotty, with NHS spectacles and short, short hair. She claims that she loosened up a bit later on but I'm not so sure about this. At times during the interview she is nothing short of earnest, especially about her work. She defends Hermione pretty fiercely, too. "My American editor says that I am mean to her because she is me. But I don't think that I am mean to her. I love her dearly."
But, I say, Hermione tries so damn hard. In Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban , for instance, she looks into the mirror that reflects what you fear most and sees a teacher telling her she failed all her exams. "I understand where that is coming from. It comes from believing yourself to be plain and feeling yourself to be no good at anything else so you've got to achieve something. I completely understand Hermione and I really love her and I don't want to depict her as a feisty little ..."
She breaks off and then starts to mutter. "It irritates me. It irritates me. What irritates me is that I am constantly, increasingly, being asked 'Can we have a strong female character, please?' Like they are ordering a side order of chips. I am thinking 'Isn't Hermione strong enough for you?' She is the most brilliant of the three and they need her. Harry needs her badly.
"But my hero is a boy and at the age he has been girls simply do not figure that much. Increasingly, they do. But, at 11, I think it would be extremely contrived to throw in a couple of feisty, gorgeous, brilliant-at-maths and great-at-fixing-cars girls."
This is the kind of speech that makes you want to clap and, really, I don't think that Rowling was talking to me, per se, here. So has there been pressure from the film people to change the characters? Make them more American? Make them, well, just a bit feisty?
"At the moment, in all honesty, they don't. Maybe they did in the beginning but then they saw the popularity of the books as they are. At the moment they are giving me a huge amount of influence. It will be filmed in Britain, with an all-British cast."
Did she insist on this?
"Well, I made loud noises."
Christopher Columbus is going to be the director and is moving his family here for the job. But Steven Spielberg had been involved at some point. Did she have a fight with Spielberg?
Did she speak to him?
"I have spoken to Steven Spielberg. Did I have a fight with him? No, I definitely did not. I read that in an article and was mystified. There were things he said that I didn't agree with, there were things he said that I did agree with. Let's just put it this way: I am very happy with the director we've got."
So what about merchandising? Can we expect little Harry Potter dolls in the future? Rowling looks pained. "Well, uh, Warner Brothers is perfectly aware that this is the area that I am most concerned and worried about. I can't lie about it."
She likes the idea of games or dressing-up clothes, but I was actually thinking of those plastic figures that come with McDonald's Happy Meals. "We have to be honest about this. People ask me if there will be merchandising. Well, name me a children's film that doesn't have it. That's a given. That is how the film company makes its money."
But kids like to have something to play with, too, I say. "The brutal truth is that yes, they do. But they wanted the books most and they wanted the books first, so maybe we should all hold on to that and then do what we can to make sure that the film is as true as possible to the books."
So, have you had to stick to her guns at any point? Rowling's voice grows soft. "I have stuck to my guns all the way through." And then she laughs.
But, I say, you couldn't have hated it too much: you were head girl. "Yes, but you don't know the comprehensive. Trust me. It was like being voted Least Likely to Go to Jail." Rowling duly got her A levels in French, German and English and went to Exeter University. She then did a series of secretarial jobs rather badly (or so she says). One was at a publisher's, where she was in charge of sending out rejection letters.
The only thing that she ever really wanted to do was write. She had always been a secret scribbler - her first story, called Rabbit, was written at the age of six - but never finished anything. She started writing the first Harry Potter book in 1990. At the time she was employed, happy in a long term relationship, living in London. Then her mother died from multiple sclerosis at the age of 45 and suddenly Rowling's life just went wrong. Before she knew it, she was a poor, single mum living in a grotty, cold flat in Edinburgh with only two friends to her name and nothing to do but write.
People talk about the Harry Potter books as wizard wheezes but they have a pronounced dark side as well. The Dementors, for instance, are prison guards who track people by sensing their emotions. They disable their victims by sucking out all positive thoughts and with a kiss they can take a soul while leaving the body alive.
I do not think that these are just characters. I think they are a description of depression. "Yes. That is exactly what they are," she says. "It was entirely conscious. And entirely from my own experience. Depression is the most unpleasant thing I have ever experienced."
What does she mean?
"It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it's a healthy feeling. It's a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different."
Now, in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, death comes for us, too. The identity of the corpse is secret until next Saturday, though she will say that it is a character we care about.
"Yes, this is the book in which the deaths start. I always planned it this way. It's become a bit of an idée fixe with me. I have to follow it just the way I wanted to write it and no one is going to knock me off course. If it's done right, I think it will be upsetting but it's not going to be damaging. I have said from the beginning that if you really are honestly going to examine evil actions then you have a moral obligation not to fudge the issue."
Goblet of Fire has been a trial. She had written half of it when she discovered a "gaping hole" in the plot. This had never happened before. Rowling likes to worry: if there is nothing immediately to hand to worry about, she will invent something. But here was something real. "It's the central book. It's pivotal in every sense. I had to get it right."
Some days she wrote morning, noon and night. She is happy with the end result. But, I say, 640 pages! I mean, the first book was 223, the second 251 and the third 317. It is all getting rather out of hand. Rowling looks a bit embarrassed. "I know. I was shocked to see how long it was."
Her day-to-day life, as she describes it, is completely lacking in glamour. She takes Jessica to school and spends the morning at home with her PA dealing with the "800 things that come in". She receives a huge number of letters from children. All are answered, some by hand. In the afternoon she goes out to a cafe to write - working at home is oppressive - and then returns home to make tea. The evening is spent procrastinating and wandering around her house.
Harry Potter is full of wonderful creatures: owls that deliver post, cats that can sense a lie, unicorns with silvery blood. But Rowling is not so keen on her own. The guinea pig used be at her daughter's nursery. "I was the only parent mug enough to say that we would give it a home. Then, because I am this earnest person, I thought that it was not fair for it to live on its own. So I bought this rabbit. I had anticipated that it would be this cute fluffy little thing. No. It is vicious. Absolutely vicious. It was sold to me as a dwarf and it's now the size of a hare. It's jet black. It attacks.
"I had these great gouge marks on my wrist from it and I gave an interview with these gouge marks and I thought this guy was thinking: Now she's really cracking up under the pressure. I'm like 'No, it's the rabbit'."
Either Joanne Rowling is a great actress or she really has not succumbed to the disease of celebrity. I listen for a name drop and it does not come. I listen for references to money and she does not make them. Her publisher may play the secrecy and hype game with the best of them but somehow Rowling manages to remove herself from this madness. She sees herself as a writer and, for her, that is that for the time being. And the future? She gets a lot of requests from charities and says she is tempted.
Rowling: "The trouble is, will people still be interested in me after I've finished my writing? Until Book Seven is finished, my priority has to be the books. At which point I will become ..."
Me: "Even more rich and famous."
Rowling: "That wasn't what I was going to say. I was going to say at which point I will fade back into blissful obscurity."
Me: "I think not."
Rowling: "Well, I think so."
Me: "No, not blissful obscurity."
Rowling: "No, you don't know. It will be."
She has the last word, inevitably, but it can't be right.
SUNDAY DECEMBER 30 2001
JK Rowling marries her doctor friend
JK ROWLING, creator of the Harry Potter series, the most successful children’s book titles in literary history, has secretly married her fiancé Dr Neil Murray.
The couple, who have been inseparable for the past year, married on Boxing Day at Killiechassie House, Rowling’s remote Scottish home near Aberfeldy in Perthshire, which she bought for £500,000 last month.
They appeared together at the premiere of the film of her book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which last month had the biggest ever opening weekend on both sides of the Atlantic.
The writer’s eight-year-old daughter Jessica from her first marriage was one of three bridesmaids at the small ceremony, to which only 15 close family and friends had been invited.
Her sister Dianne, 33, and Murray’s sister Lorna were maids of honour. The bride chose a cream couture outfit for the 20-minute ceremony.
Among the guests were the 35-year-old bride’s father Peter and stepmother Janet, and Murray’s father Ernest and mother Barbara.
Extraordinary lengths were taken to keep the wedding secret, including the hiring of caterers from 50 miles outside the area, but confirmation came from Rowling’s publicist Dottie Irving. “JK Rowling and Neil Murray were married privately on December 26 in their house in Perthshire. Their immediate families attended the wedding,” she said in a statement.
Killiechassie House, on the banks of the River Tay, dates back to 1865 and is said to remind people of Hogwarts school, where Harry Potter learnt his wizardry.
It is the second marriage for both bride and groom. JK, then plain Joanne Rowling, was deeply hurt by a first miserable marriage to a Portuguese journalist, Jorge Arantes, who she said constantly belittled her.
The marriage foundered after a year when Rowling, desperately unhappy, returned to Edinburgh with her infant daughter. Eking out a living on benefits, she would walk the city to tire out her daughter before sitting for hours in a cafe part owned by her brother-in-law to pen the first book of what was to become the worldwide literary phenomenon of Harry Potter.
To date the four books have sold 124m worldwide. The film version has been equally successful.
Murray, 30, a senior house officer in anaesthetics at an Edinburgh hospital when they met, married his student girlfriend Fiona five years ago but the couple divorced last year. He is now studying to practise as a GP, though his marriage to Britain’s wealthiest writer may prove problematic.
They were thought to be marrying on a trip to the Galapagos Islands last summer but cancelled after news leaked.
Though Rowling captured the imagination of children everywhere with her tales of magic and wizardry, there was a noticeable lack of magic in her own life.
She was devastated by the death in 1990 of her mother, aged 45, a victim of multiple sclerosis, coupled with the revelation that her father had started a relationship while her mother was dying.
She met her first husband, Arantes, a swarthy, pony-tailed barfly, three years her junior, while working as an English teacher in Portugal in the early 1990s. Despite their attraction the relationship was volatile and, by Rowling’s account, became violent and abusive.
She suffered a miscarriage in the summer of 1992 but accepted Arrante’s marriage proposal that August while he was completing his national service in the Portuguese army.
They married in October 1992 and within weeks she fell pregnant again. Jessica was born the following July. Arantes has admitted that four months later he dragged Rowling from their home at 4am during a typical row and dumped his distraught wife on the pavement. She had to enlist the help of local police to retrieve her daughter.
In one of her few public comments on the ill-fated union she said: “Obviously you don’t leave a marriage after that very short period of time unless there are serious problems. And I had a baby with this man. But it didn’t work. And it was clear to me that it was time to go. I never regretted it.”
In contrast, Murray is said by colleagues and friends to be quiet, reserved, intelligent and studious. Academic by nature, he is unconcerned about wealth and not the type to be impressed by money.
If the Harry Potter buzz continues throughout the seven planned books, Rowling could become the world’s first billionaire author. Philip Beresford, the Sunday Times Rich List compiler, said: “She is the biggest brand name in literature since Shakespeare.”
Rowling is receiving royalties not only for each copy sold but also from the varied and highly profitable merchandising associated with the film. Industry sources say that in addition to a down-payment of £40m, she is earning 5p for every pound’s worth of Potter-inspired train sets, notebooks or pillowcases.
In addition she is thought to be receiving 1% of the box-office takings. The movie netted £75m in its first week on release in America.
Murray’s first wife, also a doctor, now has a new partner and a young child. She was astonished when she heard her “ex” was Rowling’s new love.
“We were parted long before he met her. There was no one else involved in our breakup. We had just married too young and drifted apart.
“One night at the height of it, Neil called me to apologise. He told me he was really sorry for putting me and my family through this. I told him we were fine. I wish them both the best.”
Friends of Rowling describe her new husband as being a “huge moral support when the pressure of fame becomes to much and she is worried about public appearances”.
Baby joy for Potter author
Tuesday March 25, 2003 9:37 AM
Harry Potter author J K Rowling has given birth to a boy.
The baby - named David Gordon Rowling Murray - was born at the new Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh.
Rowling's publicist Nicky Stonehill said: "Both mother and baby are doing well."
Ms Stonehill would not give any further details, but confirmed Rowling and the baby - her second child - had been released from hospital.
Rowling, one of Britain's wealthiest women, already has a daughter, Jessica, from a previous marriage.
The writer split from Portuguese Jorge Arantes shortly after the birth.
Rowling, 37, married Dr Neil Murray at a secret Boxing day ceremony in 2001 at their home in Aberfeldy, Perthshire.
The birth comes just three months before the eagerly awaited fifth instalment of the boy wizard's adventures hits bookshelves.
Harry Potter And The Order of the Phoenix will be published on June 21.
Neil and I are absolutely delighted to say that our new daughter arrived on Sunday evening (23-1-2005). Her name is Mackenzie Murray (middle names Jean Rowling) and she is ridiculously beautiful, though I suppose I might be biased.
From her site