Author of a literary phenomenon, national treasure, rags-to-riches inspiration and all-round remarkable woman. Whichever way you know her, it's hard not to be a little obsessed with J. K. Rowling.
As her latest book Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination goes on sale this week - a beautifully illustrated version of her ground-breaking 2008 Harvard speech - we dig deeper into all things J.K. Rowling and uncover a few inspiring, captivating and amusing facts you may not know about the brilliant author...
There's a very personal reason that King's Cross takes such a key role in Harry Potter
In the Harry Potter books, Hogwarts students famously catch the school train from fictitious platform nine and three-quarters at King's Cross station. While we know that the idea of the boy wizard came to J. K. Rowling while on a crowded train back to London from Manchester, the iconic London station is in fact where Rowling's parents James and Anne first met when they were 18. They married one year later and were together until her mother died at the age of 45 from multiple sclerosis (MS).
“For me… King’s Cross Station is a very, very romantic place, probably the most romantic station, purely because my parents met here. So, that’s always been part of my childhood folklore. So, I wanted Harry to go to Hogwarts by train…and obviously, therefore, it had to be from King’s Cross,” she says.
Her name is continuously mispronounced
Rowling rhymes with bowling, not howling, but the author says she's stopped minding people getting her name wrong.
She wrote her first story at the age of six
“…a work of towering genius about a rabbit, called Rabbit. I gave it to my mother who said, ‘That’s lovely,’ as a mother would. ‘That’s very, very good.’ I stood there, thinking, ‘Well, get it published then.’ Bit of an odd thing for a child of six to think. I don’t know where it came from…”
Her literary heroine is Jo March from Little Women
"It is hard to overstate what she meant to a small, plain girl called Jo, who had a hot temper and a burning ambition to be a writer," Rowling told The New York Times.
She had to wear a disguise to buy her wedding dress
Rowling has only ever once resorted to a disguise in order to go out without being recognised and that was to buy her wedding dress in 2001 when she married Dr Neil Murray, a doctor with whom she now has a son of 12 and a daughter aged 10.
"I just wanted to be able to get married to Neil without any rubbish happening." She did not disclose what the disguise was "In case," she grinned, "I need to use it again."
A Jane Austen first edition sits on her book shelf at home
While money is no longer a problem for J.K. Rowling she rarely splurges her money - when she bought expensive earrings from Bond Street, mild guilt set in and she wrote out a cheque for the same amount to a charity. However one of her prized possessions is the first edition of a Jane Austen book (the title is unknown). "My favourite writer is Jane Austen and I've read all her books so many times I've lost count," said Rowling.
Her childhood friends had the surname "Potter"
While living in Winterbourne, just outside of Bristol, Rowling said she became friends with a brother and sister who had the surname Potter. She always preferred their name to hers, and admitted that children used to tease her with nicknames such as “rolling pin.”
She adores charm bracelets
"A charm bracelet seems a very innocent trinket, really. What other piece of jewellery is so imbued with memory and sentiment? Why do we call those little masterpieces ‘charms’ if not in allusion to their talismanic properties? They have meaning beyond the mercenary. They are personal amulets," wrote J.K. Rowling in 2013 for Harper's Bazaar.
"I owned my adored and beloved bracelet for 20 years until one day a burglar broke into the flat where I was living in Manchester, emptied my old wooden jewellery box and smashed it apart for good measure. I lost not just the bracelet, but the modest collection of jewellery I had inherited from my mother, who had died a mere three months previously.
"Compared to the loss of my mother, it was nothing, and yet I was devastated. Jewellery does not change, it cannot decay; it is a way of holding tight to the past."
On the day that the seventh Harry Potter book was to be released, Rowling's editor, Emma, and the head of Bloomsbury children’s books, Sarah, what would become ("aside from my wedding ring") her most treasured piece of jewellery: a bracelet covered in gold and silver charms from the books. "There was a tiny Golden Snitch, a silver Ford Anglia, a Pensieve and a stag Patronus. There was even a Philosopher’s Stone in the form of an uncut garnet."
If she could be any character from literature, it would be...
"Elizabeth Bennet, naturally."
She wanted the last word of the Harry Potter series to be "scar"
Rowling planned for a long time to make the last word of the final Harry Potter book "scar". At some point along the way, she changed her mind and wanted the final words to read "All was well."
The 'K' in her name is a tribute to her grandmother
While born Joanne Rowling (according to her birth certificate) she adopted a middle initial when publishers Bloomsbury suggested using her initials on Harry Potter books instead of her name to attract boy readers. She decided to use 'K' as a tribute to her grandmother Kathleen.
Rowling said, "It was the publisher's idea, they could have called me Enid Snodgrass. I just wanted it [the book] published."
She based the character of Hermoine on herself
“Mostly, real people inspire a character, but once they are inside your head they start turning into something quite different,” said Rowling in an interview with Amazon. Professor Snape and Gilderoy Lockhart both started as exaggerated versions of people I’ve met, but became rather different once I got them on the page. Hermione is a bit like me when I was 11, though much cleverer.”
Rowling’s clinical depression inspired the creation of Dementors
At the age of 25, Rowling became a single mother to daughter Jessica after a short and “catastrophic” marriage. She said, “It hit me what a complete mess I had made of my life” she said. We were as skint as you can be, without being homeless, in other words we were existing entirely on benefits. And at that point I was definitely clinically depressed.”
“It’s so difficult to describe [depression] to someone who’s never been there, because it’s not sadness,” Rowling told Oprah in a televised interview. “I know sadness. Sadness is to cry and to feel. But it’s that cold absence of feeling - that really hollowed-out feeling. That’s what Dementors are,” she said of the cloaked creatures which feed on happiness in the Harry Potter series.
She named her daughter after author and civil rights activist Jessica Mitford
“Jessica Mitford has been my heroine since I was 14 years old,” Rowling wrote in the Telegraph. “When I overheard my formidable great-aunt discussing how Mitford had run away at the age of 19 to fight with the Reds in the Spanish Civil War: ‘And she charged a camera to her poor father’s account to take with her!’ It was the camera that captivated me, and I asked for further details…I named my first daughter after her”
The author she would most like to meet, dead or alive, is...
...a complicated matter for Rowling. "I took this question so seriously I lost hours to it," she told The New York Times. "I finally narrowed the field to two: Colette and Dickens. If Colette were prepared to talk freely, it would be the meeting of a lifetime because she led such an incredible life (her biography, Secrets of the Flesh, by Judith Thurman, is one of my all-time favourites). By the narrowest of margins, though, I think I’d meet Dickens. What would I want to know? Everything."
A row with a boyfriend triggered the idea for wizard sport Quidditch
"[Quidditch] was invented in a small hotel in Manchester after a row with my then boyfriend," Rowling explained in a book specially written to auctioned for charity. "I had been pondering the things that hold a society together, cause it to congregate and signify its particular character and knew I needed a sport.
"It infuriates men...which is quite satisfying given my state of mind when I invented it."
Her favourite book she's written is...
"My heart is divided three ways: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and The Casual Vacancy," she said.
She has not read Fifty Shades of Grey
"Because I promised my editor I wouldn't." When asked if she feels she's missing out, she replied "Not wildly".
Her favourite sport is basketball
Speaking about the invention of Quidditch (the sport of choice in the Harry Potter books), Rowling said her inspiration was all-American basketball. In an interview with Amazon, Rowling explained, “I wanted a sport for wizards, and I'd always wanted to see a game where there was more than one ball in play at the same time. The idea just amused me. The Muggle sport it most resembles is basketball, which is probably the sport I enjoy watching most.”
"I had a lot of fun making up the rules and I've still got the notebook I did it in, complete with diagrams, and all the names for the balls I tried before I settled on Snitch, Bludgers, and Quaffle."
She still thinks about Harry Potter characters
In a recent interview, Rowling said she dreamed she met Dumbledore three nights prior. "I didn't often dream about it (Harry Potter) when I was writing it. It was so in my conscious mind that at night I didn't need to. But I've had a few dreams since I stopped writing (Harry Potter). It seems to be living at the back of my brain again"