“I turned this amazing triumph into tragedy” JK Rowling on the pressure of global success

Posted by
Harriet Hall

JK Rowling has opened-up about how it felt to have all her dreams come true, telling The Guardian about the phone call from her agent that would change her life, and how ‘success never feels the way you think it will be’.

In conversation with BBC Radio 6 presenter, Lauren Laverne, Rowling discussed how she coped with rejection (the original Harry Potter manuscript was turned away around a dozen times), saying:

“I was not confident then at all. But I wanted it so badly, I wasn’t going to give up.”

“I did have this feeling that the difficult thing would be persuading someone to publish it – but that if it was, people would like it,” she says.

When she picked up the phone to her agent one ordinary day, Rowling recalls exactly how it felt:

He said “’Well, Bloomsbury want it’ – very casual! Not realising he’s giving me the gift of my lige. And there was this long pause, and I just said: “So…you’re saying I am going to be published?’ I was beside myself.”

harry potter

The Harry Potter cast

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt, before or since, anything life the elation of realising I was going to be published,” she muses.  

But despite the unprecedented fairytale scale success of the Harry Potter series, Rowling recalls feeling like a rabbit in the headlights over it all:

“Success never feels the way you think it will be,” she says.

“I remember, a week after I got my American deal, which got me a lot of press, one of my very best girlfriends rang me and said ‘I thought you’d sound so elated.’ From the outside, I’m sure everything looked amazing. But in my flat, where I was still a single mum and I didn’t know who to call to do my hair, everything felt phenomenally overwhelming.”

With such success comes new pressure – from fans, critics and from yourself. Rowling recalls thinking:

“The next book can’t possibly live up to this.”

“I managed to turn this amazing triumph into tragedy, in the space of about five days,” she says.

harry potter

Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station, where Hogwarts students depart on the first day of term

As well as her magical empire, Rowling has made a name for herself on Twitter, being a dab-hand at fitting cutting comebacks and witty retorts into a mere 140 characters – staving-off homophobic comments about Dumbledore’s sexuality, and body-shamers who suggested Serena Williams was ‘built like a man’.

But despite having to deal with online trolls, Rowling enjoys the platform, because:

 “No one has to buy a ticket. It’s very democratic.”

“I have quite a high tolerance for people I wouldn’t necessarily want to be friends with,” she says.

It’s refreshing to see someone imbued with such success be down-to-earth and to know that things only improve with age.

“I genuinely loved turning 40,” she says. “See, I wasn’t very good at being young. I feel like I’ve got happier and happier. I feel like I’m hitting my stride.”

And indeed she is. The author is currently collaborating on a play, Harry Potter and the Cussed Child, which is due to open in London next June, and working on her first screenplay, for her 2001 book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them