A STRUGGLING young author has been snapped up by an American publishing company which has bought her first book for more than $100,000.
Two Hollywood studios and an independent American producer are competing for the film rights to Joanna Rowling's story, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.
Ms Rowling, 31, wrote the 80,000-word fantasy against severe odds. Recently divorced and almost penniless, she had to look after her three-month-old daughter Jessica after moving to Edinburgh.
She left her husband, a Portuguese journalist, soon after Jessica was born. "I was very depressed and having a newborn child made it doubly difficult," she said.
"The little money I had went on baby gear and all I could afford on housing benefit was a freezing, terribly grotty little flat. I simply felt like a non-person, I was very low, and I had to achieve something.
"Without the challenge I would have gone stark raving mad."
The inspiration for the book came in 1990. Ms Rowling had gone to Portugal to teach English and fell in love and married a journalist. Soon after the birth of Jessica, now three, she left her husband and later returned to Britain. Unemployed and on benefits, she typed her work before sending it to two London publishers.
The size of the deal has drawn comparison with Nicholas Evans who was paid £350,000 for his first novel, The Horse Whisperer, which became a literary sensation.
Ms Rowling, raised in the Forest of Dean, is a French and classics graduate from Exeter. Speaking of her success last night, her literary agent Christopher Little said it was rare for unknown writers to be singled out at first attempt. "We get dozens [of manuscripts] every day but this one was unique and fresh. It is virtually unheard of to attract $100,000."
Ms Rowling has won the highest ever Scottish Arts Council award for a children's writer, £8,000, which she has spent on a word processor.
Her book, in its fourth reprint in Britain, has been acclaimed for its humour and was described by The Scotsman as "an unassailable stand for the power of fresh, innovative storytelling in the face of formula horror and sickly romance".
The publisher, Bloomsbury Children's Books, describes Ms Rowling as a "very special talent".
Copyright 1997 The Scotsman Publications Ltd.