Transcribed by Jimmi Thøgersen
Reproduced with the permission of WAMU 88.5 FM
Audio version available at: [temporarily unavailable while WAMU reorganizes their site]
On WAMU in Washington. I'm Diane Rehm.
Joanne Rowling grew up in Britain's Forest of Dean. She was always an avid reader, and dreamt of one day becoming a writer herself. Today she's known to millions of kids around the world as J.K. Rowling - the name on the jackets of her bestselling series of books about a young wizard in training called Harry Potter. Joanne Rowling joins me to introduce her young creation, and to talk about how a success has changed her life. Throughout the hour we will take your calls, no matter how old you are - 1-800-433-8850.
And, good morning to you, Jo, I'm glad to have you here.
JKR: Good morning, lovely to be here, thank you.
DR: You've had quite a time here in Washington - and perhaps all
over the world. Truly, I mean, the lines waiting outside for you to sign
books at a book store here in Washington. "Politics & Prose",
they had to turn people away.
JKR: Yeah. It was - it was - That was a really nice event. I really enjoyed it yesterday.
DR: Now, I wanna ask you Jo, did you at any point as you were writing
- I know you believed in what you were doing - but did you expect anything
like this kind of reaction?
JKR: No. Of course not. I would have been crazy to expect this. No one - no one could have expected this. I thought I was writing a little book that a few people might quite like. That's what I thought. I loved it. You know, I really passionately believed in Harry. I was really - and I *am* really proud of him. But I never expected it to have this kind of appeal.
DR: When did you first come up with the idea of Harry Potter - and
JKR: It was 1990. I was traveling by train from Manchester to London in England. The train was delayed, as often happens in Britain. And, er... This, this idea just came out of nowhere.
DR: What do you mean "the idea"?
JKR: Erm... The basic idea... Harry, I saw Harry very very very clearly. Very vividly. And I knew he didn't know he was a wizard. So I see this skinny little boy with black hair, and green eyes, and glasses. And erm... Patched-up glasses, you know, that got scotch tape around them, holding them together. And I knew that *he* didn't know what he was. And so then I kind of worked backwards from that position to find out how that could be, that he wouldn't know what he was. And er... at the same time I'm thinking that he's gonna go to wizard's school. And that was when it really caught fire for me, I got really excited of the idea of what wizard's school would be like.
DR: He's got a scar on his -
JKR: uh uh. He's got a lightning shaped scar on his forehead.
DR: Now, what is that from?
JKR: That's... When he was one year old, the most evil wizard for hundreds and hundreds of years attempted to kill him. He killed Harry's parents, and then he tried to kill Harry - he tried to curse him.
JKR: I can't tell you. It's the 64,000 dollar question. I can't tell you. He - Harry doesn't know yet. Harry has to find out, before we find out. And - so - but for some mysterious reason, the curse didn't work on Harry. So he's left with this lightning bolt shaped scar on his forehead and the curse rebounded upon the evil wizard, who has been in hiding ever since.
DR: How does Harry find out he's really a wizard?
JKR: He starts recei- on his - towards his 11th birthday he's living with his aunt and uncle and horrible cousin. And they are what wizards...
DR: The Dursleys.
JKR: The Dursleys. And they're what wizards call muggles. Meaning that they're completely non-magical. And the pair... Mr. and Mrs. Dursley are aware of what Harry is, but they've never told him what he is. They've kept this hidden from him.
DR: How did they know?
JKR: Because a letter was left for them, when Harry was taken to them as a baby, explaining everything that had happened. Erm... So, towards Harry's 11th birthday, letters start arriving mysteriously for him, which he's not allowed to read. And they're letters from Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry, telling him he's got a place, and he's to go to platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station on September 1st and board the train.
DR: He boards the train -
JKR: He does.
DR: - and goes to -
JKR: And goes to Hogwarts. Yeah. When his adventures really start, predictably. So, he's learning all sorts of different kinds of magic, and er... a lot of stuff goes wrong. He makes two great friends, Ron and Hermione. And then he has to start facing his... Well he - really, he has to start facing his past. He starts finding out what really happened. And he has to start facing what that means, because he's been born to shoulder a certain burden.
DR: So, there's a certain morality -
JKR: I think so, yeah. Yeah. Definitely.
DR: - in this tale. Why do you think young children are so drawn
JKR: That's such a, such a very hard question to answer, because... without being disingenuous. I wrote what I wanted to write. And I wrote the sort of thing that I knew I'd like to read, I'd like to read *now* as an adult, and I knew that I would have liked to have read it when I was 11. And in a sense, I'm too close to it to be able to see whether there's, you know, a particular thing that draws children in, and in many ways I don't want to analyze it too much, because I'm scared that if I decide that it's factor X that is making children in these numbers like it, I might try a little too hard to put a lot of X in book 4 or 5. And I don't want to do that. I just want to write it the way I'm writing it at the moment, and enjoy writing it, and do it my way, without trying to, you know, work to a formula.
DR: But what have children told you?
JKR: Children... Lots of different things. The main thing, I would say, the overriding thing is that they really love the characters. They very much seem to think of them as real people. They implore me constantly, "don't kill so-and-so". I really like Washington, because in Washington I've met the highest number of people ever who've said "don't kill Hermione" who's Ron's - who's Harry's best *female* friend. And I have to say most people just don't really care too much about Hermione, in the sense that they think she's too clever and she'll get through it somehow. But I like Washington. Washington will stay in my mind as the place where people really thought Hermione needed a bit of backup.
DR: J.K. Rowling. She's the author of the Harry Potter series of
books published by Scholastic. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone,"
"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets", and "Harry Potter
and the Prisoner of Azkaban". And if you'd like to join us - 1-800-433-8850
- I'll look forward to hearing your questions commence. Why don't you
read for us just a little bit, Jo?
JKR: I'm gonna read a really short piece here. This is from the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and Harry goes shopping. And one of the most important things he has to buy is, of course, his wand. So he's gone into the wand shop, which is owned by a man called Mr. Ollivander, and Mr. Ollivander is about to teach him about wands, and about what you need to choose your wand.
[Jo reads excerpt]
JKR: Wake up [laughs]
DR: Wow. I *do*. I mean, I'm so drawn in. So, it's not just children. Giving these books' appeal.
JKR: I get a lot of letters from adults.
DR: Yeah, I would imagine so. It seems to me that what you've achieved
is to create that kind of excitement in a book that, say, for American
children, mostly video and film does. But here you've... managed.
JKR: I met a really nice boy yesterday, here in Washington. He said to me, "when I'm reading, it's like a there's video playing inside my head". And I said - I said to him, "that's one of the best things you could say to me, because obviously you can visualize it really really clearly." I mean, that's your aim. That's your aim as a writer. You *want* people to be in there, living it.
DR: Where did, for you, the process of learning to write begin?
JKR: It began when I was about... six. When I finished my first story, and I thought it was a book, and I couldn't understand why my parents weren't going to get it published. But when you're six, you know, you think like that. You have that unshakable confidence, which you never get back. That story was about a rabbit called Rabbit who got the measles and was visited by his animal friends. Erm... And I've been writing ever since. It's all I ever wanted to do.
DR: What.. How did your parents react? They wanted you to do something
JKR: Yeah. Well... I never said [it] to them directly. I never really... I said to people, when I was a bit older - close friends - I said that's what I really wanted to do, but I never said to my parents point blank "all I want to be is a writer", because I just... I felt very self-conscious about saying that, and I came from a family where no one else was a writer or did anything particularly artistic, and I think they would have been - they would have been worried. They would have thought, well, that's quite an unrealistic hope. In a way they would have been right, you know, most writers - the vast majority of writers - do not make enough money from their writing alone to support themselves and their family. So... I think - I think I could have said it to them, and they would have said "well, that's great, but make sure you have a second string to your bow."
DR: So, how did you make your living initially?
JKR: I did several different jobs, but the longest, by far, was teaching. I taught. And I really - I enjoyed teaching -
DR: What age?
JKR: Erm... When I was living abroad I was teaching English to very small children up to adults - up to grandmothers. But mainly teenagers. Teenagers are my favorite age group to teach. And then in Scotland I was teaching French in the equivalent of your high school. So again I was teaching teenagers.
DR: Writing all the time?
JKR: All the time. Yeah.
DR: All the time...
JKR: mm-hm. Yeah. There'll be places who remember me as very anti-social. A few places -
JKR: - I would, like, disappear at lunch time and things. So I was not socializing with people very much. And that was purely because... I mean, what got me through the day, particularly in office jobs, was the thought that, "ok, at 1 o'clock you get an hour's writing. You leave the building, you can go to a café or whatever" -
DR: You were really driven to write. That's wonderful.
JKR: Absolutely, and I know that if I had never been published now, I'd still be doing the same thing.
DR: We'll take just a short break here, and when we come back we'll try to open the phones - 1-800-433-8850 - as I talk with J.K. Rowling about her very, very popular series on young Harry Potter. 1-800-433-8850. I'm Diane Rehm. Stay with us.
DR: ... and if you've just joined us, we have a real treat this morning,
having J.K. Rowling with us. She is Joanne Rowling, the author of the
Harry Potter series. Three books that have ignited young *and* adult readers
all around the world. If you'd like to join us 1-800-433-8850. What age
group are you actually aiming for, Jo?
JKR: When I'm writing, I don't aim for any - any age group. I write these books entirely for myself. And in fact, before - before my British publisher Bloomsbury told me that they were going to market the books as for 9 year olds and above, I really had no idea. A vague idea, obviously. I mean, I was aware they weren't for 3 year olds, and I knew that probably 19 year olds would be wanting to read other stuff, although I've met quite a few 19 year olds since, so that's - that's a really nice thing. The optimum age, I'd definitely say is 9+ for these books.
DR: Is there a certain amount of very sophisticated mythology that
you're trying to work in here?
JKR: There's - I'm not trying to work it in, but... If you're writing a book that, I mean, I do do a certain amount of research, and folklore is quite important in the books, so where I'm mentioning a creature or a spell, that people used to believe genuinely worked - of course it didn't - but, you know, it's still a very picturesque and a very comical world in some ways - then I will find out exactly what the words were, and I will find out exactly what the characteristics of that creature or ghost was supposed to be. But I hope that that appears seamlessly. Children often, often ask me how much of the magic is in inverted commas "real" in the books in the sense that did anyone ever believe in this? I would say - a rough proportion - about a third of the stuff that crops up is stuff that people genuinely used to believe in Britain. Two thirds of it, though, is my invention.
DR: What about words? You seem to have this *marvelous* facility
up words - create words.
JKR: I love making up words. There are a few key words in the books that wizards know and muggles, as in us - no-magic-people, don't know. Well, "muggle" is an obvious example. Then there's "quidditch." Quidditch is the wizarding sport. A journalist in Britain asked me... She said to me, "now, you obviously got the word "quidditch" from "quiddity," meaning the essence of a thing, it's proper nature," and I was really really tempted to say, "yes, you're quite right," because it sounded so intellectual, but I had to tell her the truth, which was that I wanted a word that began with "Q" -- on a total whim -- and I filled about, I don't know, 5 pages of a notebook with different "Q"-words until I hit "quidditch" and I knew that was the perfect one - when I finally hit "quidditch." Yeah.
DR: So that's how you look for words, coming out of yourself, just
writing again and again.
JKR: Yeah, keep trying and... Yeah. Fill sides and sides of paper until you get the right one.
DR: It's sort of like painting a landscape.
JKR: In a way, yeah. Broad strokes and fine strokes. Yeah.
DR: This idea of wizardry... The idea of people actually dying.
How scary do you regard that to be for young people?
JKR: Erm... It's scary in exactly the same way that the Grimm's fairytales - If you read the original versions of the Grimm fairytales, on which many of the Disney films are based on, which most of our modern anthologies of fairytales are based -
DR: Snow white, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast...
JKR: Precisely, and these are folktales. And folktales are generally told for a reason. They're ways for children to explore their darkest fears. That's why they endure - that you have archetypes, you have a wicked stepmother, this threatening figure who should be nurturing and who isn't. So these images crop up again and again and again... If you read Grimm's fairytales in the original, they are very brutal -
JKR: - and they are frightening. And in fact, I think, more frightening than anything I've written so far. I mean, children being murdered. There are horrible things. But this is centuries back, and I don't think children have changed that much. I think they still have the same worries, and fears. And literature is an *excellent* way, because they have to bring their own imagination to it, so this is something they *really* participate in, when they create the story inside their own head after reading it on the page. It's a fabulous way to explore those things. Now, I don't set out thinking, "this is what they're going to learn in this book", ever. I have a real horror of preaching to anyone, or of trying to make, you know, enormous points. You know, I'm not driven by the need to "teach" children anything, although those things do come up naturally in the stories, which I think is quite moral. Because it's a battle between good and evil. But I do think, that to pretend to children that life is sanitized and easy, when they already know - they don't need me to tell them - that life can be very difficult. If it hasn't happened in their own family, one of their friends' fathers will be... dying. Or some - you know, they're in contact with this from a very early age. And it's not a bad idea that they meet this in literature. It's not a bad idea that they can see a character who is - I mean, Harry is a human boy, he makes mistakes, but I think he came as a very noble character, he's a brave character and he strives to do the right thing. And to see a fictional character dealing with those sort of things, I think can be very very helpful.
DR: Now, Jo, you know that there is talk of *banning* these stories.
There's question in the minds of some library boards of directors as to
whether these books should be on the shelves, because they do involve
witchcraft in the [*not sure*] minds of their superiors. They do involve
killing. They do involve some frightening things, as you've just outlined.
What's your reaction to that kind of controversy?
JKR: For me - for me it's very simple. Of course parents have a perfect right to decide what their children see or read. I do *not* feel, however, that they have the right to decide what *all* of our children see and read. That's something different. So that's my position. If anyone doesn't want to read the books, of *course*, don't read them! But to stop other people reading them, I think, is very unfair.
DR: So to take them off the shelves of book stores or a library...
JKR: I would - yeah, I have a problem with that aspect. No book is going to be for every child, and no book is going to be greeted with open arms by every parent. My feeling is, if we ban every children's book that makes mention of magic - or witches or wizards, we are going to be - what are we going to be doing? Removing three quarters of the children's classics from the book shelves.
DR: Do you feel yourself drawn in any way to witchcraft?
JKR: [laughs] Not in the slightest. Children -
DR: I didn't think so.
JKR: No. Not in the slightest. Children ask me, of course, "do you believe in magic?" and I've always said "no, I don't". I believe in different kinds of magic. There's a kind of magic that happens when you pick up a wonderful book, and it lives with you for the rest of your life. That is my kind of magic. There's magic in friendship and in beauty and... Metaphorical magic, yes. But in the sense that, do I believe that if you draw a funny squiggly shape on the ground and dance around it, then something... Not at all, I find the idea, frankly, comical.
DR: Alright. We've got lots of callers. We'll open the phones now. 1-800-433-8850. First to Ginger in Jacksonville, Florida. Good morning!
Q: Good morning. Ms. Rowling, can you hear -
JKR: I can
Q: OK. First of all, I love your books.
JKR: Thank you so much.
Q: I've been listening to you talk this morning, and I know you've
been talking about children and what they see in the real world, but I
remain upset and disappointed by a report that I read in the newspaper,
that in book 4 - that you felt the need that somebody needed to die -
to be killed by "He Who Must Not Be Mentioned" - Voldemort.
JKR: Well, that's erm... -
Q: - and I want to ask you why? Because our children know what the
real world is, and your books are such an inspiration to the imagination.
JKR: Erm... I didn't read that piece, but it has been... I'm not going to say that no one is going to die in the books. I'm not going to say that. But to say that I felt the need to kill someone, just for the fun of it, is completely false. I don't want to be doing that for no good reason. I do sometimes get letters expressing these kinds of views. People saying, "well, I really love your books, but I don't want you to do this". Well, I'm afr- I don't want to... I'm not in the business of setting out to offend anyone, I don't want to upset anyone, but the bottom line is, I *have* to be free to write the books the way *I* want to. I'm not writing to order, I can't write to order. Now, in a sense, it's very nice thing that people are saying this, because it means, I mean they
DR: They care.
JKR: Absolutely. They wholeheartedly... They love the characters. Now, that is the *best* that could happen. For 5 years I was writing about these characters - no one read a word about it. Can you imagine what it feels like to me to see a huge queue of people who all know Harry and Ron and Hermione and Hagrid - these characters who lived with me for 5 years and no one knew about them, if you still - I mean, on the other side of the Atlantic! It's the most wonderful thing to me. I totally appreciate that people feel a very personal interest in these characters. But I still have to be able to write them the way I always planned to write them. You know, they've been plotted very carefully since 1992. The larger plot has been in place.
Q: You had all 7 books plotted out - the outlines?
JKR: I did, yeah.
Q: You did. So you didn't write one or two, and then as they became
popular, then write the rest.
JKR: No no, not at all. I always planned that we would see Harry from starting at Hogwarts to finishing at Hogwarts, which is... In my world wizards come of age at 17 - age 17. So in book 7 you'll see Harry come of age, which means he's allowed to use magic outside school, and you'll see the end of that school year. So it will be 7 years in his life.
DR: Ginger, thanks for calling.
Q: Well, I'll be disappointed if they end at book 7.
JKR: [laughs] Thank you! Thank you for saying that.
DR: Thanks very much.
Q: Alright, thank you.
DR: Jo, you've lost some loved ones in your life. How has that affected your thinking about what children know and don't know?
JKR: It's affected me profoundly, obviously, and therefore it's in the books. I lost my mother at age 25. And that and the birth of my daughter were the two most life altering, character changing things ever to happen to me. Nothing before or since has ever affected me in the way that those two things did. I do not at all regard with glibness the prospect of killing even a *fictional* character. Not at all. There's a part of book 1 where Harry sees his dead parents in an enchanted mirror. I was quite taken aback when I reread that chapter to see how much I had directly given Harry my own feelings, because I wasn't aware of that as I was writing. As I was writing, I'm trying to do the thing properly - that needed to happen for plot reasons - as people who've read the book, they will know - Harry had to find out how that mirror worked. But when I reread that chapter it became very clear to me that I'd given Harry almost entirely my own feelings about my mother's death.
DR: Harry *sees* his parents -
JKR: Yes. For the first time. He can not remember what they looked like. They died when he was one year old.
DR: - as perhaps you long to see your own mo-
JKR: I think we all do. I think that's very common. I've met many many many people now who've said that that chapter moved them, because you do have this appalling thirst just to see them again. And it would never be enough, but that point is made in the book. You know, Harry has this obsession with returning to the mirror, to keep staring at his parents. Ultimately it's not healthy. You do have to let go. And they would want you to let go. You know, this is a very important point.
DR: I can *Truly* identify with what you've said, since both my parents died when I was 19. My mother was 49. My father was 62. So I know exactly what you mean. At 25 before the hour, you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show.
DR: And we'll take another caller. Let's see. 9 year old Sam at Landon
school here in Bethesda, Maryland. Good morning Sam, you're on the air,
and perhaps you know that my own son went to Landon school in Bethesda.
Sam, are you there?
DR: Go right ahead.
JKR: Hi Sam!
JKR: How are you?
DR: Do you have a question?
Q: Yeah. Why did you start to write the books about Harry Potter?
JKR: Why did I start to write the books about Harry Potter. There's a really good reason why, Sam. I'd had other ideas for books - many ideas for books before then, and short stories and poems, and I'd written all sorts of things. This was the first idea that I had that gave me a kind of physical sense of excitement. You know how when you get really excited about something, your stomach turns over. That is how I felt. The moment I had the idea, just excitement flooded through me and adrenalin flooded through me. And I think that's... You can normally tell a good idea by that kind of very physical response to it. I was so excited. I just thought this would be such fun to write. And that's really what gave me the impetus to keep writing about him.
DR: Good. Sam, thanks for calling!
JKR: Thank you, Sam!
DR: Alright, let's go to Cincinnati, Ohio, and to Celeste. Good
JKR: Hi Celeste.
DR: How are you?
Q: I'm good.
Q: I have, actually, two questions.
Q: One of them is, if, in quidditch, Ravenclaw was playing Hufflepuff?
If Ravenclaw's seeker caught the snitch, but Hufflepuff was still ahead
of them in points by how many goals they scored, who would win?
JKR: Well, it is pos- To people who haven't read the books, Celeste has proven herself a true fan, by asking a really technical question about quidditch, which is the wizard sport. OK, so I'm gonna answer for Celeste, but this will be completely impenetrable to a lot of people. It's possible, Celeste, for the team to win, even if they don't catch the snitch, but they have to be more than 150 points up on goals. OK? So that can happen. And it does happen. This makes me sound completely insane that I know all this stuff, but of course I would, it's my world. It happens more at the higher levels of quidditch when the goal scoring is a bit higher.
JKR: So that's what normally happens. But, in school quidditch, normally if you catch the snitch, as you'll know, you win. That's normally what happens.
Q: And I'd also like to know... A friend of mine told me that he'd
heard that they were going to make a movie?
JKR: Yes, that's true. The film rights have been sold, and at the moment, as far as I know, the movie should be made in - or finished and ready to watch Summer 2001.
JKR: OK! Thanks very much for calling.
Q: Thank you!
DR: Thank you. How do you feel about that movie... business?
JKR: I feel really excited. Me, in fact - coincidentally, 'cause has Celeste just asked about it - because of quidditch. Because I've been able to see this game playing in my head for years now. And to actually - to imagine being able to watch it, literally watch it, would be the most fabulous thing.
DR: But doesn't it take it into a different realm?
JKR: Yes it does. Of course it does. So I - Yes, I'm very excited, and of course I'm nervous. There's not an author in the world who cares about their characters who isn't nervous, when it's taken on to the big screen. But I must say that I never would have sold film rights to Warner Bros if I hadn't believed that they would make the best job of the film, and if they do what they say they're going to do, I do Truly believe that it'll be a great film. And that's what matters. And I would rather have it made with people who are giving me some input, and, you know, I'm able to express my views and they're very open to hearing what, you know, what I feel about it, than obviously having it made by someone - perhaps after I've been hit by a bus - when I have no say at all, and it's not done the way I'd like to see it.
DR: But how much final control do you actually have?
JKR: Well, we're at a very early stage here. I have script approval, but the script's not even finished yet. Warner Bros. have been very keen to ask my views on all sorts of things. They got a really great writer, Steve Kloves, which I couldn't have been happier about. He would have been my first choice. He has a very similar sense of humour to me. He really gets the books - he really likes Hermione, which is not that common, so we're OK there. So, so far I'm really happy.
DR: We'll see what happens.
JKR: We'll see.
DR: Alright, we'll take more questions, commence after a short break - 1-800-433-8850 - I'm Diane Rehm. Stay with us.
DR: And welcome back. J.K. Rowling is with me - the author of the
extraordinarily popular Harry Potter series of books, published by Scholastic
Publishing in New York. And the first three are out, and in front of me.
I know we have both many young fans and adult readers. One reader, Marty,
who calls himself an adult reader. He says he loves the books, but finds
it hard to accept that they are actually for children.
JKR: Well, it's an interesting point, because... I never saw them as, you know, exclusively *for* children, ever. As I said, I was 30 when I finished book 1. I'm now 34. I'm still writing what I know I'd like to read now. But I am aware that I would have liked to have read it when I was much younger. It depends what Marty means. I mean, certainly the sense of humour is mine. It's not what I think kids find funny, it's what I find funny. So, yes, I'm writing for anyone who wants to read the books - anyone at all. I hope that answers the question.
DR: You finished the first book when you were 13.
JKR: 30. Oh, I wish I'd finished it when I was 13.
DR: Oh sorry, Wow, I thought you said when you were 13.
JKR: No 30, I started writing it when I was 25. But during those 5 years I was working full time. So, I had limited - well, for 4 of those years I was working full time, for one of those years I was being a single mom full time, which was actually harder work.
DR: Yes. Now, talk about your marriage, your divorce, and your child.
JKR: Well, basically, my marriage split up. I had been living and teaching abroad - in Portugal; moved back to Scotland to be near my sister and obviously moved back to a life where I had no job, and at least didn't have very much money. For about a year, we really didn't have very much money at all.
DR: What did that mean?
JKR: Well, it meant gross insecurity, as anyone who's been there will know. The main worry is... The stress of having very little money and having a child, and the guilt feelings about, you know, am I ever gonna be able to provide properly for her. I've got, you know, I really wanna get out there and work again. But as countless mothers will know here and in Britain, you do get stuck in a kind of trap. Child care is expensive. You need to get a job that pays really a lot of money to be able to afford the child care, so you can work. So you're caught in this kind of vicious circle. But after about a year I got out, and I was teaching again. And life, you know, became a lot more secure. Not *frantically* secure, because I wasn't teaching full time at that point. The irony is, I never ever thought the books would be financially viable. I had huge guilt feelings about my desire to write, because I thought, "is this very self indulgent? This is my passion, but I have a daughter to look after now". And my realistic - well, my very *hopeful* ambition was that the book would make just enough money - it would kind of pay for itself, if you see what I mean. Even if it just kept me in typing paper and typewriter ribbon.
DR: Sure. Sure, because you were so driven to write.
JKR: Absolutely, and I just thought, if I could just say, well, you know, "it made 2000 pounds" - which to me at the time actually was a lot of money - if I could just say that then felt I could justify taking a part time teaching job and writing part time. But I really felt that it had to make me something, because otherwise I felt I was selling out my daughter.
DR: So, now it's all different.
JKR: Very different, because now I can afford to write full time, which was my lifelong ambition. I never ever dreamt I would be able to get here. It is just... I still - I very frequently feel I'm gonna wake up and think I had this dream where I was touring America and have a big success.
DR: How *does* it change your life?
JKR: It's a very... It's a weird thing, because on some levels my life hasn't changed at all. People might find that hard to believe, but I'm still a very happy single mother; I'm still doing all the mundane stuff; I'm still, you know, making the tea and cleaning out the rabbit(?); and writing at home - not a glamourous existence, but the existence I always wanted. So, on that very basic level - day to day - my normal life has really not changed very much. Except that there is an absence of worry. That's the big thing. I don't worry about money anymore - well, I *do* still worry about money, because I think it'll all go away, you know, I haven't got used to the idea, but I don't have to worry. But... Then... I come to America for three weeks. And it's like stepping through the looking glass, and suddenly I go from this quiet existence, where it's me and my notepad in some obscure café somewhere writing, to *this* - to being interviewed on the radio. And so, obviously, that is a very big change. That didn't use to happen at all.
DR: Do you feel overwhelmed?
JKR: Erm... I feel... stunned. By the warmth of the response. I really really do. But it's a wonderful thing. "Overwhelmed" implies that I'm not enjoying it, that I go home to my hotel room and I cry. No. I don't. I feel shocked, but in the best sense, you know. I do feel shocked. It's like walking into a wall of... I mean, I went... To walk into a book store and have children applauding and screaming, you know, and you're looking over your shoulder wondering which Spice Girl turned up, and then you realize it's for a book. That's the *best* thing in the world. Nothing better than that, and it's absolutely fabulous.
DR: How is your daughter?
JKR: Well, my daughter, she's erm... I'm prouder of her than I am of the Harry books, and that's really saying something. She's absolutely great. But she - for her - it's a funny thing, because she can't ever remember life being very different. She was obviously very tiny when we were *really* broke, has no memory of that period at all, which is a nice thing. She's always seen me writing, she's always been used to me saying, just "Hang on! hang on two seconds while I write this down. Hang on, Mommy's just gotta write this down", so that's just something she's had to put up with from Mommy. It was only when she started school that she for the first time realized that what I did was not completely usual, because then a lot of older children in the playground were surrounding her, saying "Did your mom really write the Harry Potter books?" 'cause they were reading them in school - in Scotland it's been read in a lot of class rooms. So that - then for the first time she was coming home, and full of - asking me what was going on.
DR: Has she read them?
JKR: I've read the fi... - very recently - I swore I wouldn't read them to her till she was seven. But she badgered and badgered and badgered me, and finally I decided it was almost unfair to shut her out, because, you know, - it was meant for her to understand what all these children are asking her all the time. So I read her the first one, we're currently on book two, and she really loves it.
DR: And you're reading out loud to her.
JKR: I read them out loud to her - she can read them herself. I mean, I sat and listened to her the other day and I was in tears.
DR: Now, will you be reading these for tape?
JKR: No. I really hate the sound of my own voice on tape. So, I was asked to, in Britain, and I just said I couldn't bear to do it. In Britain - the British version is read by Stephen Fry, who is an idol of mine - I've idolized him since I was in my teens, so meeting him was quite something. And to hear him read my books was amazing. He's a very very funny man. He's fantastic. And here in America - the American version for tape was read by Jim Dale, and I heard that very recently and I loved it just as much.
JKR: Yeah, I'm very pleased with them.
DR: Alright, back to the phones and to - er - Ann Arbor, Michigan,
let's go to Laurie! You're on the air.
Q: Good morning, Diane
DR: Good morning!
Q: I, first of all, want to say that I'm the mother of an 11 year old girl, and she forced me to read these books, but I am enthralled. They are just wonderful, and I really suggest that any parent whose child is reading these books, that they need to read these books also, they're just wonderful. They're light and imaginative. And I would just *die* if I could play quidditch! I would [Jo and Diane laugh]. Wonderful. But I do have a question. I'm always interested when female authors choose males as their protagonist. And I'm wondering if you even know, Ms. Rowling, why - when you were on that train and the picture of Harry came into your mind - why he was a boy - a 10 year old boy - and not a girl. If you've given any thought to that.
JKR: I have, but that is actually very very astute of you, 'cause no one's ever - I've been asked that question before, but never phrased that way, and you say to me "why do you even know?" And that's it. No one - I mean, I don't know why that - why Harry came to me. No, I don't know why it was a boy. But have I given thought to it? Yes, definitely. I'd been writing the book for 6 months, and I *did* suddenly stop, and, I mean - it took me 6 months because I was enjoying myself so much - to suddenly stop myself and think "hang on, I'm obviously female, and my hero is a boy! How did that happen?" But it was too late. It was too late, then, to make Harry Harriet. He was very real to me as a boy. I would have - you know, to put him in a dress would have felt like Harry in drag. I couldn't - I was too fund of him by then to go and turn him into a girl. So, I think - again it's a freedom issue. You have to be free to write what you want to write. I'm not in the business of putting token characters in there, because I think "OK, now, today we need, you know, *this* kind of character". I never do that. My characters come organically, and they come through this mysterious process no one really understands. They just pop up, or... But they're sometimes inspired by real people. Hermione is - Hermione, Harry's friend Hermione, is really the brains of the outfit. Anyone who's read the books will know that. And she is a caricature of me at 11. Now, Harry - Hermione is very very dear to my heart because of that. I understand her implicitly. She's not exactly like me, because characters always become something very different on the page. So I do feel that I have a female character in there, into whom I've really put a lot of myself.
DR: I think the experience, Laurie, of reading the books with your
is really going to establish a bond that probably will last for the rest of your lives.
Q: I agree with you.
DR: Something that really draws you close together and creates memories - very special ones.
JKR: It's the nicest thing I could hear, the best thing, because reading aloud is so important.
DR: Laurie, thanks for calling.
JKR: Thank you.
DR: At 7 minutes before the hour, you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show.
DR: And... let's go to St. Louis, Missouri. Jerry, thanks for joining
Q: Well, thanks for taking my call.
Q: I wanted to say, I got the first book - when I heard about it
on NPR about a year ago, when it first came to the States - for my wife.
And read it, of course, myself. And we both have enjoyed it, and look
forward to reading the rest of your books.
JKR: Oh, thank you so much.
Q: And our reading group, that - we read a book each month, is gonna
read the first book in November.
JKR: Oh really? That's fantastic!
DR: That's terrific. And this is, I presume, an adult reading group.
Q: Oh yeah. So, you're doing a signing tour, apparently. Are you going to be anywhere in the St. Louis area?
JKR: Am I going to be anywhere in the St. Louis area... Er...
DR: You know, it is - the schedule is not inhere right now, Jerry,
JKR: I don't think I am, Jerry, and I'm *really* sorry about that, because I would like to have met you and your reading group. The schedule is really really tight, and in fact -
DR: I bet.
JKR: Yeah, it's - we're moving to Atlanta today, even Chicago. Then Los Angeles and then San Francisco.
DR: So, maybe next time.
JKR: Maybe next time, yes, definitely.
DR: Jerry, thanks for calling.
JKR: Thank you!
DR: Er, this whole phenomenon, here in *this* country. I recognize
that you didn't expect *any* of it, but are you surprised at, especially,
the United States?
JKR: Erm... I *was*, and yet... When I look back I think, "well, *why* were you?" The first reading I ever did in the States, which was this time last year, I remember feeling incredibly nervous in the car on the way there. I was going to speak to about 50 children. And I was thinking in the car, if I were about to speak to 50 British children, I wouldn't be that nervous. Because I know where the laughs come; I knew the reading I was doing; I knew always where they laughed, the kind of questions they answered [sic], and I was thinking - but this feels like I'm in new territory. I started the reading. At the point where I would have got the first laugh in Britain, I got a huge laugh. And my nerves completely disappeared. Kids are kids, everywhere. And I have exactly the same kind of response over here. And - so *now* I look back and think, well, "how stupid were you? Why would it have been different?", you know?
DR: You've got the last chapter -
JKR: Yeah, of the 7th book. Written.
DR: - of the 7th book, already written.
JKR: Yeah, which I'm now starting to think I should put in a safe. I mean, friends of mine joked to me about that, when I started telling it - they said, "you know, you wanna be careful, 'cause what if a fanatic came 'round the house and found it?" And I would just laugh about it. And kids - friends of mine's kids - have come round and joked, and pretended to, you know, get in the study and look for it. And I have actually hidden it now. Because, I mean, it would be an absolute disaster if anyone read that before - before it was published. So yeah, it might have to go in a safe.
DR: Well, I am so delighted for your success.
JKR: Thank you so much.
DR: I am so delighted that you have turned so many young people
on to read it.
JKR: There is nothing, nothing better than that. There is no higher compliment. And I've met very many parents in Britain - and here now - who have said, "Oh, he wouldn't read", or "she wouldn't read", and -
JKR: And that is the absolute highest compliment. It makes me feel I wasn't wasting space on this earth after all.
DR: J.K. Rowling, and she is the author of the enormously popular
Harry Potter series. I wanna thank you so much - you're a *delight* to
JKR: Thank you very much. Thanks very much indeed.
DR: And I wish you all good things.
JKR: Thank you, Diane.
DR: Thanks for being here.
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