"Harry to potter around with girls," The Express (UK), 28 March 2000

HARRY POTTER may be able to magic his way out of most predicaments but now he faces his biggest test: Falling in love.

JK Rowling, whose stories have turned her from a penniless single mum into Britain's highest paid woman, said her hero Harry will show an interest in the opposite sex in her new book.

"Last time you met him he was 13. He's 14 now and he's started to realise girls are quite interesting," she said yesterday.

"I think if someone is engaged in the books, he's not going to be too disappointed if, at some point, his hero holds hands with a little girl."

The book, whose title was not revealed, will be published on July 8.

Sales of the first three books have passed 30 million worldwide, having been translated into 35 languages across more than 200 countries.

Rowling, 34, recently won the Whitbread children's book of the year award for her third volume, Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban.

She said yesterday that while there are some issues she would never tackle in a children's book - including hard drugs and teenage pregnancies - she would not shy away from addressing themes like death.

Declining to reveal who the victim would be, she said: "I've said all along there will be death. You see a death in book four. People should not be too worried about it as there have already been deaths in the books."

The new book will also feature a quidditch (an aerial cross between football and basketball, played on broomsticks) world cup final between Ireland and Bulgaria.

At an estimated 620 pages, the book will be her longest yet.

Rowling said she no longer keeps a manuscript in her house because she has too many children calling to find out what is in store for their hero.

She added that Hollywood plans to make a film of her first novel, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

"I have script approval and the scripts are ready. We should know very soon who's directing it," she said.

"If Warner Brothers do what they say they are going to do, then I think we are looking at a very faithful adaptation."

She said the role of Harry had yet to be cast, but he could be played by a "physically perfect Harry" she had met while visiting Northern Ireland.

She said: "All of his classmates have apparently been saying the same thing to him, but I don't know whether he can act. "Also, a Northern Ireland accent might be a bit of a problem - but we could coach him."