Comic Relief live chat transcript, March 2001

Hello, and welcome to tonight's live chat with J K Rowling.

Before she arrives here are some interesting facts about her new books...

J K Rowling is the award winning author of the four best selling Harry Potter books, and she has written two small volumes for Comic Relief which Harry and his friends read in the novels: 'Quiddich Through the Ages' is the quintessential Quiddich [sic] book with the rules and regulations, anti-muggle precautions, the golden snitch, as well as the history and evolution of the game ... a must for anyone with any interest in broomstick sports.

'Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them' is found in practically every wizard house up and down the country. If you want to read about the Quintaped, the Puffskein and the Knarl, where they and live, what to feed them etc. then this book is for you.

You will soon be able to see Harry on the big screen, with a film being released by Warner Brothers on 16th November this year.

Hello, and welcome to tonight's live chat with J K Rowling

I'm here!

J K Rowling is ready to start answering your questions.

Yes, she is

Here's the first question: What made you start writing the Harry Potter series?

I had the idea on a train in 1990 and I just thought it would be such fun to write, and it is!

How do you choose the names for your books?

With difficulty... I've changed my mind a few times. That was a problem with Goblet of Fire which was originally called 'The Doomspell Tournament'

How old are Professor Dumbledore and Professor Snape?

Dumbledore's about 150 years old ... wizards have a longer life expectancy than us Muggles, Snape's 35 or 6.

Have you wanted to be an author from a young age or is it a recent decision?

I've always wanted to be a writer as far back as I can remember and I've always been writing though had nothing published before hp

What's the favourite Harry Potter Book that you've written so far?

Probably Goblet of Fire though it's very hard to choose. It's usually the book you've done most recently.

Will the Weasley twins open their joke shop, where and when?

Come on Claire... do you really really think I'm going to tell you that?!

If you could be a wizard for a day what would you do and why?

How do you know they won't die from a surfeit of canary creams before they get the chance?

Oops sorry, still answering previous question... If I were a witch for a day I'd fly and probably get revenge on a few people :)

Ella Harris: When will book 5 be released?

Don't know Ella, sorry! It's not finished yet but it won't be out to coincide with the film, so don't believe that rumour

Where did you get your inspiration for the Harry Potter series?

I don't know where inspiration comes from Sarah, I wish I did!

Andreas: What do you think about Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings"?

I read it when I was about twenty, I think, and I liked it a lot though I've never re-read it, which is revealing (usually with my favourite books I re-read them endlessly) but he created a whole mythology, an incredible achievement.

How do you choose the names for the creatures in your stories?

I make up most of them but some of them are obscure old English words I like and merrily abuse by applying them to some horrible creature i also get a lot of names from maps. I don't imagine I'm very popular in Dursley.

Why did you chose the name Harry Potter and did you base the character on someone you know?

Harry is completely imaginary. I took his surname from a family I lived near when I was a child, just because I liked the name and 'Harry' has always been one of my favourite Christian names.

If you could be any Harry Potter character who would it be and why?

I'm most like Hermione, or was when I was younger, so it would probably have to be her, though I would most like to be like Dumbledore - I'd like his wisdom.

Do you need a Wand to do Magic??

You can do unfocused and uncontrolled magic without a wand (for instance when Harry blows up Aunt Marge) but to do really good spells, yes, you need a wand.

Aren't you worried people will guess the plot before you're finished writing the Potter books?

Not really, because even if they do guess it shows how much attention they've given the previous books!

Hannah Swithinbank: What do you think about the mass marketing of Harry Potter merchandise to tie in with the movie? Do you like any of it, and do you think it is a good idea to have a 'universal Harry' image rather than keeping that which has become specific in different countries?

Well, we always knew there would be merchandising along with the movie, and Warner Bros have given me a lot of input on it. As for a general view of Harry, I think most people's idea of him comes from the different book covers around the world at the moment and they're not changing. We'll have to see what happens once people have seen Dan Radcliffe, I suppose!

Is Hagrid EVER going to get cooking lessons (pref Jamie Oliver)?

Hee hee hee no, Hagrid LIKES what he cooks he can't see any room for improvement. He likes stoat sandwiches, bless him.

How long each week do you spend writing Harry Potter?

Depends. Sometimes I do ten hour days. Sometimes (like today) I don't get to do anything. I like the ten hour days best

Alan Colegate: I'm 20 and think the Harry Potter books are great, what do you think makes them appealing to such a wide age group?

thank you Alan :) I think (but I don't really know, because I'm not good at being objective about my own work) that as I wrote primarily for myself, that probably shows in the books. The sense of humour is mine, not what I think children find funny, for instance.

Does it bother you that in America they changed the names of your books?

They changed the first title, but with my consent to be honest. I wish I hadn't agreed now but it was my first book, and I was so grateful that anyone was publishing me I wanted to keep them happy.

Has Harry got a middle name and if so what is it?

Yes, he has, it's James, of course!

What age rating is the new film, will I be able to see it, (aged 8)

I'm not sure Brittany I don't think that's been decided yet.

Matt Trindall: How did you come up with the name Quidditch?

I played around with words beginning with 'Q' for ages I don't know why 'Q', it was just a whim and then I came up with Quidditch and knew it was the one.

What address do we send letters to about Harry, like those that we see in the book?

You send them to Bloomsbury Publishers, address inside book.

Have you ever thought about doing a completely new series of books?

Eytan, let me finish this one first! I haven't decided what I'm going to do next I've still got three novels to go!

Carrie: How do you feel about thousands of fans writing fanfiction about your books, and having them posted on the Internet?

It's wonderful ... I love writing more than almost anything in the world so the idea that Harry has inspired other people to write makes me very happy.

Leo Huckvale: How do you cope with the aggravation from strongly religious people against witchcraft?

Well, mostly I laugh about it I ignore it ... and very occasionally I get annoyed, because they have missed the point so spectacularly. I think the Harry books are very moral but some people just object to witchcraft being mentioned in a children's book unfortunately, that means we'll have to lose a lot of classic children's fiction.

Laura Hammond: Does your daughter read the books before anyone else?

No, though she's pretty annoyed about that! She's only seven and I think it would be a horrible burden on her if I told her secrets. She already gets surrounded in the playground and interrogated!

Do you think Hogwarts will be doing anything for Red Nose Day?! Will there be a spell for casting red noses on everyone!!!

Ooooo, yes I think so and they'll probably dress up as Muggles for a day.

Alan Colegate: What advice would you give to budding writers hoping to follow in your footsteps?

Read, read, read, read, read and then read a bit more. It's the only way to learn what makes good writing and then practise loads and loads and loads... and resign yourself to the fact that you will hate nine tenths of what you write at first...And then, one day, you'll write one page that you really like, and you'll go from there.

How carefully do you plan your books?

So carefully I sometimes feel as though my brain is going to explode.

Amanda_Cameron: Do you have a fan club address?

The best way to contact me is via Bloomsbury Publishers.

Jack Lewis: Do you feel that the Harry Potter film will take away the imagination and magic from the book?

Well, obviously I hope not! I'm excited about seeing the film, but then no film could ever ruin my favourite books for me.

What is your favourite book ever (not including Harry Potter)?

Let's see...there are loads probably 'Emma' by Jane Austen or 'The Van' by Roddy Doyle...there are so many.

Joy Phillips: Have you ever suffered from writers block, and how did you get over it?

I don't know whether it was really writers' block, because I was still having ideas. However, during the writing of Chamber of Secrets I sort of froze it was really panic, because the first book suddenly received a lot of publicity and I hadn't expected it and got into a right old state.

Have you ever sneakily written yourself into a book??

Noooooooo....well, yes. Hermione's based on me when I was younger. She's an exaggerated version of me. I wasn't that clever and I don't think I was quite such a know-it-all but I had my moments.

Charlotte Hyland: Why were there no pictures in your books?

Actually, Idrew some pictures for book one and the publishers didn't want them. They felt that putting in pictures implied the books were for younger children but I drew the pics for Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts, so that was fun.

My sisters and I go to a Welsh school and would love to read Harry Potter books in our own language any chance?

There's a thought! if there are any Welsh language publishers logging on, they should talk to Christopher Little, my agent.

Are you going to write a cook book about all the sweets in the Harry Potter Books?

Hmmmmm... probably not... if you read 'Fantastic Beasts' you'll find out that a few of the ingredients would be difficult to find in Sainsburys!

Rebecca Boswell - What is the approximate value of a galleon?

About five pounds, though the exchange rate varies!

Isaac -If you could travel to Hogwarts for an hour, what would you do there?

Go straight into a certain room, mentioned in book four which has certain magical properties Harry hasn't discovered yet!

On the Hogwarts crest there is a motto written in Latin, what does it stand for?

It means 'never tickle a sleeping dragon', good sound practical advice.

Harryp: When did you decide there would be 7? Right from the start?

Yes, I always planned seven books, one for each of Harry's years at Hogwarts.

What is your best time of day for writing?

Probably evening, I'm a real night owl and the best ideas come at midnight.

Did you have a real school in mind when you invented Hogwarts?

No, I've never been anywhere like Hogwarts, if only! I went to a very normal Comprehensive..

How many rough copies do you have to do before you get it right?

Loads and loads and loads. The worst ever was thirteen different versions of one chapter (chapter nine in Goblet of Fire). I hated that chapter so much; at one point, I thought of missing it out altogether and just putting in a page saying 'Chapter Nine was too difficult' and going straight to Chapter Ten.

Chesann Blampied: My name is weird, would you use it in a book?

Oh yes, Blampied is an excellent name but would you sue me if I made you into a Slytherin?!

Where you encouraged to write as a child?

I didn't need to be encouraged, I was always writing. I think my parents thought of it as a hobby. I never told them it was all I wanted to do with my life - no pension scheme, you see!

You have mentioned that there are wizard schools all over the world. Is there any possibility that you may write about some of them?

Well, as you'll know if you've read Goblet, I've already written about a couple of them but a whole series, no... I'm loyal to Hogwarts!

If Harry Potter hadn't been such a success what do you think you would be doing now?

I would be teaching French to students in Edinburgh and still writing in my spare time.

Are you looking forward to the film premiere?

I'm looking forward to seeing the film, very much indeed, but I never look forward to anything that involves loads of cameras pointed in my direction. I think I'll go in disguise. Look out for the person in the purple turban, that'll be me.

Which character do you most enjoy writing for?

Good question...

Gilderoy Lockhart was loads of fun, but he was a bit of a one-joke character, and I think I did as much as I could with him. I love writing Hagrid and the Dursleys, too oh, and Fred and George, all of them, now I come to think of it.

Why did you choose "never tickle a sleeping dragon" as your motto?

Lots of schools have pointless mottos like 'reach for the stars' or 'persevere and endure;' I wanted something useful.

Chloe De: When you originally wrote the books did you excpect them to interest adults as well as kids?

I didn't really expect them to interest anyone much! I didn't think I was writing anything at all commercial and that was certainly the opinion of all the publishers who turned me down. I am smirking unbecomingly by the way.

How much money does Harry have in the wizards' bank?

Lots. Enough for all the things he will need at Hogwarts for the next three years

I love the Idea of Harry getting older, do you think you might be tempted to write books about Harry when he is working and has a family of his own?

Hmmmmmm... yet another person who is convinced I'm not going to kill him off! Where you people get the idea I'm soft-hearted, I don't know. I'm joking. Or am I?

You said you started writing the first book in a coffee house in Edinburgh. Does that mean you keep going back there to write the others?

Nope, can't write in there any more, sadly because I was an idiot and gave loads of interviews in there and advertised the fact that I wrote in there so of course lots of people come looking for me so now I write in different cafes.

Did you read the Narnia books when you were a child?

Yes I did and I liked them though all the Christian symbolism utterly escaped me it was only when I re-read them later in life that it struck me forcibly.

Corrie Campbell: Is there anything you regret about being an author?

Not about being an author, I love being an author but I'd love a few days off from being well-known sometimes still, that will come!

Is JK Rowling your real name or is it your 'writers' name?

My real name is Joanne Rowling. My publishers wanted another initial, so I gave myself my favourite grandmother's name as a middle name, 'Kathleen'

If you could travel anywhere by 'floo powder' with anyone where would you go and with who?

I'd take a few of my best friends straight to Hawaii. I was there for New Year and it was wonderful.

Do you use any method writing or just write in a stream of consciousness?

Sometimes stream of consciousness, but that's self-indulgent, I find I might come up with a couple of good ideas but it's always better meticulously planned - boring but true!

Karin L Robinson - When is Ron's Birthday?

First of March, in case you're thinking of sending him a card and Hermione is the nineteenth of September.

Kathleen Bell - What was Professor Trelawney's first genuine prediction?

You'll find out! The best questions - the ones from really attentive and thoughtful readers - are always the ones I can't answer - they give too much away!

Jane Hutchinson - Please tell us if you had some rejections when you began writing for publication and how you coped with them.

Oh yes, lots of rejections but I expected everyone to reject me, so I really was braced for failure! I loved Harry so much I just wanted to know I'd tried to get him into print.

Ronald Walker: Do you have any rivals in the writing world?

Rivals?! Writers love each other with a deep and enduring bond that sails above petty rivalries, Ronald. In other words nobody's been nasty to my face!

Did you get good marks in your English G.C.S.Es?

I am pleased to tell you that I got As in my English GCSEs (well, O-levels as they then were). However, I got C for Physics and I was really proud of that because I didn't understand Physics at all and still don't.

Sheila McCleary - Have any of the Hogwarts professors had spouses?

Good question - yes, a few of them but that information is sort of restricted - you'll find out why.

Glynnis L - Will Harry ever notice the long-suffering Ginny Weasley?

You'll see... poor Ginny, eh?

Kirsty Morrison: What's your most hated book of all time?

That I've ever read? It's probably a Jeffrey Archer. I made myself read one to find out whether it was as bad as I thought and it was.

Zsenya - Does Hermione like Ron as more than a friend?

The answer to that is in Goblet of Fire, Zsenya!

Do we find out more about James Potters' family history in the next books?

Yes, you do.

Where did you get your idea for the house elves?

House-elves exist in folklore. I didn't invent the tradition that if you present them with clothes they will leave. I thought it would be funny if they thought clothes were a disgrace except, of course, for Dobby.

Jamie Minns: How much background information did you have before you started to write the first book?

Not too much. None, now I come to think of it! I made up my own background information for five years at the same time as writing the first book.

If you were Harry and had an invisibility cloak what would use it for?

I'd sneak into a few places. I can think of loads 10 Downing Street would be a good start.

What happened to Neville's Toad?

Trevor? He's still lurking.

Don't you think Stephen Fry has the best voice for your books?

Yes I definitely do, he's perfect. The moment they said he might be available I said 'GET HIM!!!'

What or who would you send into Room 101?

Cats - I don't like them and certain journalists.

What gave you the idea of having the Owl postal system?

Pigeon post!

Liz Grimwood-Taylor; What would you say to those people who think that Harry Potter is too scary for children?

Well, I think it's foolish to try and 'protect' children from Harry I can't think of any surer way to make them desperate to read the books! And as I've already said, I think of them as very moral.

What will you be doing on Comic Relief's Red Nose Day...will we see you on the show?

I'll be watching the television, of course! I always watch Comic Relief and I'll be wearing my Red Nose (available from Sainsburys) while reading Fantastic Beasts and Quidditch (available from all good book stores) and sporting my 'Pants for Poverty T-Shirts' (available from Littlewoods) because we want to make LOADS and LOADS of money. And incidentally I'm very annoyed I'm missing Celebrity Big Brother tonight because I'll be flying back up to Edinburgh. Could someone tape it for me?!

Just time for one more question

Logan Talbot - If you could pick your own wand core what would it be?

Phoenix feather and... let's see... possibly walnut, I love walnut wood.

That is all we have time for.

Here is J K Rowling with a final word

Thanks for all the great questions, this has been lots of fun, and sorry if I didn't answer yours! And buy the Comic Relief books please!!