Ballard, Nigel. Interview, BBCi Bristol, 12 November, 2001
Transcript courtesy The Sugarquill Transcription Project [Transcription
Audio: Quick Quotes Quill [RealAudio]
[Interviewer makes a brief summary of the story, and interviews some children and adults about their opinions on the Harry Potter books.]
Nigel Ballard (voice-over): In preparation for the publication of her most recent story, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, over five million copies had to be printed. Speaking in the Edinburgh café where she penned her first two novels, Joanne Rowling is reluctant to analyse why her books are so popular.
JKR: I get asked what my secret is a lot, as though, erm, I had some kind of a formula, that other, erm, children’s writers don’t have access to? And that’s — that’s just not true, and I think I will be really in trouble the day I start writing to a formula, so I don’t try and think about it. I don’t try and analyse it. I set out to write something I knew I would enjoy reading, at the age of... I was twenty-five when I had the idea, and I thought I would enjoy reading it. I was twenty-five and I knew I would have enjoyed reading it at twelve.
NB (voice-over): Some critics have said that the secret was that she knows what goes on inside the mind of a child.
JKR: I always find it quite patronising — ‘What do children want?’, as though they’re a separate species. They are... the same as us, with less life experience. So I never write with an imaginary focus-group of eight-year-olds in mind, I write entirely for myself. But I think I do have very, very, very vivid memories of what it felt like to be, erm, Harry’s age. For example, in Philosopher’s Stone, he’s coming up for eleven years old — I remember very vividly what it felt like to be eleven, so I have no difficulty in... going back to that time in my own head.
NB (voice-over): Harry Potter’s world, just like the real world, is violent, and the books cover issues such as death, hatred, prejudice and injustice. JK Rowling’s readers, young and old, shouldn’t expect a romantic fantasy story.
JKR: It does get violent occasionally, but I’ve always felt, from Philosopher’s Stone, I have — I have known what was coming, so... I used to meet parents when Philosopher’s Stone was first published, and they’d say, ‘Oh, my six-year-old son absolutely adores them’... [inhales deeply] I would feel, well, that’s great, if he likes it so much, but I know what’s coming! [laughs] And maybe it won’t... it... the subject matter, I feel, is, on occasion, not suitable for a six-year-old.
NB: How do you stop six-year-olds reading it?
JKR: You can’t. And I read things when I was very young that disturbed me. Erm, I don’t think that was a terribly bad thing — I had to face up to those things at a certain point; my parents never, erm, censored what I read. So, I wouldn’t say ‘Don’t read them’ to a six-year-old, I’d just say ‘Be aware that some of it does get uncomfortable’. Because I, I’m dealing with evil, I’m t— I’m trying to examine what happens to this community when a maniac tries to take over, and, erm, that... with all its ramifications, as in ‘who will be attracted to that side?’, erm... ‘what happens to the people who are fighting that?’, and how they themselves become corrupted, which is what you look for, and the reality of how evil it is to take a human life, and to torture, and to attempt to control. And if you are going to write about those kinds of things, I think you have a moral obligation to show what that involves, and not to prettify it, or to minimise it.
NB (voice-over): Harry enters the complex wizarding world at the age of eleven, a world that has been planned in every detail by his author. It’s a place where wizard shops and banks exist, unseen, alongside those of the everyday world, and at London’s Kings Cross Station, they even have their own platform.
JKR: Loads of details exist in my head, and the reader doesn’t need to know them, but I need to know them, just for my own satisfaction, and also... just because you will constantly turn corners in the plot and realise you need to work out the logistics of something — what is the law that governs wizard transport, for for example... erm, so I worked all that — all those kind of laws out very early. But for me the most important thing in, in creating a fantasy world was to set the boundaries. It was far more important to decide what they couldn’t do than what they could do. Then you have the underlying logic of the world, erm... but... inevitably there are occasions when I turn a corner in the plot and I think, Ah! Damn it, I haven’t worked that one out, so I have to sit down and work out, and that might take hours and it might take days to work out exactly how a certain thing in that world will function, and then you can go back and it literally might result in two sentences in the finished novel, but it’s, for me it’s about the structure of the world, the logic of it, and that’s what makes it plausible.
NB (voice-over): What many people have said about the Harry Potter books and, backed up by the evidence of impressive sales figures, is that, in an age of computer games and videos, children have started reading again.
JKR: I’ve met a couple of librarians who’ve told me that kids are coming in and reading their way through the fantasy shelves because they want something like Harry... well... that’s great, that they’re reading other books, but, you know, I would like to think that at some point they’re going to realise that you enter a different world, whatever kind of book you’re reading, be it fantasy or be it... you know, I don’t know, some gritty, realistic tale of, you know, crack dealers on a council estate, still a different world. So I would hope they’d make that leap, definitely.
NB (voice-over): Life for Joanne Rowling started in the west of England, where she was born in Yate (sp?) Cottage Hospital near Chipping Sodbury in 1965. At the age of nine, along with her parents and sister Diane, she then moved to west Gloucestershire. Her family settled in the village of Tutshill at the edge of the Forest of Dean, in the Wye Valley opposite the ancient Welsh border town of Chepstowe.
JKR: For me, the most beautiful part of Britain, because I think you, you know, you just have associations with a certain area, don’t you, and... the Wye Valley, for me, is the most beautiful part of Britain. It’s very hard for me to unravel what’s inspirational and what isn’t. In all honesty I think you could stick me in a toilet cubicle with a stack of paper and I think I would come up with stuff, just the same as if I was sitting in the most beautiful spot in the world. But there’s not a great deal to do in Chepstowe, beautiful though it is, and... [long pause] I will never know whether I would’ve written the same stuff if I’d grown up in Birmingham, but the... we did, my sister and I, we used to roam for hours over fields, and go back for meals, and make up games and so on, and possibly that’s more stimulating than sitting in a tower block and watching the telly all day.
NB (voice-over): By this time, however, Joanne was already a writer. Her first book was completed at the age of six.
JKR: What’s interesting to me about writing, about stories, when I’d finished it, it was about a rabbit called Rabbit who got the measles... what interests me in retrospect is that I illustrated it, tied it up with a piece of wool that I threaded through the sort of four pages, and gave it to my mother, and my mother said, ‘Oh, that’s won— that’s lovely’, and I remember thinking, Well, go on, then, publish it. Now that’s bizarre, that’s scary, isn’t it, in a six, seven year old, that I was very focused on ‘get it into print, then, mum!’ I didn’t even say that to my mother, I just, sort of, ‘Well, come on, then, do something with it!’ Because it was very, very deeply ingrained in me that that’s what I wanted to do, but I didn’t have sufficient confidence to tell anyone. Er, I don’t know what it — there must be an element of ego in there, there just must be, there must be because you... what gives me the right to think that my stories are more interesting than anyone else’s? I mean... but it’s, it’s a compulsion to write them, and I know for a fact that... after all, for years I wasn’t published and I wasn’t making money, and I was still writing as much as I could, almost continually. I just have a compulsion to write stories.
NB (voice-over): In the first Harry Potter story, the young wizard starts out at his new school, makes new friends, and over a short period of time has to learn a great many things. All experiences Joanne Rowling remembers, when at the age of eleven, she started Wyedean School.
JKR: I remember the... scariness... of going to secondary school — very scary, I think, for any child. The desperate scramble to get into some kind of a group, to bond with someone, anyone, in this new and scary world, in which there were very big, scary people. I mean, for the first time you’re walking through the corridors with adult-sized people, also in school uniform, and they seem so much more streetwise than you, and they certainly were, than me. The rumour Dudley tells Harry about Harry’s intended school, Stonewall High, is a rumour I heard about Wyedean, before I went there, which is that they’d stick you head-first down the loo and flush it. I heard worse rumours than that about what went on. None of it ever happened to me, but entering that world is frightening.
NB (voice-over): Harry Potter’s new school, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, is full of magic, even outside lessons. It’s a boarding school, located in a remote part of the British Isles. All the teachers have strange powers, and can perform tricks. But were any of their antics inspired by any of Joanne’s old teachers?
JKR: Oh, no one... no. I have been interested to read, continually, that I’ve based characters on people — I, I never do base them on — I did have teachers, in a plural, who were bullies, erm, who may have contributed to certain characters, but it would be totally wrong to say any one teacher became any one character. I had an English teacher, Miss Shepherd, of whom I was extremely fond... er, she was a great teacher. She may, unconsciously, have influenced Professor McGonagall, for example, but I never, ever thought, She is Professor McGonagall. At all.
NB (voice-over): And what did Wyedean’s teachers think of her? She remembers being swotty, and in the sixth form she became Head Girl. But did anyone spot her talent as a writer?
JKR: I think some of them thought I was a snotty little upstart, probably rightly. [laughs] Erm... I had... English was always far and away my best subject, so why I went on to do French is a bit of a mystery. I’d say some teachers thought that I had ability, yeah... it varied very much. In all honesty, I think that the quality of teaching at that school was very patchy. Erm... I, I ran into a couple of teachers who I thought exemplified the very best of state schools, people who were giving maximum effort to the brightest, down to the lesser-ability groups, trying to stimulate those who came from less privileged backgrounds, cause it was a very mixed cache, area, we had a large council estate right outside the school, you had farmers’ children being bussed in, erm, sort of bog-standard middle-class children like me living in the village up the road. So... I would say I met a couple of very committed teachers.
NB (voice-over): After school, Joanne Rowling went to Exeter University and studied French. Although still writing in secret, she graduated, and took up a number of jobs, at one point working for Amnesty International investigating human rights abuses in French-speaking Africa. She then moved to Portugal, to teach English, met her husband, and a year later, her daughter was born. But the marriage broke down, and Joanne was forced to move back to the UK. As a single mother living on benefits, she moved to Edinburgh to be near her sister, Diane. This period in her life has been painted as a low point by many sections of the press, but Joanne is quick to point out it’s a position in which many young people find themselves.
JKR: Anyone who has found themselves in a situation where they have
absolutely no money, they have no job, I was in the pov— I was
caught absolutely in the poverty trap. I obviously had tools that a lot
of people don’t have, and I knew that: I had an education, I had
a reasonable CV; it was odds on at some point I was going to be able
to crawl my way out of that trap. What was scary to me and still is scary
to me is how hard it was do to that, even with my advantages.
Single parents are people who are doing two people’s work, and usually a third, paid, job as well; they are providing support every which way for this child, they are providing material support, emotional support, they are often totally unsupported themselves. I have to say that I, personally, never felt the stigma of being a single parent because I never let anyone stigmatise me. I just wouldn’t. I was, I felt damn proud of myself. And that’s taking Harry Potter utterly out of the picture, I still feel proudest of the fact that I have a very lovable, bright, happy child. That’s, that’s the best thing.
NB (voice-over): But Harry Potter was already in existence. His story had been dreamt up during a particularly boring train journey, and suitcases containing hundreds of pages had travelled back from Portugal with her. Joanne still had a burning desire to write, and had already planned a series of seven Harry Potter stories. The situation she now found herself in meant there was only one thing left to do, so with her daughter sleeping at her side, she spent days rewriting the first Harry book in a friend’s café.
JKR: I think I was full of insecurities about my writing. I had never been published, I had never had so much as a short story published in a magazine, I had box-loads of stuff on Harry, and a... you know... a fairly large box of other stuff. And I knew... that as I finished it now, I was... when was I going to have the time to finish it? I was practically, I was about to start teacher training so I could teach in Britain. You cannot do teacher training, and then teach, and then mark in the evenings and prepare lessons and raise a child yourself and write novels. That’s humanly impossible, unless you find a way of never needing to sleep. So I knew that, unless I did it then, you know, I might as well wait... I’d probably wait twenty years, until my daughter was launched into the world herself, and then maybe I would go back to it. My plans had always been very ambitious for those books. So yes, you’re right, it did kick-start me. And I mean I... it was a miserable time, I was depressed at that time, but I can’t have been that severely depressed, cause I still had the get-up-and-go to do that. But it kept me going, mentally. You know, just the sheer process of writing kept me going at times. Erm... I’d be, I mean Harry Potter would be very important in my life even if no one had ever published it, for that reason, it got me through a very difficult time. Not at all — people often misinterpret that when I say it — not because I thought it was going to make me a fortune at all. I was very realistic, I thought it was odds-on it’d never be published, but because it gave me something to get my brain into.
NB (voice-over): The next part of the story, Joanne puts down to luck. The second literary agent she approached, absent-mindedly, on his way to lunch, picked up her manuscript from a huge pile, read it, and liked it. One year later she had a publisher, and some money to complete the second Harry Potter book.
JKR: I was in absolute denial about how huge it was. Recently, it’s been impossible to maintain that illusion, and I have felt the stress of that on occasion, I’ve felt the stress of that while writing book four on occasion. But day-to-day — I know this sounds disingenuous, but day-to-day, I really don’t think about it that much. I don’t want to. But I’m lucky. The roots go really deep with Harry, you know, I was writing Harry a good... I’d say a good eight years before things got huge. Now, if you’ve spent eight years with a cast of characters and if you’ve spent eight years putting your heart and soul and effort into something, you know, it — it — I can’t imagine what would knock you off course. You know, I was so deeply entrenched in the work, I’d, I’d put so much into it, that’s still the most important thing. I’m not going to — that — nothing else is going to supercede that in terms of priority to me. Erm... which is probably a good thing, maybe if it had been a one-off novel I’d — in fact, I’m sure, if it had been a one-off novel that had done something like this, I think it would have paralysed me into inactivity for ten years because it scared me so much. But I had my plan in place and it was like this, what it, it is an obsession. I have to get to the end of book seven.
NB (voice-over): Then, almost like a lottery winner, Joanne Rowling became a multi-millionaire. Now she’s one of Britain’s highest-paid women, with estimates putting her earnings over the past year at around £20 million.
JKR: In terms of the unexpectedness of the money, yes, I would imagine sometimes I have felt like a lottery winner. And yet not, because I know how I got the money. I worked damn hard. [laughs] Never expecting to get it, but all the same, the Puritan streak in me feels that it’s easier to cope with if you know how you’ve worked for it, d’you — d’you know what I mean? That it’s not arbitrary. Well, it feels arbitrary in a sense to me, sometimes it really does, it’s... but, yeah, I suppose it’s written in me. I have Scottish blood.
NB (voice-over): With her money and success has come fame. Her many fans want to meet her, along with journalists such as America’s Oprah Winfrey. Joanne says she’d prefer not to be famous, and hasn’t got time to pursue the endless round of chat-shows, celebrity openings and film premieres.
JKR: I could certainly be leading a... a more... what shall I say? media-friendly lifestyle, and I say that only because the myth was born last year that I, in a newspaper up here that I was a recluse, I was a hermit, and this is demonstrably not true, or I wouldn’t be sitting here in the cloisters giving a radio interview. It’s just that... actually, again it’s about boundaries, when the whole thing took off, I had to decide... erm... to what extent I wanted to let this into my life, and more importantly, into my daughter’s life. Because people... people forget, I mean with all due respect, present company absolutely excepted, it’s normally male journalists who seem bemused that I’m not on the road continually promoting, promoting, promoting — ‘Why are you turning these things down?’, ‘Oh, she’s cracking up, she’s a recluse’ — I’m not cracking up, I’m not a recluse, but I cannot clone myself, this is why I say it’s male journalists, and leave one mummy at home to raise my daughter, and send another one out on the road to promote the books, and give every interview, I can’t do that. And I did not have a child to hand her over to full-time nannies, you know, round-the-clock nannies. So that’s why I don’t do everything. And also — and almost as importantly — who do they think’s at home writing the books?
NB (voice-over): The success of Harry Potter has meant financial security, but Joanne has also learned that it can be a double-edged sword.
JKR: The most extravagant thing I’ve done was to walk into a jewellery shop and point at a ring I’d seen, which was... a sizable stone, and say, ‘I’ll take that’. That’s the most — and I say that was the most extravagant thing, because although I’ve spent more money on other things, that was really shameless extravagance. It wasn’t something I needed, it wasn’t something I had a practical use for...
NB: Are you wearing it now?
JKR: I’m not wearing it now, no. [laughing] It’s actually so heavy I can’t type with it and I’ve been working this morning, so... It’s also slightly big for me, and it slides sideways and it jams my fingers on the keyboard, so that ring comes out when I’m just in a particularly... you know... glam mood. Yeah. I love it, I love it, and I also love it because of what it represents to me, what it actually represents to me is how I got over a very, very bad day, I’d had a very bad week, when I went out and bought that ring. I was... you know, when people start searching your bins, as has literally happened to me, it’s horrible. It feels like such an invasion, and I’m not a politician, I’m not an entertainer, I never expected that level of interest in my life, and it feels so invasive. And I was having a very bad day, thinking, What have I done to deserve this? What have I done?
NB (voice-over): A tabloid journalist had tracked down her Portuguese ex-husband, and, far worse for Joanne, published pictures of their daughter.
JKR: And that day, which is very rare for me, I have to be exceptionally ill or exceptionally, erm, over-wrought not to be able to write... and that day I couldn’t write, and that day I had sat for two hours staring at a blank piece of paper. And that for me, is, you know, made... it’s difficult for people to understand, or may sound pretentious, but I have always written. It is something over which I have very little control, I just want to do it, a lot, and not to be able to do it, it felt like They’ve now robbed me of the one... the most important thing.
NB (voice-over): So, in her most recent book, Goblet of Fire, up pops a new character: the scandal-hungry tabloid journalist, Rita Skeeter.
JKR: When I sat down to write Rita in book four — and I say in book four because Rita was originally in book one, but she was called something different. And I wanted to put her in at the moment when Harry enters the Leaky Cauldron, and she’d run forward and ask him for an interview, and Hagrid would back off, make her back off, and then... but then I decided, this was all during the plotting of the seven novels that the appropriate place for Rita Skeeter to burst into Harry’s life was in four, because this is the pivotal book in which the weight of his fame obviously becomes almost crushing, because, for the first time, he cannot be protected by the school, by Dumbledore and so on. The external world has to have a link to him because he’s in this Tournament. So, I pulled Rita out of book one and I thought, I will save her for book four. Well... what the hell did I know? I didn’t know that by the time I came to put Rita into book four, the likelihood was, that anyone would say, ‘Aha!’ (Your response.) I will not deny that I probably enjoyed writing Rita a damn sight more than I would have done if I had written her in book one. I, see, I find Rita, Rita is as much fun to write as Gilderoy Lockhart in book two, and that’s like — Gilderoy Lockhart was this, erm, very pompous, self-publicised and awful man who came to teach at the school. Shameless self publicist, erm, tireless liar, erm, and he was immense— he was huge fun to write, and I regretted having to get rid of him at the end of book two, because I liked writing him so much. But he was... he was pretty much a one-joke character, and I think I ran it for all it was worth, and there wasn’t much left in him. Rita is just as much fun to write, and that’s a high compliment to her.
NB (voice-over): For Joanne, daughter Jessica is her first priority. They now have a house in Edinburgh, and try and get on with their lives. But when your mum writes the Harry Potter books, how do you cope with being the most famous girl at school?
JKR: She’s a pretty feisty little character, my daughter. She deals with it. She, erm... [sighs] It was difficult for her when she went to school first, because I hadn’t prepared her for that in any way, because in all honesty I wasn’t... I didn’t really know that it was gonna happen. Erm... and it did happen, and huge groups of children surrounded her in the playground and tried to get information from her about Harry Potter. It was difficult for her when she went and I felt terrible. Terrible. That I’d... I felt I’d given her this massive cross to bear through her school life. Erm... but she has, she’s coped, and the novelty’s worn off. There’s a limit to how many kids can come up to her in the playground and say to her ‘Does your mum really write the Harry Potter books?’ Once she’s said yes, to all of them... well, what else are they gonna do?
NB (voice-over): The next big thing will be Harry Potter’s Hollywood debut. Warner Brothers have bought the rights to the books, and a film based on the first story is to be directed by Christopher Columbus. His work has included Mrs Doubtfire and the Home Alone movies, and Joanne Rowling is confident he’ll look after Harry Potter.
JKR: It will disappoint all sorts of journalists to hear that I have immense faith in him. Erm... was I nervous about him? Yeah, I was. But when you meet someone who has read all the Harry Potter books to their children, knows them back to front, and is determined to give you an all-British cast, and eager to hear your thoughts on, you know, on how certain things should look, and... you know, that’s very disarming, I mean, when I met Chris I was, I was bowled over by that, by how collaborative he wanted to be. I, you know, I was braced to find myself confronted with a director who was ‘My vision, my way’. And there were directors who were at one point or another in the running who I think probably would have taken that attitude, so to have someone — and to have a successful Hollywood director who’s saying, ‘Gotta be an all-British cast’... you know, some journalists didn’t wanna hear that, cause that didn’t fill the columns in the way that, you know, an American Harry Potter would’ve done, or, you know, let’s draft in certain well-known American stars, and because that didn’t happen, they’ve been robbed of their lovely, lovely negative stories. [laughs]
NB (voice-over): What excites Joanne the most is the prospect of being able to see the magic of her books recreated on the big screen.
JKR: The thing that I’m most looking forward to, without a shadow of doubt, is Quidditch. Quidditch is the wizarding sport played on broomsticks, four flying balls. Erm... and I’ve been watching Quidditch inside my head for ten years, and to be able to see it, physically see it, with everyone else, in a cinema, I [laughs] you know, I don’t care what you say about it, it’s going to be such an enormous thrill for me, just to be able to watch it. Cause I’ve always wanted to see a sort of contact sport with four balls, that would just amuse me. [laughs] I was the least sporty person in the history of the... well, certainly in Wyedean school. I managed to break my arm playing netball, so it’s ironic that I’ve invented a sport when I was... was so un-physical.
NB (voice-over): With any Hollywood blockbuster comes marketing. That means the toys and games that every child will want, as well as Harry Potter capes, posters, records and clothes. With a danger that the true Harry story could be lost amid the hype, perhaps surprisingly, Joanne Rowling isn’t too concerned.
JKR: At the moment I’m not worried. At the moment I’ve actually... again, I have been allowed to make my views felt. You know, that’s not to say they’re going to take my views on board, but the conscience rests easy, if you like, knowing that I was able to sit in the meeting and say what I would not feel comfortable with. But it’s not my call. So what I have done is to give the film-rights to the people I truly believed, and so far I feel utterly justified in that belief, I truly believed wanted to make a faithful adaptation. And, erm, realistically, because of the special effects involved, we were looking at a big studio — to make a faithful adaptation it was going to take a big studio so we’d have the money to do it faithfully. Erm... so all I can really say on that is that I’ve, I’ve been allowed to say what I would be happy with, whether that happens or not, it’s not in my control. In terms of the merchandise, it’s very double-edged. I continually meet kids — or I met, I think the merchandise is out in Warner Brothers stores in America now — but I’ve continually met children who’ve said ‘Where can we buy...?’ and I’m saying, ‘Well, you can’t buy it anywhere, it’s inside my head’. So... a lot of kids want this stuff. My concern... is... that Harry Potter, the name Harry Potter, isn’t attached to a load of worthless junk. And at the moment, I don’t think it is.
NB (voice-over): What she’d like to see most in the shops are some of the amazing sweets that Harry discovers on his first day in school.
JKR: Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans are beans that literally do comprise every flavour, so that you have liver... tripe, marmalade, erm, chocolate... vomit is mentioned, earwax is mentioned... that would be hysterical if they did that, I’d love it. [laughs]
NB (voice-over): With a British cast, the movie is also expected to be filmed mainly in the UK. Parts of Gloucester cathedral could be used as a setting for Harry Potter’s school, Hogwarts, which, having been brought up in the county, JK Rowling is thrilled about, despite efforts by campaigners, who say it’s wrong to use the building for a story about witchcraft.
JKR: They are absolutely entitled to express their point of view, as am I, and long may that continue. See I believe in God, but that just seems to incense them even more. I say that because I think they would prefer to see me as an unrepentant heathen. I don’t have strong feelings one way or the other, let them protest, they have the absolute right to do that. I think they’re deeply misguided, but the trouble is, [sighs] I don’t think they really want to hear what I’ve got to say, so there’s no point, probably, in us having a debate.
NB (voice-over): After the release of her fourth book, and all the associated promotional work, Joanne Rowling’s decided to take it easy. There will be more Harry Potter books, but as yet, she’s not giving a release date.
JKR: I’m taking a bit of a break at the moment, as you have seen, book four was enormous, and it was probably the most problematic book, erm, the most demanding book to write, and although I am writing, I’m not writing in a very driven way at the moment.
NB (voice-over): But there’s something she’s vowed to do before the release of her next book.
JKR: One thing I can swear, I am never again going to try to keep the title of a book secret. I’ll be announcing the titles of the books well in advance, we’re never gonna go through that again, it was a very stressful situation. I think my publishers were keen not to have the embargo broken, but they have my whole-hearted support in that, not from a marketing point of view but because this was the book in which you saw the first death, and also at the end of the book — of book four — something huge happens in terms of the overall plot, which I don’t want to say on the radio, obviously, in case people haven’t read the book or are halfway through it, but... and I didn’t want that to leak, because for children, that would... you know, I... I spent ten years, I mean the final, the closing scene in book four, I’ve spent ten years writing my way towards that scene. And people who’ve read that will know why it’s so significant, why it’s so important. I did not want that leaked, because I knew that kids were waiting with bated breath for the book, and I wanted, I really, genuinely wanted it to be a magical experience, that they would get the book and read, and they would get frightened and, and excited, and overwrought as they approached that ending. Erm... was it a marketing ploy? Yes, I’m sure my publishers were absolutely delighted the amount of press it generated. From my point of view it was enormously stressful, so I would prefer it if we didn’t use that marketing strategy again.
NB (voice-over): With the hype surrounding the last book release, and the criticism that her success is mainly down to a good marketing strategy, Joanne Rowling says she won’t be surprised if her popularity begins to wane.
JKR: British people are naive about this. We’ve all watched it happening to other people for years. I was actually braced for massive backlash around book three; it didn’t happen. On book four, I would say, to an extent, it happened. The only — the only sort of — I mean, if you write books, and certainly if you write bestselling books, you expect them to be reviewed, and you expect bad reviews. Obviously not everyone is gonna like your work, and I’m pretty okay with that. You know, that’s not stuff that upsets me. The aspect of the situation that I find least pleasant would be the searching my bins. But when it comes to criticism of the books, they’re up for criticism. You know, I can’t complain about them being criticised. That’s the nature of the game. I get told that... I’ve been accused of dumbing down. Then I get sent articles saying the books are too long, and the plots are too complex for the age range, so... kinda can’t win on that one. I get told... I got told in the same day, face-to-face by journalists, when I was on my last book tour, I had a British journalist sitting there saying to me, ‘Clearly you’re right-wing’. And I said ‘Can you tell me why you would say that?’ And he said, ‘Well, you’re a Euro-sceptic’. And I said ‘Can you tell me why you would say that?’, because both counts were actually completely untrue. And he said that in book four I had satirised bureaucracy and the European Union, having Percy, who is one of the wizards in the book, join the Department for International Magical Co-operation, but that was actually a character joke, you see. This had nothing to do with me being Euro-sceptic, and clearly the journalist hadn’t read to the end of the book, where you have the most omniscient character saying differences of language and habit are nothing if our hearts are open and our minds are identical. Now that’s in the final chapter, and if he’d read that he’d have known I couldn’t be a Euro-sceptic. Same day, I had an American journalist interview me for some television programme, saying to me, ‘Clearly you are very left-wing’. So I feel that people dance around the books and as always happens, as I do when I read a book, bring my own agenda to it.
NB (voice-over): Joanne says once she’s written the seventh Harry Potter book, then that’ll be the end of his story. But what about other books?
JKR: Look at it this way, maybe I will set out to write something about some obscure medieval monk or something next time round, I wouldn’t... I will never write anything as popular again. That would be humanly impossible. And I won’t entirely regret that when the situation’s passed.