Jones, Owen. One-on-one interview with J.K. Rowling, ITV Network July 17, 2005
Transcription credit: Joanne Hill, "canon niffler" extraordinaire!
Editor's note: 14-year-old Owen Jones won the chance to interview Rowling in an ITV quiz [news report].
Owen Jones (OJ): What inspired you to write the first Harry Potter book and where were you at the time?
J.K. Rowling (JKR): I had the idea for the first Harry Potter book on a train, as you probably know, and I was travelling from Manchester to London, and that was in 1990. I started writing in London. I continued writing in Porto in Portugal. And then I finished writing in Edinburgh. So that was a very well travelled stack of manuscript, which would partly account for how untidy and coffee-stained it is.
OJ: The Harry Potter books have been translated into more than sixty languages. Did you ever think when you finished the first book that it would go on to be such a global success?
JKR: Never. Never. I would have been insane to think that. I mean, I would have been absolutely deluded - except not as it turns out. But I, no, I never dreamt it would happen. Never. Of course not.
OJ: A new definition for 'Muggle' has been included in the Oxford English Dictionary. How does it make you feel to see the influence of your books touching aspects of society?
JKR: Very, very, very proud. I was - 'Quidditch' entered an encyclopedia. I think - I think it was the Encarta Encyclopedia a few years back and I - I - that - I've got a copy of the book and it opens at 'Quidditch' [laughs] It's sad, but true.
OJ: Do you ever wish that you could just still sit in a cafe and watch the world go by as you used to?
JKR: Yes. I do. I will never again have the pleasure of sneaking into a cafe, any cafe I like, sitting down and diving into my world, and no one knowing what I'm doing, and no one bothering about me. I'd be totally anonymous. That was fantastic.
OJ: If you could choose anything from Harry's world to come to our own, what would it be?
JKR: Either the Invisibility Cloak, which I think is quite predictable, I think a lot of people would like that, or the Pensieve.
OJ: With the Invisibility Cloak would you just like to go to another cafe, then, and sit down -
OJ: - with that on?
JKR: Yes. And I'd have to devise some clever way of making sure people didn't sit on me. But, yeah, that would be good.
OJ: 'Reserved'. I read an interview in which you said the names of the Hogwarts Houses were created on the back of an aeroplane sickbag.
JKR: That's quite correct.
OJ: Do you ever find yourself suddenly coming up with great ideas in unusual locations?
JKR: All the time. All the time. You can always tell if it's a good idea because you get a physical response to it, you get this sort of big leap of excitement. So, yeah, things come all the time.
OJ: Do you travel round with a pen and paper?
JKR: I try always to have a pen on me. It's very frustrating not to have a pen. And I learnt that lesson because when I thought of the whole idea for Harry Potter on that train journey I didn't have a pen and I didn't ask anyone for a pen, and I do still wonder what I may have forgotten.
OJ: What is wrong with Ravenclaw [JKR makes amused noise] that you neglect so much?
JKR: Ah. Ravenclaw will have its day. [Taps nose conspiratorially] If you know what I mean. But you don't, of course.
OJ: Their House Ghost -
JKR: There is a House Ghost, and you've seen her twice, I believe. She's called the Grey Lady. But you don't know that yet.
OJ: And their Head of Year - Head of House?
JKR: That's Professor Flitwick. Have I not mentioned that in the books?
JKR: Well, I bow to your superior knowledge. I thought I had. [Ed: she gave this information in the Barnes & Noble interview, and on her website]
OJ: Now that Peter Pettigrew has a silver hand, is he in a position to kill Lupin?
JKR: I was very interested in this, because when you won the competition to interview me, that was the one you mentioned, so I had warning about that one. And I'm assuming you thought of that because of the silver -
OJ: Silver and the werewolf.
JKR: Which is very, very good, because there's this myth, which you obviously know, that you need to use a silver bullet to kill a werewolf. I'm going to say no, that Pettigrew does not kill Lupin, but I thought that showed ... good knowledge and a good imagination to think of that.
OJ: Thank you. Are you implying that Dumbledore had a hand in ending the Second World War [JKR laughs] by his defeat of the Dark wizard Grindelwald -
JKR: In 1945.
OJ: - in 1945?
JKR: I may well be implying that.
OJ: Do you enjoy having stuff in the wizard world connecting with Muggle - Muggles - history?
JKR: Well, I really do, yes, because I think that's what adds to the believability of the books. I think that's one of the reasons readers can imagine themselves so readily into the wizarding world because they can see how it does interconnect with our world. So it's both secret and apparent, but we, Muggles, don't have the perception to see what's right under our noses, of course.
OJ: Obviously, I'm the only lucky person allowed to interview you today, but a couple of my friends really wanted to ask you some things too. This is what Gordon Brown had to say.
Gordon Brown: Jo, this is not a question as Chancellor of the Exchequer, because I don't want to tax Harry, but where does he get his money? He always seems to have some. Does he have a bank account? Where is it? Where's his money?
JKR: Well, as you know, Harry's bank account is in Gringotts. His money came from inheritance, from his father. But I think, on a deeper level, I gave - Harry's money never really is that important in the books, except that he can - he can afford his uniform and so on. I think I really gave him a fortune because I was so broke when I - when I wrote the first book and it was wishful thinking that I would not have to worry about such things.
OJ: That came true.
JKR: Yeah, that's true. [laughs]
OJ: Here's another of my good friends, who wanted to ask...
Lemar: Hi, J.K., my name's Lemar and I'd like to ask: if you could teach any subject at Hogwarts, what would your specialist subject be?
JKR: My specialist subject would definitely be...Defence Against the Dark Arts, I think.
JKR: Well, I used to think Transfiguration, but these days I'm thinking Defence Against the Dark Arts is a more, um -
OJ: Useful thing.
JKR: Worthwhile subject. Exactly.
OJ: Fans seem to have such fun thinking up theories and rumours about the new book. How close do they get, and how does it make you feel when, or if, they guess the storyline?
JKR: I love the theories more then I can possibly say. I take it as the highest compliment that people analyse the books so much and think about what might happen next so much. There are people who have got very close to the end of the final series. I don't think I've ever heard or read anyone who has actually got there, but bits of the final book have been guessed.
OJ: Now someone you've known for quite a while, Stephen Fry.
Stephen Fry: Hello, Jo. I've never managed to ask you this question, but it's always fascinated me. Have you ever had an idea for a scene, or between characters some dialogue, which has been either too scary, too sad, or too rude to make it into the final edition? And if so, can you share some moment with us?
JKR: Well, I think - I've got a feeling I've told Stephen this already. My editor won't let any of the characters swear. Which is sometimes difficult because Ron is definitely a boy who would swear. So you will have noticed that I get round that by having him - Ron used a word that made Hermione say "Ron!". So I do that quite a bit with Ron.
OJ: Like Mrs Weasley -
OJ: - I'll stick your fingers -
JKR: Exactly, exactly, I'll jinx your fingers together. Exactly.
OJ: I asked Holly Willoughby from Ministry of Mayhem what she would like to ask.
Holly Willoughby: Hello, Miss Rowling. I would like to ask: if you could have written any other book, other than the Harry Potter books, what would it have been?
JKR: How - how long have you got? How many - how many books would I like to have written? There are so, so, so many of them. E. Nesbit is the children's writer with whom I most identify, and a couple of her books I would've really...liked to have written. I think they still stand the test of time, and the children in them, unusually for the time at which she was writing, are very real, very realistic.
OJ: Here's some rumours that have been on the internet and stuff.
JKR: Right. Hit me with them.
OJ: Dean Thomas is the half-blood prince?
OJ: Peter Pettigrew returns and we shall find out what he has been up to.
OJ: The Hogwarts graveyard will play an important role in the sixth book.
JKR: Now, I've read this. Where is this Hogwarts graveyard?
OJ: I don't know, I found this on the internet. [Editor's note: This claim was made by director Alfonso Cuarón]
JKR: So - so - they're making up additional features for the school as well. Erm...no, I'll have to say.
OJ: Is the half-blood prince actually dead, already?
JKR: I can't tell you. You'll know, Owen, in a few brief chapters, you'll know.
OJ: And - Harry's eyes play an important role in the books, because they're mentioned again and again.
JKR: They are mentioned again and again - and they're mentioned again in this book. And that's all I'm going to say.
OJ: Would you consider having a cameo role in any of the films? If so, as which character?
JKR: I was offered. They asked me if I wanted to play Lily Potter when she just had to wave out of a mirror.
OJ: Not a cheerful role, though, is it?
JKR: Not particularly, is it, a dead person? But I - I didn't want to do it. I partly didn't want to do it because - it wouldn't have been just waving out of a mirror, because, as you know, in book four, at the end of book four, Lily actually appears in three-dimensional form and speaks. So, it wouldn't have been just an extra part.
OJ: Now you've completed Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth in the series, when will you start full time on the final Harry Potter book, and can you give us any clues as to what to expect?
JKR: Probably not until the end of this year, beginning of next year. I have already done some work on it. And I'm still doing little bits and pieces. I believe that more than ever before when people have finished reading this book, they will really know what to expect in book seven. I think I give very clear pointers to what Harry will do next.
OJ: Security has been a huge issue with the Harry Potter books. What do you think you gain from keeping the plot such a secret?
JKR: I gain nothing but the satisfaction of knowing that all my hard work goes to the people for whom it's intended. In other words, people who really want to read the books. I find it upsetting and disquieting that some elements are so keen on spoilers, because it seems such a mean-spirited thing to do. This isn't about money or - or anything other than the pleasure of reading for people who want to read it. So, yeah, I find it difficult.
OJ: I've heard you mention that you already have written the final chapter of book seven. How have you kept this safe, and would it be possible to change the ending?
JKR: Well, I'm definitely not telling you how I keep it safe, for obvious reasons. Would it be possible to change the ending? No. No, because - again, as I think you see through Half-Blood Prince, these books have been plotted for such a long time, and for six books now, that they're all leading a certain direction. So, I really can't - there is no leeway now for me, particularly on book seven, for me to sit down and think "y'know, I think So-and-so can live after all, and I think I'll - So-and-so can runaway and start an ice cream business". Y'know, I've laid my clues and I've laid my plot and now I have to follow through with it. But I'm still happy with it. The final chapter, as I've always said, really relates to what happens to the people who survive the story, after the end of the story. And I have made small tweaks to it over the intervening years. And I'll have to rewrite it when I get there.
OJ: Are you looking forward to the end of book seven?
JKR: I'm dreading it, in some ways, because I love - I do love writing the books. And it's going to be a shock, I think, a profound shock to me, even though I've known it's coming for the past fifteen years. Conversely, there will be some benefit to not writing Harry Potter books any more. So, it's about 50/50 really.
OJ: Not so much pressure.
JKR: Exactly. I'll have less pressure and I can - I can write any old thing I want, and people won't be clamouring for it, and that one might be nice.
OJ: Well, thank you ever so much -
JKR: It's been an absolute pleasure.
OJ: - for giving me this brilliant experience. So...
JKR: Owen, you are a worthy winner, they were really great questions.
OJ: Thank you.
JKR: Thank you very much.
Original Accio Quote page date 27 March 2007; last updated 27 March 2007.