J.K. Rowling answers questions at the White House Easter Egg Roll, 5 April 2010

Video: First Session | Second Session
Transcription by roonwit

[In each of two sessions Jo read the passage from chapter five of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone where Harry buys his wand from Ollivander's, and then she answered questions. This transcript is of Jo answers. The questions are omitted because they are very difficult to hear, though she often repeats the question and it is clear what was asked.]

First Session

You can get my autograph, but not right now. Because I might get knocked off my chair. So at the end you can definitely have my autograph.

Am I thinking about making a spin off of Harry Potter? Like Neville Longbottom and the ... Cup of Doom or something? No, I'm not really. I always planned seven Harry Potter books and at the moment that's where I'm planning to stick. I'm not going to say never, I've always said that when I'm asked that question because I think that in ten years time I might want to do something else with Harry's world but at the moment I have no plans to do that.

Who is my favourite Harry Potter character? It changes a lot and I don't think I could choose just one, but I think apart from Harry, Ron and Hermione, who I love to pieces, I love Hagrid, I love Dumbledore, I love Lupin - (inaudible comment from girl) Yes, that's right - and I even love Snape because I loved writing Snape; I wouldn't want to meet him, but I really liked writing about him, he was fun.

Yes, I have. I had to tweet twice in my life. Do you know why? Because people were tweeting, and pretending to be me. So people said, "Well, why don't you do it as the genuine you", so every six months I write things like "I am still writing". So yes, I am writing, but I am not yet ready to tell you what I am writing. But I'm enjoying writing.

I wrote this book. (laughs) That's not the first time, but the best question ever was ... this book was just published and I went to a school, and half way through me doing questions and answers a boy said "Oh, did you write that?" And then his teacher said "Ask her a question" and he said "What's your favourite colour?" so I said, and he then said "What's you favourite animal?" and about ten questions of "What's your favourite ...?" and the teacher said "Okay, be quiet now Billy".

My favourite Harry Potter book? ... Is the seventh one. I definitely like the seventh one best, although this one of course has a very special place in my heart because it is the first thing I ever had published so I do love this one too.

How did I get the idea to write Harry Potter? I think that's a question that authors find very difficult to answer because although sometimes you do look at something and it makes you think of something else, it is very difficult to work out where it really came from. I know I was looking at some cows. Literally, I was looking out of a train window and some cows went by, and I thought "Boy doesn't know he is a wizard goes to wizard school". So I don't know.

Would I rather have Dobby or Winky be my house elf? I definitely don't want a house elf. I think they are a little bit creepy. Although they would be useful, in a way, when I've got housework to do, I think I would find it exceptionally creepy to have a house elf so I would rather they were all free. So if a house elf was in my house I would immediately give it clothes and say "Have fun. Go".

Oh, good question. Other than Harry who was the next character I thought of for the books? I think, funnily enough it was Hermione. When I originally planned the book, it began very, very differently. You saw the explosion of the Potter house, and a neighbour ran to try and help, and that neighbour was Hermione's father. So when I very first planned it, Hermione remembered Harry as the baby, or Hermione remembered her father talking about the baby who was pulled out of the rubble but that all changed over the seven years I wrote.

What was my favourite subject when I was at school? Oh, in the books! Which is my favourite subject? Well the most fun to write was actually Charms. Because a lot can go wrong with Charms. When Harry, and Ron in particular, was often making mistakes in charms, and Professor Flitwick - there was always quite something funny about that tiny little teacher being being sent shooting across the classroom all the time, so I quite liked writing that. But Potions was fun too. I enjoyed making up the potions. And Defence Against the Dark Arts was also fun because every year you had a new teacher. For the older members of the audience they will remember the Spinal Tap drummer ... and ... some of you do, clearly. (laughs) Well, when I planned the books I thought that every year we'll have a different Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, because the job was cursed, as you know. We've got excellent questions now.

That's right. Now this is a good life lesson for you. You must never believe everything you read in the papers, and people can sometimes be less than truthful. It is true ... This is a question about where I got the name "Harry Potter". It is true that when I was probably your age, we had some neighbours whose surname was "Potter" and I always liked their surname a lot. I never liked my own surname because "Rowling" is far too easy to make jokes about. So all through school I had people put it "Rowling Stones", "Rowling pin", the theme from "Rawhide" being sung at me, so I thought "Potter" sounded such a nice name. However, it is not true that I based Harry Potter on anyone in that family.

You've got them all? But you're, how old are you now? ... You're only five. I'm sure you haven't read them yet have you? ... Ah, very good, that's very, very good reading.

You named your dog Dobby? Please tell me he doesn't look like Dobby. Because that would be so creepy. Dobby is quite creepy just standing up - imagine him on all fours.

Do I want to write other books apart from Harry Potter? Yes, I do and I am. So I have written some other things, and I am quite enjoying taking a break from being published, but I am sure that sometime in the not too distant future, I will bring out another book and it won't be Harry.

Second Session

Why did fireworks shoot out of his wand? It was just a sign that the wand recognized its real owner. An important feature of the books - and I have to be careful what I say in case you haven't read all the books and you would like to - an important feature of the books is that when the wand that really is meant for you finds its rightful owner, it will work very well. So that is why the sparks shot out, it was just a sign that the wand recognized Harry as the person who should own it.

Do I think that the movie producers do a good job for the story? Yes, I do. I sometimes meet readers of the books who say to me "Oh, they didn't include everything" but realistically if they included everything in the books, the films would have to be fifteen hours long. So I have to accept, as fans of the books have to accept, that they have to cut somewhere. But yeah, on the whole I think they've been great, I think they've been really great, and the actors they have chosen to play the characters are really like the people as I imagined them. So yes, I've been very, very happy.

Why did I decide to write about witches and wizards? Well, it is slightly like the wand choosing the wizard. It felt like it chose me. I just had the idea very suddenly, and I've always been very interested in folklore, and fairy tales, and the way you often find them in different cultures. So it was exciting to write a book about a world that united lots of those themes. But really the idea came very suddenly. It wasn't a conscious process.

How did I get the first idea? I was on a train travelling from the North of England right down to London, and it just came to me. I was looking out of the window and the initial idea was "A boy who doesn't know he is a wizard gets the letter to say he goes to wizard school" and my mind just started firing in all directions, what the school would be like, who he would meet there and how it would feel, not to realize that you were the son of famous parents, which is something he realizes very soon after he gets that invitation.

My favourite Harry Potter book? Is probably the seventh one. Yes, which was a great way to end the series. But this one, the first one, of course has an important place in my heart because it is the first thing I ever got published.

How did he get his lightning scar? Good question. Very good question. When he was a little bit younger than you, a very evil wizard tried to kill him. The evil wizard killed his parents, and then he tried to kill Harry, but he couldn't kill Harry. So that's the great mystery of Harry's life and that's why when he goes to school, he's very famous because he is the only boy who ever survived an attack by that wizard. And no-one knows why. And really Harry's whole journey through the seven books is to try and find out why he survived.

Why did he survive? Well, I would have to explain a lot to tell you. It is a good question, it's the best question. But, I can't really answer it without giving away the ending of book seven, and just in case anyone is half way through the books I don't want to spoil the end of the story for them.

This is a question about how you make up your characters. And you often find that they develop as you write them. So that you then go back and start again because you might have an idea for a blonde girl in sunglasses but she may change as you write her and turn into something different. So, it's ongoing process.

My favourite character in the books? It is truly impossible to choose one, but setting aside Harry, Ron and Hermione, Dumbledore is the character I miss the most, because I think he came from a place right at the back of my brain and he often told me things that I needed to hear, so I would miss Dumbledore the most. But I loved writing Snape - I wouldn't want to meet him, but I really enjoyed writing him, he was fun.

Original page date 7 Apr 2010; last updated 7 Apr 2010.