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Scholastic Interview

October 16th, 2000

 

The wand chooses the wizard, of course, but what magical creature would  you select for your own wand?

I'd like a phoenix feather, which is why I gave it to Harry!

What shape would a Boggart take if it wanted to scare you? How would you defeat it?

I think I'd probably have Aragog, as Ron did. I hate spiders.

I know you have had children throughout the world tell you how Harry has changed their lives, but is there any one story a child has told you that really stands out in your mind?

My favourite was the girl who came to the Edinburgh Book Festival to see me. When she reached the signing table she said "I didn't want so many people to be here this is MY book." That really resonated with me, because that's how I feel about my own favourite books.

Is Voldemort some sort of relative of Harry's? Possibly his mother's brother?

I'm laughing...that would be a bit Star Wars, wouldn't it?

In your first book there is a secret message on the Mirror of Erised. Are there any other secret messages throughout the book that we should be watching for?

Not secret messages of that type, but if you read carefully, you'll get hints about what's coming. And that's all I'm saying!

My impression is that the Harry books are getting "darker" somehow. Is this because he is growing up, and his readers have to do the same?

It's really because Voldemort is getting more powerful, but yes, also because Harry is fourteen now. At fourteen, you really do start realising that the world is not a safe and protected place or not always.

Can you give an example of a surprise in your writing process, such as a character you weren't expecting?

Yes, it was a big surprise to me that Mad Eye Moody turned out the way he did. I really like him. I didn't expect to.

How would you describe the relationship between the wizard world and the Muggle world?

Uneasy co-existence! Harry discovers that life in the magical world mirrors, to a great extent, life in the Muggle world. We are all human. There's still bigotry and small-mindedness (unfortunately).

In the fourth book, when Harry tells Dumbledore about his fight with Voldemort and how Voldemort could touch him after he took Harry's blood, Harry thinks he sees Dumbledore smile slightly. Why? Is Dumbledore really on Voldemort's side after all?

Hmmmm....like all the best questions I get asked, I can't answer that one. But you are obviously reading carefully. I promise you'll find out!

Are there any books you would recommend to your fans to read while they await Book 5?

Loads! Read E. Nesbit, Philip Pullman, Henrietta Branford, Paul Gallico. Just read!

Why did you choose to make the sport Quidditch so important to life at Hogwarts?

Because sport is such an important part of life at school. I am terrible at all sports, but I gave my hero a talent I'd love to have had. Who wouldn't want to fly?

With all the book tours in different countries you've done, have you met any interesting people or discovered a new place that might affect future writing, or that left a special impression on you?

I have always loved traveling, but I can't say that I have met anyone who has influenced the Harry books. You see, I planned them all so long ago before any of this happened to me.

If you were Animagus, what kind of animal would you be?

I'd like to be an otter that's my favourite animal. It would be depressing if I turned out to be a slug or something.

Why did Harry have a pet owl instead of something else?

Because owls are easily the coolest!

How did you think of all the cool things that happened to Harry?

Sometimes the ideas just come to me. Other times I have to sweat and almost bleed to make ideas come. It's a mysterious process, but I hope I never find out exactly how it works. I like a mystery, as you may have noticed

How would you like teachers to use your books with students (e.g. discussion, worksheets, book reports, etc.)?

The teachers I have met who have used the books in the classroom have all done so very imaginatively. It's been wonderful to see the work students have produced. I particularly enjoyed reading essays on what students think they would see in the Mirror of Erised. Very revealing!

Friends are very important in your books. What do you think is the most important thing in friendship?

Acceptance, I think, and loyalty. There are enough people in the world to give you a hard time. A friend is someone who gives unconditional support.

Do you ever get writer's block? What do you do when this happens?

I've only suffered writer's block badly once, and that was during the writing of Chamber of Secrets. I had my first burst of publicity about the first book and it paralysed me. I was scared the second book wouldn't measure up, but I got through it!

Do you have a favorite saying or motto?

Draco dormiens numquam titallandus, of course.

Do you have a favorite passage from one of your books?

Hard to choose. I like chapter twelve of Sorcerer's Stone (The Mirror of Erised), and I am proud of the ending of Goblet of Fire.

How did you make the spells? Did you make them up, or are they real names of people and places?

The spells are made up. I have met people who assure me, very seriously, that they are trying to do them, and I can assure them, just as seriously, that they don't work.

Are you going to write a book about other characters than Harry Potter?

Yes, when I've finally finished all seven Harry Potter books, I will write something else.

When you were a little girl, did you dream or ever think of Harry Potter or someone like him?

Not really, though some of the fantasies I had as a child (like flying) are in the books.

There are hundreds of rumours and theories going around about your books! Have you seen these, and do you plan to use any of the ideas found in them?

No, I'm not using any of the ideas. To be honest, I avoid reading most of that stuff. Some of it is funny, some of it is weird, and some is just downright crazy.

We're doing a lot of writing at our school. At what age did you start writing, and did you love to write as a child?

Yes, I loved writing as a child. I wrote my first "book" when I was six years old about a rabbit, called "Rabbit."

What do you think about the movie? Do you think that it'll destroy the adventure of the books?

If I believed that, I wouldn't have sold the film rights!

What got you started writing? And how did you get your breakthrough to get the first book published?

I've been writing since I was six. It is a compulsion, so I can't really say where the desire came from I've always had it. My breakthrough with the first book came through persistence, because a lot of publishers turned it down!

Did you use the library a lot as a child?

Yes, I loved the library, though I was very bad at returning books on time. I once ran up a bill at university of over fifty pounds in overdue fines, which was a lot of money to a struggling student. (It didn't stop me doing it again though!)

How did you come up with the idea of the underground chamber in Chamber of Secrets?

I always knew the chamber was there. I don't know what first gave me the idea; I just liked the thought that Slytherin had left something of himself behind.

Are you having a lot of input on the new Harry Potter movie?

I've been allowed a lot of input. They have been very generous in allowing me to make my opinions heard!

What person from history has influenced you the most?

Hmmmmm.....Well, my heroine (though she's not really from "history") was Jessica Mitford. I named my daughter after her. I found her inspiring because she was a brave and idealistic person the qualities I most admire, in other words.

Did you write another book before writing the Harry Potter series?

Yes, I wrote (and almost finished) two novels for adults and a lot of short stories. I never finished the first two books because I realised in time that they were...very bad.

How hard was it to pick the actors to play the characters in the movie?

I didn't pick them, so easy for me! But I think they are wonderful.

Are the Harry Potter books being translated in other languages, like Portuguese/Brazil?

The Harry books are available in Portuguese, both a Portuguese and a Brazilian version.

How did you get the idea to send Harry to a wizard school?

The idea as it first came to me was about a boy who didn't know he was a wizard until he got his invitation to wizard school, so there was never a question that Harry would go anywhere else!

Has the huge popularity of Harry Potter changed the direction of the plot in any way?

No, not at all. People have asked me whether Rita Skeeter was invented for that purpose, but in fact she was always planned. I think I enjoyed writing her a bit more than I would have done if I hadn't met a lot of journalists, though!

Do wizards and witches have to go Muggle school before they go to Hogwarts?

No, they don't have to.

How does the Dark Lord affect American wizards and witches?

He affects everyone, but his plan is European domination first.

Which house was Lily Potter in, and what is her maiden name?

Her maiden name was Evans, and she was in Gryffindor (naturally).

Did you write Harry Potter because you like fantasy books, or just because the idea came to you?

The latter. In fact, I am not a great fan of fantasy books in general, and never read them!

Do you imagine the pictures or images in your head before you write, or do you have to draw them?

I imagine them very clearly and then attempt to describe what I can see. Sometimes I draw them for my own amusement!

What grade and subject(s) did you teach?

French, but it should have been English. I don't know why I did French at university, except that my parents wanted me to. So learn from my mistake do what you want, not what your parents want!

I'm hooked! My son and I read them every night. Thank you so much for giving us this time to share something so wonderful together! He's to be Harry for Halloween. We'd like to know how soon for the next book (like everyone else), but mostly just wanted to thank you for sharing Harry with us!

That's wonderful to hear, thank you. Well, book five is underway, but I don't yet know when it will be available. It'll be ready when it's ready, is the best I can say!

How do you write the really long books without getting bored?

Oh dear...does that mean you get bored reading them?! I never get bored with the writing. I could (and often do) write all day and evening.

Does Harry have a middle name?

Yep, James after his dad.

From where did you get the name for Harry Potter?

'Harry' has always been my favourite boy's name, so if my daughter had been a son, he would have been Harry Rowling. Then I would have had to choose a different name for "Harry" in the books, because it would have been too cruel to name him after my own son. "Potter" was the surname of a family who used to live near me when I was seven years old and I always liked the name, so I borrowed it.

Which book was the most fun for you to write?

Prisoner of Azkaban, without a doubt. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's my favourite book. I love them all, but bizarrely the two that were most difficult to write, Chamber of Secrets and Goblet of Fire are my favourites.

Do you like being a writer?

I love being a writer. I am very lucky my life's ambition turned out to be just as much fun as I thought it would be.

As an adult reader, I loved the books and was surprised at how much humour is in them. The Dursleys sound like something out of Monty Python! Do you like British comedy?

British comedy is an obsession of mine. I love Monty Python.

There are an extraordinary number of names that start with "H" (Harry, Hermione, Hedwig, Hogwarts, Hagrid, Hufflepuff). Is there any reason for that?

Erm...no!

Will you ever write an official autobiography?

No, I don't think so. My life is really very boring. You wouldn't want to read about me cleaning out the rabbit cage!

What is Bonfire Night?

Good question! We celebrate November 5th in Britain every year. There was a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament. The ringleader of the plot was called Guy Fawkes (spot any Harry Potter connection?!), and we burn him in effigy and set off fireworks to celebrate not losing our government.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

A writer...always.

What books do you read in your free reading time?

Loads...usually novels and biographies.

Harry Potter for grownups again! Is Voldemort the last remaining ancestor of Slytherin, or the last remaining descendent of Slytherin?

Ah, you spotted the deliberate error. Yes, it should read "descendent." That's been changed in subsequent editions. (Keep hold of the "ancestor" one, maybe it'll be valuable one day!)

Will you ever include more illustrations?

I don't like too many illustrations in novels; I prefer to use my imagination about what people look like. So the answer is, probably not.

What do you think of fan fiction being written about your characters, and have you read any of them on the Internet?

I've read some of it. I find it very flattering that people love the characters that much.

Is there something more to the cats appearing in the books than first meets the eye? (i.e. Mrs. Figg's cats, Crookshanks, Prof. McGonagall as a cat, etc.)

Ooooo, another good question. Let's see what I can tell you without giving anything away....erm....no, can't do it, sorry.

If you could be a wizard, who would you be?

If I were a character in the book, I'd probably be Hermione. She's a lot like me when I was younger. (I wasn't that clever but I was definitely that annoying at times!)

When will the movie of Harry Potter be out?

November 2001 was the last I heard!

Ms. Rowling, in an article I read in Good Housekeeping, you stated that the character Hermione received her personality from her likeness of you at the age. What other things inspired you for other aspects or details in your books?

Ron is a lot like my oldest friend, who is called Sean and with whom I went to school. I never intended Ron to be like Sean, but he turned out that way. Gilderoy Lockhart is also a lot like someone I once knew, but I don't think I'd better elaborate!

What is your favorite wizard candy?

Chocolate frogs...I'd like to collect the cards!

How did the Dursleys explain away the tail when Dudley had to have it removed at the hospital?

They went to a private hospital where the staff was very discreet, and said that a wart had got out of control.

How much control do you have on all of the products flooding the marketplace with a Harry Potter theme? Do you think they will sell well?

Unless it's a Warner Bros. product, it shouldn't have Harry's name on it at all, so I have no control and accept no responsibility! Warner Bros. has allowed me to have a say in merchandise relating to the film.

Is it true that since Voldemort took Harry's blood by force, that Harry can kill Voldemort, but Voldemort can't kill Harry?

It's an interesting theory, but I wouldn't trust it too much!

Do you still have the napkins that you wrote the first book on?

I'm giggling...where did you read that? I didn't write on napkins; I wrote in notepads. We really need to squash this myth before people ask to see the used tea bags on which I drafted the first book!

Is the Mrs. Figg with all the cats in the Dursleys' neighborhood the same Arabella Figg that Dumbledore mentioned at the end of book 4?

Well spotted!

The Harry Potter series has lots of humorous moments. Do you consider yourself to be a really funny person?

No, not really. I think I am funnier on paper than I am in person; the exact reverse of my sister who is very funny in person, but writes dull letters!

Can you explain how Lupin turns into a werewolf, since he didn't turn in the Shrieking Shack in Prisoner of Azkaban, but instead he turned only when the full moonlight hit him outside the tunnel? If he only turned into a wolf in the moonlight, why didn't he just stay inside? Did it have to do with the potion? Or was the moon not up yet?

The moon wasn't up when he entered the Shrieking Shack.

As the author, when reading your books, can you enjoy them as a reader and sympathize with Harry, or is it too hard to be "objective"?

Too hard to be objective. When I re-read the books, I often catch myself re-editing them. It's an uncomfortable experience. However, the more time elapses, the less I find myself doing that I can now read Sorcerer's Stone fairly comfortably.

How many students attend Hogwarts, and how many students per year per house?

There are about a thousand students at Hogwarts.

Did you ever make a study of herbs and other Hogwarts subjects, or did you create all those classes from inspiration?

Most of the magic is made up. Occasionally I will use something that people used to believe was true for example, the "Hand of Glory" which Draco gets from Borgin and Burkes in Chamber of Secrets.

You said Ron's cousin was taken out of Book 4, and you developed Rita Skeeter more after that. Do you still think that it would have been more fun to keep her? Can you tell me anything about what she was going to be like?

Well, maybe I will use her in another book, so I don't want to talk about her too much. I had never "killed" a character before (in either sense) until Goblet of Fire, so that made writing the book a little more stressful!

Why was a different cover illustration chosen for the books sold in the United States? Why do those books have illustrations at the beginning of each chapter but the British books do not?

Publishers choose to do things differently, and I'm glad about that. It's very exciting for authors to see their work in many different versions. I love the look of the American books, especially the chapter illustrations.

In the second book, Harry and Ron went to the girls' toilet and met McGonagall. They told her that they were going to visit Hermione, and she started crying. Why?

She found it very touching that Harry and Ron were missing Hermione so badly (or so she thought). Under that gruff exterior, Professor McGonagall is a bit of an old softy, really.

How old is old in the wizarding world, and how old are Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall?

Dumbledore is a hundred and fifty, and Professor McGonagall is a sprightly seventy. Wizards have a much longer life expectancy than Muggles. (Harry hasn't found out about that yet.)

How does the wizarding world protect Muggle banks and vaults, etc. from wizards apparating into them and stealing the contents?

Well, the Ministry of Magic keeps tabs on people apparating. That's why you have to have a license to do it, and the moment you abuse it you can find yourself in serious trouble (or Azkaban!).

What position did James play on the Gryffindor Quidditch team? Was it seeker like Harry, or something different?

James was Chaser.

How painful is the editing process for you? Compared with writing a first draft, how long do you spend editing? Who do you conference with?

I work with my editors. I enjoy the editing process, but I edit fairly extensively myself before my editors get to see the book, so it's never a very long job.

Are you writing all the books at the same time, like in little pieces, while concentrating mostly on the present one, or do you just have a general idea about them?

During the first five years that I was writing the series, I made plans and wrote small pieces of all the books. I concentrate on one book at a time, though occasionally I will get an idea for a future book and scribble it down for future reference.

Any plans for a video game soon?

I think there probably will be a video game, but when, I have no idea.

Do you think elementary-age children will be able to read the other three books in the series?

Yes, I do. I personally feel the books are suitable for people aged 8 years and over. Though my daughter, who is seven, has read them all and not been very frightened but maybe she's tough, like her mother!

When you are not writing or reading, what things do you enjoy in your free time?

Let's see.....when I'm not reading, writing or spending time with my daughter, there isn't much time left over, but I like travelling most.

Some sets on the movies are already being created. Do you think they represent how you envisioned them in the book? Have you had any input on the shooting locations?

I know they look as I imagined them (those that have been done so far)!

Hello, I was wondering how much Tolkien inspired and influenced your writing?

Hard to say. I didn't read The Hobbit until after the first Harry book was written, though I read Lord of the Rings when I was nineteen. I think, setting aside the obvious fact that we both use myth and legend, that the similarities are fairly superficial. Tolkien created a whole new mythology, which I would never claim to have done. On the other hand, I think I have better jokes.

Ms. Rowling, for being fictional books, the Harry Potter books have a great grasp of the Latin language. I have noticed that many, if not most, of the names and incantations are of Latin heritage. How much research does it take to give these books their Latin heritage?

My Latin, such as it is, is self-taught. I enjoy feeling that wizards would continue to use this dead language in their everyday life.

Will you have a cameo in the Harry Potter movie?

No, definitely not. I hate watching myself on-screen!

If there were one thing you could change about the world, what would it be?

I would make each and every one of us much more tolerant.

Do any of the things that happen in the Harry Potter books reflect any of your childhood fantasies?

Flying, definitely. And who wouldn't want to be able to use the Jelly-Legs Curse?

Why did you choose the owl as the animal messenger in your books?

Owls are traditionally associated with magic, and I like them.

Our thanks to J.K. Rowling for joining us today. Any thoughts you would like to leave us with?

Keep reading! (And it doesn't have to be Harry Potter!)

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