Transcript of JK Rowling: The Interview
There are books, and there is Harry Potter. They're the biggest phenomenon in the history of modern publishing. 200 million copies, about a boy who discovers he's a world-famous wizard. They're sold in over 200 countries, and translated into over fifty languages. Beyond the books is an industry - films, dolls, games and merchandise making hundreds of millions pounds a year.
All this from an idea which wandered into the mind of the then pretty penniless JK Rowling as she sat on a train. She imagined his story as a series of seven books, each spanning a year at the Hogwarts School for Witches and Wizards.
The fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, goes on sale in 28 and a half hours. It is confidently expected to have the biggest print run in history.
The author of this phenomenon lives in Edinburgh.
(Jeremy and JK Rowling sitting at table, looking at a copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - in the office of JK Rowling in Edinburgh)
JEREMY PAXMAN: So this is it?
JK ROWLING: This is it.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Are we allowed to look inside it?
JK ROWLING: Hmmmm. Yes a bit. You can have a look there....yes so, that's it.
JEREMY PAXMAN: How many pages?
JK ROWLING: 766 .... All with writer's block, which I think you'll agree is a bit of an achievement.
JEREMY PAXMAN: But do you find the whole secrecy issue, the need for secrecy, a bit ridiculous?
JK ROWLING: No.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Why not?
JK ROWLING: No not at all. Well, a lot of it comes from me.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Really?
JK ROWLING: Yeah definitely. I mean, of course one could be cynical, and I'm sure you would be disposed to be so and say it was a marketing ploy, but I don't want the kids to know what's coming. Because that's part of the excitement of the story, and having - you know - sweated blood to create all my red herrings and lay all my clues.... to me it's not a ...this is my ....this is my....I was going to say this is my life, it's not my life, but it is a very important part of my life.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Has it come at a price this success and fame?
JK ROWLING: The fame thing is interesting because I never wanted to be famous, and I never dreamt I would be famous. You know, my fantasy of being a famous writer, and again there's a slight disconnect with reality which happens a lot with me. I imagined being a famous writer would be like being like Jane Austen. Being able to sit at home in the parsonage and your books would be very famous and occasionally you would correspond with the Prince of Wales's secretary. You know I didn't think they'd rake through my bins, I didn't expect to be photographed on the beach through long lenses. I never dreamt it would impact my daughter's life negatively, which at times it has. It would be churlish to say there's nothing good about being famous; to have a total stranger walk up to you as you're walking around Safeways, and say a number of nice things that they might say about your work ... I mean of course you walk on with a bit more spring in your step. That's a very, very nice thing to happen. I just wish they wouldn't approach me when I'm buying you know...
JEREMY PAXMAN: Loo roll?
JK ROWLING: Items of a questionable nature, exactly. Always, always. Never when you're in the fresh fruit and veg section. Never.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Do you think success has changed you?
JK ROWLING: Yes.
JEREMY PAXMAN: In what way?
JK ROWLING: I don't feel like quite such a waste of space anymore.
JEREMY PAXMAN: You didn't really feel a waste of space?
JK ROWLING: I totally felt a waste of space. I was lousy. Yeah I did, yeah . And now I feel that, it turns out there was one thing I was good at, and I'd always expected I could tell a story, and I suppose it's rather sad that I needed confirmation by being published.
JEREMY PAXMAN: And what about the money? A lot of people when they suddenly make a lot of money, feel guilty about it. Do you feel guilt?
JK ROWLING: Yes I do feel guilty about it. Definitely I feel guilty.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Why?
JK ROWLING: When it first happened I didn't immediately become very rich. The biggest jump for me was the American advance which was enough for me to buy a house, not outright, but you know we'd been renting until then. And I didn't feel guilty, I felt scared at that point. Because I thought I mustn't blow this: I've got some money, I mustn't do anything stupid with it. And then yeah, yeah, I felt guilty. Yeah I did. I mean at least I could see cause and effect. I knew I had worked quite hard for quite a long time. Of course the rewards were completely disproportionate but I could see how I got there so that made it easier to rationalise.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Let's talk a little bit about the next book. Harry and Ron and Hermione are all going to be older. How are they going to change?
JK ROWLING: Quite a lot because I find it quite sinister, the way that, looking back at the Famous Five books for example, I think 21 adventures or 20 or something, they never had a hormonal impulse - except that Anne was sometimes told that she would make someone a good little wife whenever she unlaid the picnic things.
JEREMY PAXMAN: But that's the usual pattern of children's books isn't it? Swallows and Amazons is the same isn't it? The children never age. But your....
JK ROWLING: And it reaches its apotheosis in Peter Pan obviously, where it is quite explicit, and I find that very sinister. I had a very forthright letter from a woman who had heard me say that Harry was going to have his first date or something and she said "Please don't do that, that's awful. I want these books to be a world where my children can escape to." She literally said "free from hurt and fear" and I'm thinking "Have you read the books? What are you talking about free from hurt and fear? Harry goes through absolute hell every time he returns to school." So I think that a bit of snogging would alleviate matters.
JEREMY PAXMAN: So there will be some pairing up will there in this book?
JK ROWLING: Well in the fullness of time.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Unlikely pairings? Not Hermione and Draco Malfoy or anything like that?
JK ROWLING: I don't really want to say as it will ruin all the fan sites. They have such fun with their theories ... and it is fun, it is fun. And some of them even get quite close. No-one has ever - I have gone and looked at some of it and no-one's ever ... There is one thing that if anyone guessed I would be really annoyed as it is kind of the heart of it all. And it kind of explains everything and no-one's quite got there but a couple of people have skirted it. So you know, I would be pretty miffed after thirteen or fourteen years of writing the books if someone just came along and said I think this will happen in book seven. Because it is too late, I couldn't divert now, everything has been building up to it, and I've laid all my clues.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Is Harry going to become a bolshy teenager?
JK ROWLING: He's a lot, lot, lot angrier in this book. He really is quite angry a lot of the time and I think justifiably so, look at what he has gone through. It is about time he started feeling a little bit miffed at the hand life has dealt him.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Well when you look at a lot of that marketing stuff, that merchandise, when you look at things like the Harry Potter Ice Pumpkin Slushie maker and all that junk.
JK ROWLING: Is that a real thing or have you made it up?
JEREMY PAXMAN: I'm serious. There's a list of about 50 of these things. Harry Potter Embroidered Polo Shirts, the Late Night Ride Towel, Harry Potter and Ron Weasley alarm clock. I mean it goes on and on.
JK ROWLING: I knew about the alarm clock. How do I feel about it? Honestly, I think it's pretty well known, if I could have stopped all merchandising I would have done. And twice a year I sit down with Warner Brothers and we have conversations about merchandising and I can only say you should have seen some of the stuff that was stopped: Moaning Myrtle lavatory seat alarms and worse.
JEREMY PAXMAN: I thought that sounded rather fun.
JK ROWLING: I knew you were gonna say that. It's not fun. It was horrible, it was a horrible thing.
JEREMY PAXMAN: But you could have said "No, I'm not gonna have any merchandising".
JK ROWLING: I don't think I could at the time. Not at the time. I'm so bad with dates. It must have been about 1998-99, I started talking to Warner Brothers, and at that point I just didn't have the power to stop them. That is the nature of the film world. Because they are very expensive films to make, and if they keep making them which is obviously not guaranteed, but if they do keep making them, they are going to get really even more expensive, and I mean I shudder to see what they say when they see Book Five. Because I think they are starting to feel I am writing stuff just to see if they can do it. Which of course I'm not. But I know there are headaches about the scale of the world that I'm writing.
JEREMY PAXMAN: But do you never worry that perhaps your legacy will be not this entire world that you created but lots of bits of plastic?
JK ROWLING: Do I worry honestly? Completely honestly. No. I don't worry about it. I think the books will always be more important than the bits of plastic. And that's...I really, really believe that, and maybe that sounds arrogant but that's how I feel.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Do you even know, when it gets to the level you're at. Do you even know what you are earning?
JK ROWLING: No...
JEREMY PAXMAN: Do you know what you earned last year?
JK ROWLING: No.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Well it's tens of millions, I guess...
JK ROWLING: I met my accountant recently and I said "They say in the rich list that I am richer than the Queen, so that means you've embezzled quite a lot of money." I mean I do know what ball park I've got. I mean I'm not that clueless. And I certainly have not got £280 million.
JEREMY PAXMAN: What is it roughly?
JK ROWLING: Would I tell you?
JEREMY PAXMAN: I don't know. You can't blame me for asking.
JK ROWLING: No I don't blame you for asking
JEREMY PAXMAN: You mentioned in the previous books you finished one and immediately started the next. Have you started the sixth one?
JK ROWLING: Yeah.
JEREMY PAXMAN: How far are you into it?
JK ROWLING: Not that far because I had a baby. But yeah, I started it when I was still pregnant with David. And I actually did get some writing done the other day, and that's not bad going considering he's only ten weeks. So he's pretty full time at the moment. But yeah I did a bit more the other day.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Are we going to discover in book 5, why Voldemort has such an animus against Harry's parents?
JK ROWLING: Yes.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Can you give us a clue as to...
JK ROWLING: No. It's not long now. Come on. Yes you do find that out in book 5.
JEREMY PAXMAN: What else are you willing to tell us about what's in book 5?
JK ROWLING: Obviously a new Defence against the Dark Arts teacher.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Is that going to be a woman?
JK ROWLING: Yes. And it's not Fleur which everyone on the internet speculates about. And it's not ...Who's the other one they keep asking about? Mrs Figg. It's not Mrs. Figg. I've read both of those.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Are we going to discover anything more about Snape ?
JK ROWLING: Yes.
JEREMY PAXMAN: And Harry's mother? Did he have a crush on Harry's mother or unrequited love or anything like that?
JK ROWLING: Hence his animosity to Harry?
JEREMY PAXMAN: Yes.
JK ROWLING: You speculate?
JEREMY PAXMAN: I speculate, yes, I'm just asking whether you can tell us.
JK ROWLING: No I can't tell you. But you do find out a lot more about Snape and quite a lot more about him actually.
JEREMY PAXMAN: And is there going to be a death in this book?
JK ROWLING: Yes. A horrible, horrible
JEREMY PAXMAN: A horrible death of a significant figure.
JK ROWLING: Yeah. I went into the kitchen having done it....
JEREMY PAXMAN: What, killed this person?
JK ROWLING: Yeah. Well I had re-written the death, re-written it and that was it. It was definitive. And the person was definitely dead. And I walked into the kitchen crying and Neil said to me, "What on earth is wrong?" and I said, "Well, I've just killed the person". Neil doesn't know who the person is. But I said, "I've just killed the person. And he said, "Well, don't do it then." I thought, a doctor you know....and I said "Well it just doesn't work like that. You are writing children's books, you need to be a ruthless killer."
JEREMY PAXMAN: Is it going to upset people?
JK ROWLING: Yes. It upset me. I always knew it was coming, but I managed to live in denial, and carry on with the character and not think about it.
JEREMY PAXMAN: So you know what is going to become of all the major characters over the span of the series?
JK ROWLING: Yeah..yeah.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Why stop when they grow up? Might be interesting to know what becomes of Harry as an adult.
JK ROWLING: How do you know he'll still be alive?
JEREMY PAXMAN: Oh. At the end of book 7?
JK ROWLING: It would be one way to kill of the merchandising.
JEREMY PAXMAN: That really would be killing the Golden Goose wouldn't it?
JK ROWLING: Yeah well. I'm supposed to be richer than the Queen what do I care?
(JK Rowling and Jeremy Paxman in the kitchen)
JK ROWLING: I'm happier now I would say than I've ever been in my life, yeah definitely.....
JEREMY PAXMAN: But that's not just to do with writing of course....
JK ROWLING: No ... but it does have a lot to do with that. I needed to take off the time between books four and five, and I really feel like I got to grips with a lot of things. I sort of put my head up and got a big lungful of air, and I looked around, and I saw what had happened, and I allowed myself time to deal with it a bit better. I think if you'd interviewed me four years ago, I don't think I would have been nearly as relaxed.
JEREMY PAXMAN: There's an element in which, a way in which you've become public property.
JK ROWLING: Yeah.
JEREMY PAXMAN: That you belong, because of what you've created, that people feel like you belong to them.
JK ROWLING: Yes that's definitely true. I think we get a thousand letters a week to this office - come and open my fete, write a personal letter to my daughter, come to my son's birthday party - you know what I mean. And in some ways that's very touching , that they think, really that they think that I have the time.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Well if you don't ask you don't get.
JK ROWLING: I don't blame them for trying, I absolutely don't. Except for the woman who wrote to me and said would I please make her and her husband an annual payment because they hadn't been to the theatre in 3 years - and as begging letters go that wasn't a great angle.
JEREMY PAXMAN: As begging letters go...you must get loads...do you give a lot of money away?
JK ROWLING: Well ...mmmmm. I give money away, that's all I can say.
(JK Rowling and Jeremy Paxman at the table, looking at notes)
JK ROWLING: This must not be seen too closely. This is the plan for Order of the Phoenix. I have these grid things for every book - well I have about twelve grid things for every book. It's just a way of reminding myself what has to happen in each chapter to advance us in the plot. And then you have all your sub-plots. It's just a way of keeping track of what going on.
JEREMY PAXMAN: And these scraps of paper which you've filed elegantly in a carrier, they're plot ideas or ...
JK ROWLING: Well some of them are totally redundant now because its been written and I keep them out of sentimentality's sake, I suppose. But some of it has backstory in it like this - in here is the history of the Death Eaters and I don't know that I'll ever actually need it - but at some point - which were once called something different - they were called the Knights of Walpurgis. I don't know if I'll need it. But I like knowing it. I like to keep that sort of stuff on hand.
JEREMY PAXMAN: What's your preferred way of working? I mean lots of people sit down and say "I must churn out 600 words or a 1000 words a day". Do you work like that ? How do you do it?
JK ROWLING: No, well it's like painting a fence isn't it?
JEREMY PAXMAN: No - well, some distinguished writers have written like that.
JK ROWLING: That's how you do it ...
JEREMY PAXMAN: No - "distinguished writers", I said... Somerset Maugham used to write 600 words a day and he'd stop more or less whether he was mid-sentence.
JK ROWLING: No I couldn't do that.
JEREMY PAXMAN: So what do you do? You sit down and keep going until you're too exhausted to continue....
JK ROWLING: Yeah pretty much actually. It's the flogged horse school of writing. The thing about the 600 words, I mean some day, you can do a very, very, very hard day's work and not write a word, just revising, or you would scribble a few words.
JEREMY PAXMAN: We know that you've written the ending.
JK ROWLING: I've written the final chapter of book seven.
JEREMY PAXMAN: So you know where you are going to get to. Do you know how you are going to get there?
JK ROWLING: Yes. Yes. I mean I allow a margin. It would be so boring if I really knew. It would be joining the dots, wouldn't it? It's not that well worked out. But it's fairly well plotted. I mean it would be worrying if it weren't at this stage, wouldn't it, if I slid off book five and wondered what shall I write out in book six?. You know, it's a complicated story so I need to know what I'm doing.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Do you ever wish you hadn't started on it?
JK ROWLING: Yes. But not for the reasons you might expect. Sometimes, yeah, I've had very low moments when I thought "What the hell do I do this for?" But very rare. Very rare.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Why do you think that occasionally?
JK ROWLING: I haven't thought it for a long time now, but it was while I was writing book four. I went through a very bad patch. The funny thing is that the press were writing that I had writer's block with Phoenix.
JEREMY PAXMAN: That's the next one.
JK ROWLING: Yes, the one that's about to come out. And there was speculation that I was finding the pressure ...well, it was funny because literally on consecutive days, either you'd have, either I was feeling the pressure too much and I was cracking up - or I was too happy being married. And that was stopping me writing. And you kind of couldn't have both. But in fact, the Order of the Phoenix never gave me any trouble. It was quite a docile book to write. And then a lot of fun to write. Chamber of Secrets, I really did have writer's block. Briefly, I think. It wasn't a very serious case, it was only about five weeks. And compared to some people, what's five weeks? Goblet of Fire, I was very unhappy towards the end of writing Goblet, and at the point where I realised I was fantasising that I would break an arm and therefore not be able to... I really mean this. I mean I was just a little way away from actually thinking "How can I break my arm so I can tell my publishers that I can't physically do it?" and then that would give me more time. Because I committed to a totally unrealistic deadline. And I made the deadline But I really did make it by working round the clock really. I was so unhappy.
JEREMY PAXMAN: So you didn't have writer's block. The reason this book has been - what three years.... Three years since the last one isn't it? Why has it taken so long?
JK ROWLING: Well it hasn't.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Huh?
JK ROWLING: Well it hasn't. The book didn't take that long. I decided... What happened was, so Goblet of Fire, I was really in quite a state by the time that book was finished, and I mean at that point I really did feel a lot of things came together with Goblet of Fire. I mean the press attention had reached an hitherto unknown level, and I couldn't work outside the house anymore, and just a hell of a lot of stuff was going on, you know. It was the fame thing. Do I still feel like that? No. But that's because I took the time off. And I was still writing during those three years because I never stop writing. But I didn't want to be published again. That was the big difference. So when I finished Goblet of Fire, I said to - there were only two publishers who had bought the next book - and I said to both of them, I want to repay my advance. And both of them, you could almost hear them having cardiac arrest on the end of the phone. "Why do you want to repay your advance?" And I said, because I don't want to publish next year. I want to write this book in a more leisurely way and I want to take some time off. Because I had had ... I finished Philosopher's Stone, I literally started Chamber of Secrets that afternoon. I finished Chamber of Secrets, I started Prisoner of Azkaban the next day. And I finished Azkaban and I'd already started Goblet of Fire because they overlapped - so there was absolutely no let-up. And I knew I couldn't do it. I just knew I couldn't do it; my brain was going to short circuit if I tried to do that again. So they said "Well, how about we do still get the book when you finish it, but we don't have a deadline?" So I said okay. So that's how we worked it. So there was no deadline. So, just once and for all, and for the record, I didn't miss the deadline. Because there was no deadline.
JEREMY PAXMAN: And you didn't have writers block on that book?
JK ROWLING: No! I just produced a quarter of a million words. It's quite hard to do with writer's block.
JEREMY PAXMAN: That's longer than the New Testament you know.
JK ROWLING: Oh God, stop it. With all these new facts that I didn't know. Is it?
JEREMY PAXMAN: Yeah. By about 70,000 words or something.
JK ROWLING: Do you know the Christian fundamentalists will find a way to turn that into a reason to hate me as well. She's more verbose than God.
(JK Rowling and Jeremy at table, looking at notes and books)
JEREMY PAXMAN: Has Book Five - that thing that's the size of a house brick - it was originally much longer than that, was it?
JK ROWLING: No, actually it wasn't . It's about the size - originally I thought it would be slightly shorter than Goblet of Fire - and what is the phrase? The tale grew in the telling. It did. The thing is, I've got so much now, so much backstory to tell, but I really mean it this time. Six will not need to be that long. I had to move them around a lot in there, there's a lot of to-ing and fro-ing in there.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Are you going to have a lot of loose ends to tie up in 7?
JK ROWLING: Oh god, I hope not. I'm aiming to tie it all up neatly in a nice big knot... that's it , good night.
JEREMY PAXMAN: So that may not be particularly long either....
JK ROWLING: No, I think that will be long because I won't want to let go. I'll just keep writing. I'll probably just start a completely new plot in book seven. It's going to be very difficult to leave it . I mean, I do look forward to a post-Harry era in my life, because some of the things that go along with this are not that much fun, but at the same time, I dread leaving Harry... because I've been working on it over what I sincerely hope will prove to have been the most turbulent part of my life and that was the constant, and I worked on it so hard for so long - then it will be over and I think it's going to leave a massive gap.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Do you know what you will go on to next after that?
JK ROWLING: Well, while I was in between, during the three years I've just had, I was writing something else for a while which was really great, it was good, and I might go back to that. I don't know.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Is that an adult novel?
JK ROWLING: Mmmm. It's just something completely different. It was very liberating to do it.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Be quite difficult for you though. You'd have to publish under a pseudonym wouldn't you?
JK ROWLING: Exactly. But they'll find out within seconds. I don't underestimate the investigative powers of the press, but I don't know what I'll do. I mean, I know I will definitely still be writing. Will I publish? I don't know. It's what you said, of course you write to be published, because you write to share the story. But I do think back to what happened to AA Milne, and he of course tried to write adult novels, and was never reviewed without the mention of Tigger, Pooh and Piglet. And I would imagine that the same will happen with me. And that's fine. God knows my shoulders are broad enough, I could cope with that. But I would like some time to have some normal life at the end of the series, and probably the best way to get that isn't to publish immediately.
JEREMY PAXMAN: It's not a bad thing to go to your grave with - having invented this entire world and made children want to read?
JK ROWLING: Oh God. No. Not at all. Of course I am immensely proud of Harry, and I'm never going to disown it, and I promise I am never, ever, ever going to apologise for it. Never. Because I am proud of it and I will defend Harry against all comers.
JEREMY PAXMAN: JK Rowling, thank you.
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