Interview with J.K. Rowling
Early Fall, 2000
Q: How did you get the
idea for Harry Potter?
A: I was taking a long train journey from Manchester to London in England and
the idea for Harry just fell into my head. At that point it was essentially the
idea for a boy who didn't know he was a wizard, and the wizard school he ended
up going to.
Q: How long did it take to write the first book?
A: 5 years, although during that time I was also planning & writing parts of
the six sequels.
Q: What did you have to do to make sure readers could start with HARRY POTTER
AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS and not be confused?
A: It's becoming more of a challenge to keep new readers up to speed with every
new Harry book (I'm currently writing the fourth). In the case of CHAMBER OF
SECRETS matters were relatively straightforward; I tried to introduce
information about Harry and his first year at Hogwarts in as natural a way as
possible. However, by the time I reach books five and six, this is going to be
much harder. It makes me think of 'previously on ER...' when you have to watch
thirty minutes of clips to understand that week's episode. Maybe I'll just write
a preface: 'previously in Harry Potter...' and tell readers to go back and read
books 1 - 4!
Q: What kind of manuscript changes had to be made to make the U.S. version
more understandable to American readers? Specific things, like the title change
of the first Harry Potter book?
A: Very few changes have been made in the manuscript. Arthur Levine, my American
editor, and I decided that words should be altered only where we felt they would
be incomprehensible, even in context, to an American reader. I have had some
criticism from other British writers about allowing any changes at all, but I
feel the natural extension of that argument is to go and tell French and Danish
children that we will not be translating Harry Potter, so they'd better go and
The title change was Arthur's idea initially, because he felt that the British
title gave a misleading idea of the subject matter. We discussed several
alternative titles and SORCERER'S STONE was my idea.
Q: Did you always plan to write Harry's story in more than one book? If so,
A: I always conceived it as a seven-book series because I decided that it would
take seven years from the ages of 11-17, inclusive, to train as a wizard, and
each of the books would deal with a year of Harry's life at Hogwarts.
Q: Any hints you could share about what to expect in future Harry Potter
A: The theme running through all seven books is the fight between good and evil,
and I'm afraid there will be casualties! Children usually beg me not to kill Ron
whenever I tell them this; they seem to think he is most vulnerable, probably
because he is the hero's best friend!
Q: How do you come up with all the unique names, places and things that help
make Harry Potter so intriguing?
A: Many of the names are invented, for example 'Quidditch' and 'Muggle'. I also
collect unusual names, and I take them from all sorts of different places.
'Hedwig' was a saint, 'Dumbledore' is an old English word for 'bumble bee' and
'Snape' is the name of a place in England.
Q: What do you think it is about Harry Potter that connects with so many people?
A: It's very hard to think about my work in those terms, because I really wrote
it entirely for myself; it is my sense of humour in the books, not what I think
children will find funny, and I suppose that would explain some of the appeal to
adults. On the other hand, I think that I have very vivid memories of how it
felt to be Harry's age, and children seem to identify strongly with Harry and
Q: Did you ever expect Harry Potter to be so successful?
A: I would have been crazy to have expected what has happened to Harry. The most
exciting moment for me, against very stiff competition, was when I found out
Harry was going to be published. It was my life's ambition to see a book I had
written on a shelf in a bookshop. Everything that has happened since has been
extraordinary and wonderful, but the mere fact of being able to say I was a
published author was the fulfillment of a dream I had had since I was a very
Q: Are you surprised to see Harry Potter connecting with so many adults, as well
A: I didn't write with a target audience in mind. What excited me was how much I
would enjoy writing about Harry. I never thought about writing for children ---
children's books chose me. I think if it is a good book anyone will read it.
Q: Harry Potter was first successful in England, and then in the United
States. Where else has Harry Potter been released? What similarities and/or
differences have you found in the response to Harry Potter in different
countries? And, since each of the editions is packaged differently, do you have
A: Harry is now published, or will be published shortly, in Britain, America,
Brazil, Holland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece,
Czechoslovakia, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Japan. My favourite cover
is the American one --- I am very much hoping to meet the illustrator, Mary
Grandpre --- but I also love the Dutch edition.
Q: Of the many things you must have heard people say about Harry Potter, what
are some of your favorites?
A: My very favourite was from a twelve-year-old Scottish girl who came to hear
me read at the Edinburgh book festival. The event was sold out and the queue for
signing at the end was very long. When the girl in question finally reached me
she said, 'I didn't WANT there to be so many people here, because this is MY
book!' That is exactly how I feel about my favourite books...nobody else has a
right to know them, let alone like them!
Q: How has your success as an author impacted your lifestyle? Is there
something you always wanted to do that you are able to do now that you have the
A: I never expected to be talking to journalists or doing lots of promotional
work, and I have reached the point now where I have to say 'no' to a lot of
things just to make sure that I get enough time to write. On the other hand, I
love travelling, and the chance to visit places I have never seen before --- my
trip to the U.S. last October to promote the book was my first ever, and I fell
in love with New York and San Francisco --- is absolutely wonderful.
Q: Are you recognized, now? Do you get stopped for autographs? How does that
A: I am rarely recognized and I am very happy about that, because I like being
an anonymous person! It usually happens when I'm writing in cafes, because the
connection between me and cafes is strongly imprinted in Edinburgh peoples'
minds. Occasionally I have handed over my credit card and people have recognized
the name, which is a very comfortable level of recognisability. One shop
assistant told me she had taken the second Harry to read on her honeymoon! The
most embarrassing occasion was when I took my daughter to see 'A Bug's Life'
with some friends, and a woman with a party of a dozen little girls asked me if
she could take a picture of me with all her charges.
Q: Are you excited about the movie deal for Harry Potter? Where else might we
see Harry Potter in the future (toys, video games, etc.)?
A: I am very excited (and a little bit nervous) about Harry Potter the Movie.
Warner Brothers have bought merchandising rights, so it is possible that we will
be seeing Harry Potter toys.
Q: Is this the first book/story you ever wrote? If not, is it the first one
A: It is the first book I have ever published. At the time I got the idea for
Harry I had written and put aside two adult novels.
Q: Did you always want to be a writer?
A: Yes, ever since the age of five or six, when I wrote my first 'book' --- a
story about a rabbit called 'Rabbit'.
Q: Where, when, and how do you write?
A: Any time, any place, and longhand!
Q: Do you have any plans, as a writer, beyond Harry Potter?
A: I have always written and I know that I always will; I would be writing even
if I hadn't been published. However, Harry is a large and all-consuming project,
and I really haven't got time, at the moment, to decide what will come next.
Q: What books and authors did you read as a kid? Which are your biggest
A: I most admire E. Nesbit, Paul Gallico and C.S.Lewis. My favourite book as a
child was THE LITTLE WHITE HORSE by Elizabeth Goudge.
Q: What are you reading now?
A: The last novel I read was CAPTAIN CORELLI'S MANDOLIN by Louis de Bernieres,
which I loved.
Q: What advice would you give to young writers today?
A: I doubt a writer who has got what it takes will need me to tell them this,
but --- persevere!
Q: What do you like best about your life as a children's book writer?
A: The writing!
Q: If you were not writing, what might you be doing, instead?
A: Well --- as you can see by the answer above, I would be at a dead loss.
Profession-wise, I would still be teaching, which I enjoyed.
Q: What are your hobbies? Favorite holidays (and how do you celebrate them)?
A: I was embarrassed the other day to discover that I didn't have much to say to
the question 'what are your hobbies?' (asked by a nine year old boy). The truth
is that if I'm not looking after my daughter, spending time with friends or
reading, I am writing. The boy who'd asked seemed quite frustrated by this
answer, but the truth of the matter is that even if writing is now my full-time
profession, it is also my greatest pleasure.
I doubt if it will come as a surprise to anybody that I love Hallowe'en.
Although I missed last year, because I was in the U.S., I usually hold a big
Hallowe'en party for my friends and their children.
Q: Other things that help define who you are (foods, TV shows, etc.)?
A: I will eat almost anything except tripe, which unfortunately was the
speciality in Oporto, where I lived for three years. TV shows: I love comedy,
mostly British, though I love Frasier and The Simpsons.
Q: You live in Scotland, but what other countries have you visited? Which are
your favorites? If you were to move, where would you choose?
A: I have lived in England, France and Portugal, and visited many others. I
loved Portugal (my daughter is half-Portuguese) and I'm looking forward to
taking her back there and trying to explain why we left the blazing sunshine for
fog and snow.
Q: What does your daughter think of your work? What books do you want and
like to read with her? And her to read on her own?
A: She is still too young for me to read the Harry Potter books to her, but I am
really looking forward to a time when I can share them with her. She loves the
Beatrix Potter books and I recently read her THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE
WARDROBE, which she thoroughly enjoyed.