Rowling Q&A session at Royal Albert Hall
June 28th, 2003
What am I going to call you?
Can we settle an important question? (JKR: yes) How do you pronounce your last
It is Row-ling. As in rolling pin. (mimics rolling action)
So if any of you hear someone pronounce her name "Rohw-ling", you have
my permission to hit them over the head with -- not with Order of the Phoenix,
that would be cruel. Something smaller, like a fridge.
We've got a lot of questions to get through, so let's hear our first question,
which is from a young man not too far away, he's in Stevenage in Hertfordshire
and his name is James Williams.
What kind of books did you read as a child and did it inspire you to become a
I would read absolutely anything at all. My favourite writers were E. Nesbit,
C.S. Lewis and I used to read adult writers as well. I would read absolutely
anything, the backs of cereal packets.
One of the things I suppose a lot of people like to know about writers is a very
basic question of what your average writing day is like? I'm sure there is no
average writing day, but the may sound like silly questions but they're ones
people like to know, like Do you use a computer? Or do you write with a pen? Do
you drink coffee or tea? Do you listen to music whilst you write? Give us a
rough example of your day?
Right, well my favourite way to write, used to be to go to cafés. I love doing
that because I find that being surrounded by people even though I can't talk to
them whilst I'm writing is very helpful because being a writer is a very, very
lonely job, obviously. But these days I can't write in cafés because too many
people come to me and go "Yuo're that woman, who writes that Harry
Potter" so I write at home now and I write much more on the computer than I
And do you listen to music?
I never listen to music. I find music much too distracting.
And do you drink tea or coffee?
I drink both of them, in excessive quantities.
And again to be really dull, just to get the details out of the way… Do you
start very early and write 'till very late. Is it regular?
Well I start off by taking my daughter to school and then I write 'till I'm so
hungry I can't focus on the computer anymore and I go and have a sandwich, then
I keep writing until Jessica comes home from school and then sometimes I'll do a
bit in the evening.
And after about a year or so…
After about a year or so finally think: "Ooh. I finally finished the
Do you print it out as you go along and read it on paper?
I do. Wastes a lot of paper
We now have a question from a Miss Anna Beatrice… She's all the way in Rio de
Janeiro in Brazil.
Did you find it harder to write now that the whole world was waiting for the
latest book in the Harry Potter series?
I don't think I did find it harder to write, but it can get a little bit scary
being published these days. Look where we are (looks around Albert Hall) The
first reading I ever did, there were two people who wandered into the basement
of Waterstones by mistake and were too polite to leave when they saw someone was
doing a reading and they had to get all the staff in the shop to come downstairs
to bulk out the crowd a bit. and I was terrified. I was shaking so badly, I kept
And now when you go to a bookshop to do a signing, people dress up don't they?
They do dress up. The best one I ever saw was a woman in America who dressed up
as the fat lady in a pink dress and she had hung a picture frame around herself.
She looked fabulous
So I know in America they are a bit more theatrical than we are about these
things (British), you get boys dressed as Harry Potter and girls dressed as
Many boys dressed as Harry… And lately I've noticed people like dressing up as
Draco a lot more, which I'm finding a little bit worrying. (To audience) I think
you're all getting far too fond of Draco.
Now we're going to go to Manchester in England where there is a question from
What advice would you give to any kids who want to become authors?
(Stephen repeats question…again)
I always say the same thing, which is to read as much as you possibly can.
Nothing will help you as much as reading and you'll go through a phase where you
will imitate your favourite writers and that's fine because that's a learning
experience too and you'll also have to accept that you are going to hate a lot
of the things you write before you find you like something.
There seem to be a lot of other popular children's writers at the moment… Are
you a fan of Phillip Pullman?
Phillip Pullman is fantastic (pause) David Almond (pause) Jacqueline Wilson
It's almost better than being called
Mundungus for those that don't know means "tobacco," it's an old word
for that and Mundungus is always smelling of his pipe and various other
unsavoury things, so that's why he's called Mundungus.
Now let's go six thousand miles to someone called Lily whose all the way in
Seattle, Washington in America.
Which character do you miss most when you finish writing the book?
I really miss all of them, but I suppose I'm going to have to say Harry because
he is my hero and there is a lot of me in Harry.
People sometimes ask me who my favourite character is in the reading of them and
the answer is always Harry because you didn't choose to make it 'Anybody Else
and the Order of the Phoenix' It's Harry's story and Harry's growth…
Exactly! It's Harry's journey and it's Harry's eyes from which you see the world
and so he is obviously crucial to the story.
Can you remind us how the whole thing popped into your head? It was on a train
I was going on a train from Manchester to London and I was looking out of the
window at some cows, I believe and I just thought: "Boy doesn't know he's a
wizard - goes off to wizard school." I have no idea where it came from. I
think the idea was floating along the train and looking for someone and my mind
was vacant enough so it decided to zoom in there.
And you played with the idea in your head…
Exactly! From that moment I thought: "Well why doesn't he realise he's a
wizard?" It was as though the story was just there for me to discover and I
thought: "Well his parents are dead and he needs to find out they're
wizards" and on we went from there.
And the names. I must mention them. You mentioned Mundungus being about tobacco.
I don't how many of the boys and girls are aware but a lot of the names have
very particular meanings. "Albus Dumbledore," is on the side of light
and his name means white.
…And wisdom as well.
And "Albion," is an old name for "Britain."
And Malfoy. What does that mean?
Well Malfoy is a made up name. But you could say it was old French for "bad
One more thing, which I'm sure the boys and girls have noticed. There's a school
motto for Hogwarts, which is in Latin… and what is it?
Well you're one of the few people who knew what it meant when I met them. It
means "Never tickle a sleeping Dragon."
It's the magic equivalent of "Let sleeping dogs lie."
And now we have a question from Neil, who is probably our farthest away in
Sydney, Australia where it's Mid-Winter.
Have you ever considered writing a book about Harry five or ten years after he
has left Hogwarts?
I get asked the question about whether I am going to write a book about Harry
when he's all grown up quite a lot and I always say you have to wait and see
whether he survives to be a grown up.
That's a frightening thought, isn't it?
Sorry I'm not saying he won't, but I don't want to give anything away at this
I was wondering. What do you think Harry would find more difficult to do: To
fight Voldemort or to kiss Cho?
People who have read Order of the Phoenix will have a fairly shrewd idea what
the answer might be.
We're not going to give too much away about that new book (famous last words
-Matt) because not everybody can read that fast. (break) Another thing I noticed
about the ageing. If you look back at the first book, The Philosopher's Stone
and The Chamber of Secrets is that they almost seem innocent by comparison.
Everything now is more complicated.
When he (Harry) first entered the world (of Magic) he had of course expected it
to (after spending time with the Dursley's) be this magical wonderland and
almost immediately he wandered into Draco Malfoy in the robe shop and found out
that Wizards are racist and slowly but surely he's found out that many people in
power in the Wizarding World are just as corrupt and nasty as they are in our
People often say in the real world: "I haven't got a magic wand to cure all
the worlds ills," but what you show is that people with a magic wand still
can't cure all the ills.
No, that's because it's about human nature and all the people with less pure
motives have magic wands too, so you spend a lot of time trying to legislate for
So now we're going to go to an interesting question from Daniel Joseph from
Croydon in England
My question is: How do you decide what the baddies would be like?
This is going to sound awful but… I've met enough bad people in my life to
have a fairly shrewd idea of what I want baddies to be like. I think from all of
the letters I get from people your age (points to audience) I think all of you
know a Draco Malfoy and I think the girls will almost all know a Pansy
Parkinson. We all grow up with those sorts of people and certainly as adults
we've all met Lucius Malfoy and some of the other characters.
Mafloy, Goyle & Crabbe are almost irredeemably bad. There's almost nothing
about Goyle and Crabbe who really are repulsive. Malfoy I suppose is very
stylish in his nastiness.
He's very stylish in the film.
And in the books as well I think?
Yes, he does have a certain flare.
Stephen Fry (heavily
Then there's characters like Snape, who are bad but there is a certain ambiguity
about him. You can't quite decide because there's something quite sad about him.
Something very lonely. We're slowly (after five books) getting the idea that
maybe he is not so bad after all.
Yes, but you shouldn't think he's too nice. Let me just say that. It is worth
keeping an eye on old Severus Snape, definitely.
One of the most awful things in the world we feel, especially when we're young
is injustice, when something is unfair it makes us so angry and one of the
things, which always makes me upset on Harry's behalf is how people tell lies
about him and Dumbledore knows this. He knows the fathers are Death Eaters.
I don't want to give too much away, but Dumbledore is a very wise man who
firstly knows Harry is going to have to learn a few hard lessons to prepare him
for what maybe coming in his life, so he allows Harry to do a lot of things he
wouldn't normally allow another pupil to do and he also unwillingly permits
Harry to confront a lot of things he'd rather protect him from but as people who
have finished Order of the Phoenix will know, Dumbledore has had to step back a
little bit from Harry in an effort to teach him some of life's harder lessons.
Now let's cross over to Hong Kong, China where we have a question from the Korea
SCHOOL CHILDREN (all at once):
Do you believe in magic?
I'm sorry to say this, because often when I answer this question I get a groan
but I don't believe in magic. I don't believe in it as it appears in the books.
I could be slightly corny and say I believe in other kinds of magic. The magic
of the imagination for example and love, but magic as in waving a magic wand and
making things happen… no I don't. I'd love to be able to, but I'm afraid I
This may sound corny as well, but it's desperately important. The way Harry
solves all his problems are really through his courage, his friendship, his
loyalty and his stoutness of heart.
Harry is not a good enough wizard, yet to even attempt to take on Voldemort as
Wizard to Wizard. However he has now escaped him three times, four if count the
encounter with Riddle in the Chamber of Secrets and he keeps doing it because
there is one thing that Voldemort doesn't understand and it is the power that
keeps Harry going and we all know what that power is. (Duracell longer life
Exactly right. Now Natasha Wry from Suffolk in England has another question.
If you could have any magical power for one day, what would you have and how
would you use it?
If I had any power, I would have the power of invisibility and this is a little
bit sad but I would probably sneak off to a café and write all day.
I was just asked on my way in, when
will book six be ready, so I think I you will agree that I need to get working
We're going to go straight now to Paris, in France to Antoine.
If you looked into the Mirror of Erised what would you see?
I would see myself very much as I am. One of the most wonderful things that
could happen to me has happened and that's to have another child so I would see
myself and my family but there would be room in the background for a lot of
other things. I always say I would see what Harry sees, which is my mother alive
again and a scientist over my shoulders inventing a cigarette that would be
healthy and I can think of a particular journalist I'd like to see being boiled
in oil over my other shoulder.
If your first book had been a reasonable success for you to write a second one
and that had been okay for you to write a third and fourth, so a few people
would have heard your name, so they'd just done well enough. Do you think that
the story would have developed in different ways? So is the huge fame and
un-paralleled success given you a different view of the story.
I think I had planned Harry would always feel this pressure of his position. Did
you notice the part in the first book where he enters the Leaky Cauldron for the
first time and everyone runs at him and he's stunned because he doesn't realise
they've been talking about him for eleven years without his knowledge and I
always planned he would meet someone from the Daily Prophet. I think it would be
foolish to pretend I don't write Rita Skeeter with a little bit more enjoyment
You don't read what people write about you?
I try and avoid it as much as possible
Now we have a question from Ahmet in Israel.
What music does Harry Potter listen to?
Well he has recently heard the wizarding super group, The Weird Sisters who came
to the Yule Ball who have an odd assortment of instruments, bagpipes, the cello
and the electric guitar of course. So I would have to say they are his favourite
So there's no wizarding house music, rap or hip hop?
It would have got very complicated, so I'm sticking with the Weird Sisters and
you can make of them what you will.
What's your musical taste? Lots of different things?
Lots and lots of different things. The Beatles were my favourite group and I
just said to someone when I got on that this is the nearest I'll ever get to
being a Beatle hearing you all [the audience] shouting. It was very nice. I see
myself as the George Harrison.
We have another question now from a place you know very well indeed, Edinburgh
in Scotland and it's from a Janine Kerr.
If you were a teacher at Hogwarts, what subject would you teach?
I think that I would probably teach charms and I see charms as a slightly
lighter subject than Transfiguration. It's harder work. Charms has a little bit
of leeway for more personal creativity. Transfiguration you have to get exactly
right, so it's much more of a scientific subject. My daughter would be better at
it as she's much more of a scientist.
What did you teach when you were a teacher?
I taught French. I rarely speak it. I don't have a lot of time to read and speak
in French these days because I'm a mother, your free time is normally spent
doing the most important thing and that is writing and reading a bit in English.
Where were you at school?
I was at school in the Forest
of Dean. That's why Hagrid has that accent of course, which is a
Forest of Dean accent.
Now we have a question coming from Natasha Morison. Now Natasha is a competion
winner and she's in the audience today and here's your question.
How did you think of Quidditch, because it's so unlike any other sport I know.
Well if you want to create a game like Quidditch, what you have to do is have an
enormous argument with your then boyfriend. You walk out of the house, you sit
down in a pub and you invent Quidditch. And I don't really know what the
connection is between the row and Quidditch except that Quidditch is quite a
violent game and maybe in my deepest, darkest soul I would quite like to see him
hit by a bludger.
Do you ever play the computer games?
No I don't. My daughter is very good, but I can't work Playstations. I'm not
good at these things.
I've got no further than throwing Gnomes over hedges.
We have another question from another competition winner, who is called Jackson
Long. Let's have a look at your question.
Professor Snape has always wanted to be Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher.
In book five he doesn't get the job. Why doesn't Professor Dumbledore let him be
the DADA teacher?
That is an excellent question and the reason is… I have to be careful… not
to say too much. However, when Professor Dumbledore took Professor Snape onto
the staff and Professor Snape said he'd like to teach Defence Against the Dark
Arts please and Professor Dumbledore felt that it might bring out the worst in
Professor Snape, so Dumbledore said: "I think we'll let you teach potions
and see how you get along there."
Is a Parselmouth a real thing or did you make that up?
Parselmouth is an old word for someone who has a problem with their mouth like a
Now Order of the Phoenix. It's 766 pages long. That is a big book by any
standards and as I have to sit in front of a microphone and read it all for
hours and hours I'm very cross with you [He was joking kids…] but on the other
hand it's extraordinary good value as you planned seven books in the series and
you could have written eight just with the words you've done in the first five.
Did you know it was going to be this long?
No I didn't. I will say this. I had to put in some things because of what's to
come in Books Six and Seven and I didn't want anyone to say to me: "What a
cheat. You never gave us clues." Because if I didn't mention certain things
in Order of the Phoenix, you could have said: "Well you sprang that on
us." Whereas I want you to be able to guess if you've got your wits about
you. There are a few surprises coming.
Stephen Fry (question
Does it upset you to have to write all these unfair judgements and betrayals
that Harry has to endure?
I do. I will say that I think he has the hardest time in this book because
although there are some scary things coming for Harry, in this book no one
believes him and also he's a teenager, so to have those two burdens in life at
once is quite horrible, but from now on at least everybody knows he's been
telling the truth so whatever he has to face, he doesn't have to deal with
everyone being so mistrustful of him.
Are we ever going to meet Hermione's parents?
Well we've seen them very briefly, but they're dentists so they're not that
One of the most horrible and brilliant inventions of the books is the idea of
snobbery, the purebloods and mudbloods and mixed breeding, which is a reflection
of some of the things such as racism and intolerance, things we have in our
world. Is that deliberate or did it come to you in a flash?
It is deliberate. The first time Harry meets Draco, he [Draco] is very rude
about Muggles. I was also playing with that [intolerance] when I created
Professor Lupin, who has a condition, which is contagious of course and so
people are very frightened of him and I really like Professor Lupin as a
character because he's someone that also has a failing, because although he is a
wonderful teacher (one I myself would have liked to have had as a teacher) and a
wonderful man, he does like to be liked and that's where he slips up. He's been
disliked so often that he's always so pleased to have friends, so he cuts them
an awful lot of slack.
Now we're not going to go into the business of who dies, because not everyone
has read the book, but it did cause a bit of a stir when you admitted it caused
you great distress. Do you feel a lot of these emotional things with a lot of
the characters you write.
I do. I think what I was trying to do with the death in this book was show how
very arbitrary and sudden death is. This is a death where you didn't have a big
death bed scene. It happened almost accidentally and that is one of the very
cruel things about death and they're now in a war situation where that really
does happen, where one minute you're talking to your friend and the next minute
he's gone. It's so shocking and so inexplicable… "Where did they
go?" I found it upsetting to write, because I knew what it would mean to
Yes, for all his [something], [CHARACTER] was so loveable really.
And we've just given it away [bursts into laughter]
Stephen Fry (Hereafter known as
Homer - D'OH!):
I never said anything...Moving on...Luna Lovegood: where did she come from?
JK Rowling (trying not to laugh
I don't know where Luna came from, but again I think many people would have met
a Luna who is slightly out of step, but I really like Luna. She's really fun to
write and in many ways Luna is the anti-Hermione because Hermione is so logical
and so inflexible whereas Luna is the one who is prepared to believe a thousand
mad things before breakfast.
Now to go to one of the more horrible characters, Umbridge.
She's horrible isn't she?
[to the audience] Have you come across an Umbridge? Does she drive you mad.
I'm glad you hate her because I really loath Umbridge.
Stephen Fry (gets handed an
This is from a Jessica Wells, originally from Australia, now living in London
and this is her question: Harry saw his parents die, so why hasn't he been able
to see the Thestrals before?
At the end of Goblet of Fire, we sent Harry home more depressed than he had ever
been leaving Hogwarts. Now I knew that the Thestrals were coming and I can prove
that because they are in the book that I produced for comic relief,
"Fantastic Beasts and where to find them" These unlucky black winged
horses. However if Harry had seen them then and we hadn't explained them then, I
thought that would be rather a cheat on the reader in that Harry suddenly sees
these monsters but we don't go anywhere with them, so to explain to myself I
said that you had to have seen the death and allowed it to sink in a little bit
before slowly these creatures became solid in front of you, so that's how I am
going to sneak past that one.
Can you explain in words of less than two syllables what Arithmancy is?
Well your guess is as good as mine Stephen… Well, really it's predicting the
future using numbers, but I've also decided there's a bit of numerology in there
Now this seems to be all the time we have for questions, but shortly, Jo will be
reading from the book.