Conversations with J. K. Rowlingby J. K. Rowling, Lindsey Fraser
The name J.K. Rowling is one that is on the lips of millions of readers worldwide, but before 1997 few people knew the brilliant woman behind the phenomenally successful Harry Potter books. And now, four books into the series, few yet know the real story of Ms. Rowling's childhood and career as a writer. This is the first and only true telling of Ms. Rowling's history because it is in her own words, from her birth in Chipping Sodbury near Bristol, England, to the stories about her favorite and least favorite teachers in school growing up, and to the funny misunderstanding in her first fan letter. It is like a visit with a friend, a friend who has brought you to tears with laughter and told the most enchanting stories you've ever been told.
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Conversations with J.K. Rowling
My Family and My ChildhoodWhere did you come in the family?
I was the older of two girls. My earliest memory is of my sister being born-she's just under two years younger than me. My dad gave me Play-Doh the day she arrived, to keep me occupied while he ran in and out of the bedroom. I have no memory of seeing the new baby, but I do remember eating the Play-Doh.
Were books important in your family?
Another early memory is of having the measles-I must have been about four-and Dad reading The Wind in the Willows. I don't remember feeling ill at all-just lying there listening to those stories. Both my parents loved reading. My mother was a huge reader-she was quite bookish`-and never happier than when she was curled up, reading. That was a big influence on me. She came from a family of teachers and I think my dad followed her example.
Tell us about your grandparents.
My grandfathers were called Ernie and Stanley-I named the driver and conductor of the Knight Bus which comes to rescue Harry Potter after them. They were both great characters. Ernie owned a supermarket, and when we went to stay-they lived in a flat above the shop-he would let my sister and me play shops after hours with real tins and packets and money. Just as long as we put everything back.
Stanley sometimes had a problem telling fact from fiction. He was a great dreamer, and spent a lot of time in his garden shed, making things.
One of my grandmothers was called Kathleen-my middle name. I adored her, and my saddest memory of that time is of her death. My other grandmother was obsessed with dogs, which she much preferred to humans. There was a touch of Aunt Marge in her, to tell the truth.
Did you have any pets?
When I was very, very tiny we had a dog called Thumper, named after the rabbit in the Disney film, Bambi. I was very sad when he was put down. We had two guinea pigs later on, but they were eaten by a fox. I remember the scene of carnage on the back lawn-it was not pleasant .... And we had another dog, Misty, who was around until after I went to university.
As a teenager I had tropical fish. That was a big hobby and I still love them.
Where were you born?
In Chipping Sodbury near Bristol. I'm very proud of that! I think it probably doomed me to a love of weird place-names. Until I was about nine we lived in and around Bristol, and then we moved to Tutshill, a little village near Chepstow in South Wales. It is a town dominated by a castle on a cliff, which might explain a lot.
Why did you move to the country?
I think it was really a dream of my parents', both of whom had urban childhoods. They met on a train heading north to Scotland from Kings Cross Station in London. Dad was in the navy and Mum was a Wren [Women's Royal Naval Service] and they were both traveling to a posting in Arbroath, just north of Dundee. It was love at first sight; they married at nineteen and had me at twenty. They both dreamed of life in a country cottage, and my dad could commute easily from Chepstow to his work at the Rolls Royce factory.
Tell us about the place where you lived.
Our house was a cottage next to the church. It had originally been the village school. All our friends thought it was spooky living next to a graveyard but we liked it. I still love graveyardsthey are a great source of names. We lived near Offds Dyke on the River Wye-a wonderful place. We used to love exploring amongst the boulders. When we got older, of course, it became boring. There wasn't as much to interest teenagers.
What else do you remember from that time?
One of my happiest memories is of a family holiday in Norfolk: I am very close to my sister now, but when we were younger we fought like cat and dog. For some reason we were getting on unnaturally well during that holiday, and I just remember all the late-night laughing, the stories and jokes. I think my parents were surprised but relieved.
My School DaysWhat do you remember about your time at school?
My first school was on the outskirts of Bristol and I absolutely loved it, although I remember on my first day, when Mum came to pick me up for lunch, I thought that was it and that I'd "done" school and wouldn't need to go back.
The village school in Tutshill was pretty Dickensian-a complete contrast to the open-plan school I was used to. We were seated according to the teacher's perception of our brightness, and after ten minutes she put me in the "dim" row. There are a number of people who influenced the character of Snape in my books, and that teacher was definitely one of them. I found it extremely scary. We used to have The Daily Ten-mental arithmetic-and on my first day I got half a point. Well, I'd never done fractions before! I think that I grew on that teacher in time, but I remember having to work hard at it. And at the fractions.
What was your secondary school like?
I quite liked secondary school, but I was particularly influenced by my English teacher, Miss Shepherd. She was strict, and could be quite caustic, but she was very conscientious. I really respected her because she was a teacher who was passionate about teaching us. She was an introduction to a different kind of woman, I suppose. She was a feminist, and clever. She had this incredibly no-nonsense approach. I remember doodling while she was talking one day and she told me that I was being very rude indeed. I said, "But I'm listening," and she told me that I was still being rude. That really stuck with me. She never just said, "Don't do that." Her approach made far more of an impression. So I loved English. Miss Shepherd was very hot on structure and refused to allow us to be the least bit sloppy. Even though I read a great deal, it was very good to be shown exactly what gave writing structure and pace. I learned such a lot from her and we're still in touch. She was the only teacher I ever confided in. She inspired trust.
When Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was published she sent me a letter via Bloomsbury, the publisher. Her comments meant more to me than any newspaper review, because I knew she would never have written anything unless she meant it. She was the personification of integrity. And she liked the book.
When I was in the Upper Sixth [corresponds to the twelfth grade in the American system] a very important thing happened. A boy called Sean Harris came to school, having been at school in...
Meet the Author
Lindsey Fraser is a leading children's book enthusiast. She started work in James Thin Booksellers in Edinburgh, Scotland, before managing Heffers Children's Bookshop in Cambridge, England. She is now Executive Director of Scottish Book Trust, an organization renowned for its work in promoting reading among children and in raising the profile of children's literature.
- Perthshire, Scotland
- Date of Birth:
- July 31, 1965
- Place of Birth:
- Chipping Sodbury near Bristol, England
- Exeter University
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I have learned more about J.K. Rowling from primetime news shows than this book could have ever hoped to tell me! I am a bit surprised that J. K. Rowling would allow such drivel to be marketed on her behalf. SHE is genius, this book does not do her justice, nor does it say much for the author.
i absolutely love harry potter and have bought alll j.k.rowling books and what will happen next in HP or whatever. but this book was zero informative about anything i wanted to know and was completely uninteresting. i am an avid reader myself but please, save your money. if you want a good book about harry potter, try mugglenet's what will happen in harry potter 7. it's fantastic and the theories make sense(!).
I really liked how it told how her life related to the books! She's pure geneous!!
this book is so informative about j.k.
i loved this book it was very informative and very interesting.
This book tells you alot about her history and how she made the Harry Potter Books. It is very nice
I'm in the middle of it right now and am very excited to see what's next!!!