J. K. Rowling - The Greatest Storyteller of All Time
It’s practically impossible for anyone who grew up in the ’90s and 2000s to have grown up without Harry Potter - the books, the movies, Pottermore - the whole package. And for that, we have the series’ author, J.K. Rowling to thank.
Today, on her 55th birthday, it seems only fitting to us to appreciate the long, and frequently hard journey she went on to achieve what she has today.
Born on 31st July 1965, Rowling grew up in England and Wales and knew from a young age that she wanted to be a writer. At the mere age of eleven, she had already written her first novel. Amidst the avid writing, however, Joanne had an unhappy teenage life - her mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and she had a turbulent relationship with her father. This often made for a strained home.
As a college student, she attended Exeter University, where she studied French and Classics.
As many know, Rowling’s story was not one of immediate success, and she had several years to go before she would write the Harry Potter series. In her 20’s, she was working as a researcher in London, but even here, she spent her every free moment and lunch break writing.
In 1990, however, at the age of 25, the idea for the Harry Potter books came to her as she sat on a delayed train from Manchester to King’s Cross in London - a name many of us know from the books themselves.
However, in December, her mother passed away from her disease, and this had a profound effect on her - in fact, it impacted her writing, and the feelings of loss experienced by Harry in the first book are influenced by her own. Sadly, she had never told her mother about beginning to write Harry Potter.
The next five years were spent writing - mapping out what would become one of the most famous series’ in the world - and built up notes on odd scraps of paper. During this time, she went to Portugal to teach English for two years, returning two years later with a newborn daughter.
The period that ensued was one of the hardest periods of her life - she had just left a failed marriage, and was unemployed with a child. She was diagnosed with clinical depression, and even considered suicide - her thoughts and illness during this period are, in fact, her inspiration for the soul-sucking Dementors featured in many of her books.
Rowling was forced to sign up for welfare benefits during this time.
However, her unemployment was, in many ways, an opportunity for her - giving her the much-needed time she needed to write her books.
When she completed the manuscript, she sent it to twelve publishing houses - all of whom rejected it. A year later, however, a small publishing house accepted it. You may know them today as one of the biggest publishers of children’s books - Bloomsbury! It was the Harry Potter series that transformed this company into one of the most reputed publishers in the world. She published the book under the name J.K. Rowling - using it so that young boys wouldn’t avoid reading it, thinking it was written by a female author. She didn’t have a middle name and chose to use the initial ‘k’ for her grandmother, Kathleen, in her pen name.
A strange fact - the book may not have even been published if it weren’t for Alice Newton, the daughter of the chairman of Bloomsbury. Having read the first chapter, given to her by her father, she demanded the next.
However, when the books were initially published, Bloomsbury was unsure of the success it would have, running a mere 1000 copies of the book. Clearly, that would be slightly short - slightly. Since its initial publication, millions and millions of copies of the book have been printed.
The book won several awards, including the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize, an award for British children’s books at the time. The two subsequent books, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, won as well in the next two years, and Rowling took the fourth book out of the running to give other authors and books a chance.
As every one of the six subsequent books was released, new, record-breaking successes were met. The series, in fact, made Forbes in 2004 named Rowling the first billionaire author in the world.
Rowling is an inspiration to children around the world - for more reasons than one. Her books have opened up the minds of millions, transporting them to a world beyond their own. She has shown them the power of words and imagination. Her rags to riches story is yet another inspiration - proving that anyone can do anything if they put in the work and the passion. To girls and women everywhere, she is proof of the wonders a woman can do against all odds.
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J.K. Rowling once said, “It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you’ve failed by default.”
Let her birthday be a reminder to us to push our boundaries as far as we can, dream our biggest dreams, and never give up on them.
Tishya Doraiswamy, Content Writer @ Skyshot Media