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Magic, Mystery, and Mayhem: An Interview with J.K. Rowling

Divorced, living on public assistance in a tiny Edinburgh flat with her infant daughter, J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in stolen moments at a cafe table. Fortunately, Harry Potter rescued her! In this Amazon.co.uk interview, Rowling discusses the birth of our hero, the Manchester hotel where Quidditch was born, and how she might have been a bit like Hermione when she was 11.

Amazon.co.uk: Did you want to be an author when you were younger?

Jo Rowling: Yes, I've wanted to be an author as long as I can remember. English was always my favorite subject at school, so why I went on to do a degree in French is anyone's guess.

Amazon.co.uk: How old were you when you started to write, and what was your first book?

Rowling: I wrote my first finished story when I was about 6. It was about a rabbit called Rabbit. Very imaginative. I've been writing ever since.

Amazon.co.uk: Why did you choose to be an author?

Rowling: If someone asked for my recipe for happiness, step one would be finding out what you love doing most in the world and step two would be finding someone to pay you to do it. I consider myself very lucky indeed to be able to support myself by writing.

Amazon.co.uk: Do you have any plans to write books for adults?

Rowling: My first two novels--which I never tried to get published--were for adults. I suppose I might write another one, but I never really imagine a target audience when I'm writing. The ideas come first, so it really depends on the idea that grabs me next!

Amazon.co.uk: How long does it take you to write a book?

Rowling: My last book--the third in the Harry series--took about a year to write, which is pretty fast for me. If I manage to finish the fourth Harry book by the summer, which is my deadline, it will be my fastest yet--about eight months.

Amazon.co.uk: Where did the ideas for the Harry Potter books come from?

Rowling: I've no idea where ideas come from and I hope I never find out, it would spoil the excitement for me if it turned out I just have a funny little wrinkle on the surface of my brain which makes me think about invisible train platforms.

Amazon.co.uk: How do you come up with the names of your characters?

Rowling: I invented some of the names in the Harry books, but I also collect strange names. I've gotten them from medieval saints, maps, dictionaries, plants, war memorials, and people I've met!

Amazon.co.uk: Are your characters based on people you know?

Rowling: Some of them are, but I have to be extremely careful what I say about this. Mostly, real people inspire a character, but once they are inside your head they start turning into something quite different. Professor Snape and Gilderoy Lockhart both started as exaggerated versions of people I've met, but became rather different once I got them on the page. Hermione is a bit like me when I was 11, though much cleverer.

Amazon.co.uk: Are any of the stories based on your life, or on people you know?

Rowling: I haven't consciously based anything in the Harry books on my life, but of course that doesn't mean your own feelings don't creep in. When I reread chapter 12 of the first book, "The Mirror of Erised," I saw that I had given Harry lots of my own feelings about my own mother's death, though I hadn't been aware of that as I had been writing.

Amazon.co.uk: Where did the idea for Quidditch come from?

Rowling: I invented Quidditch while spending the night in a very small room in the Bournville Hotel in Didsbury, Manchester. I wanted a sport for wizards, and I'd always wanted to see a game where there was more than one ball in play at the same time. The idea just amused me. The Muggle sport it most resembles is basketball, which is probably the sport I enjoy watching most. I had a lot of fun making up the rules and I've still got the notebook I did it in, complete with diagrams, and all the names for the balls I tried before I settled on Snitch, Bludgers, and Quaffle.

Amazon.co.uk: Where did the ideas for the wizard classes and magic spells come from?

Rowling: I decided on the school subjects very early on. Most of the spells are invented, but some of them have a basis in what people used to believe worked. We owe a lot of our scientific knowledge to the alchemists!

Amazon.co.uk: What ingredients do you think all the Harry Potter books need?

Rowling: I never really think in terms of ingredients, but I suppose if I had to name some I'd say humor, strong characters, and a watertight plot. Those things would add up to the kind of book I enjoy reading myself. Oh, I forgot scariness--well, I never set out to make people scared, but it does seem to creep in along the way.

Amazon.co.uk: Do you write by hand or on a computer?

Rowling: I still like writing by hand. Normally I do a first draft using pen and paper, and then do my first edit when I type it onto my computer. For some reason, I much prefer writing with a black pen than a blue one, and in a perfect world I'd always use "narrow feint" writing paper. But I have been known to write on all sorts of weird things when I didn't have a notepad with me. The names of the Hogwarts Houses were created on the back of an aeroplane sick bag. Yes, it was empty.

Amazon.co.uk: What books do you enjoy reading?

Rowling: My favorite writer is Jane Austen and I've read all her books so many times I've lost count. My favorite living writer is Roddy Doyle, who I think is a genius. I think they do similar things--create fully rounded characters, often without much or indeed any physical description, examine normal human behavior in a very unsentimental and yet touching way--and, of course, they're FUNNY.

Amazon.co.uk: What books did you read as a child? Have these influenced your writing in any way?

Rowling: It is always hard to tell what your influences are. Everything you've seen, experienced, read, or heard gets broken down like compost in your head and then your own ideas grow out of that compost. Three books I read as a child do stand out in my memory, though. One is The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, which was probably my favorite book when I was younger. The second is Manxmouse by Paul Gallico, which is not Gallico's most famous book, but I think it's wonderful. The third is Grimble , by Clement Freud. Grimble is one of funniest books I've ever read, and Grimble himself, who is a small boy, is a fabulous character. I'd love to see a Grimble film. As far as I know, these last two fine pieces of literature are out of print, so if any publishers ever read this, could you please dust them off and put them back in print so other people can read them?

The Harry Potter Series

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Book 1)

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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)
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Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince: Children's Edition (Harry Potter 6)
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