|Photograph by Daniel Ogren-[source]|
J. K Rowling was just an ordinary woman trying to make a living when one day a train ride changed her life:
All of a sudden the idea for Harry just appeared in my mind’s eye. I can’t tell you why or what triggered it. But I saw the idea of Harry and the wizard school very plainly. I suddenly had this basic idea of a boy who didn’t know who he was, who didn’t know he was a wizard until he got his invitation to wizard school. I have never been so excited by an idea.
She didn’t have a pen with her so she had to go through all the ideas in her mind for the four hour train journey. When she got home she started writing straight away, but it didn’t resemble anything that is in the Harry Potter books as we know them. Her mother had just passed away so she went to work in Portugal, but returned later after a failed marriage. She had a young baby to look after and very little money.
I never expected to mess up so badly that I would find myself in an unheated, mouse-infested flat, looking after my daughter. And I was angry because I felt I was letting her down,
Despite suffering through all this and battling against depression, she kept writing whenever she had the opportunity. The first three chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone had made her sister laugh, a reaction that gave her hope. In the long evenings at home, with little else to do, she set about writing further chapters by hand and then typed it up on a second-hand manual typewriter, all while studying, working and caring for her daughter.
When the manuscript of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was finished, early in the New Year of 1996, Rowling visited Edinburgh Central Library to look up the Writers’ and Artists’ Year Book in search of a literary agent. Her first approach had been unsuccessful: a brief rejection letter. She then posted a sample of three chapters and a covering letter to Christopher Little Literary Agents, based in Fulham. It was here that a young reader, Bryony Evans, read the first chapter and laughed. Evans passed the chapters to Fleur Howle, a freelance reader, who agreed with her assessment and together they persuaded Little to sign up Rowling. A few days later Rowling received a letter asking for the remainder of the manuscript. The agency sent Rowling’s 200-page script to 12 publishers, all of whom, to their eternal regret, turned down the book. Harper Collins showed interest but was too slow in formulating a bid and so the first book by the most lucrative writer in the world was picked up by Bloomsbury for an advance of £1,500.
When Barry Cunningham, head of children’s fiction at Bloomsbury, invited Rowling to lunch in London, he praised her book but told her to be prepared as there was no financial reward in children’s books. Rowling did not care. To hold a hardback copy in her hand was reward enough.
The purest most unalloyed joy was when I finally knew it was going to be a book, a real book you could see sitting on the shelf of a bookshop”
J.K Rowling progressed from living on welfare to multi-millionaire status within five years and is now estimated to be worth about 1 billion US dollars. The Potter books have gained worldwide attention, won multiple awards, sold more than 400 million copies and been the basis for a popular series of films. If that isn’t inspirational I don’t know what is!