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Joanne 'K' Rowling

On her official website, when asked if she had always wanted to be a writer Rowling replied, “ soon as I knew what writers were, I wanted to be one. I’ve got the perfect temperament for a writer; perfectly happy alone in a room, making things up”.  Rowling has stated that her first work, “a towering work of genius”  written when she was six, made her think “Well, get it published then”,  an odd thing, as she admits, for a child of such a young age to think.

A role model for the masses, Rowling has previously been named “Most Influential Woman in Britain” and it is easy to see why she deserves such an accolade. It is almost impossible to grasp the sheer scale of Rowling’s achievements, which have won her a plethora of awards and commendations, of which only a small selection are mentioned in the timeline above. Rowling’s own “rags to riches” tale is widely known, but her rise to fame and fortune is something which she has never taken for granted. She stated that the best thing her earnings have given her is “the absence of worry. I have not forgotten what it feels like to worry whether you’ll have enough money to pay the bills. Not to have to think about that any more is the biggest luxury in the world”.  Rowling has committed herself to sharing her earnings with others, stating “You have a moral responsibility when you’ve been given far more than you need, to do wise things with it and give intelligently”.  Indeed, her estimated $160 million in charitable donations recently made her the first person to be knocked off the annual Forbes’ billionaires list for such philanthropy. Rowling has remained grounded throughout her successes, putting her family first and challenging any intrusions to her privacy by the press, most recently by appearing as part of the Leveson enquiry. She maintains that she does not believe in fate, rather “I believe in hard work and luck, and that the first often leads to the second”.

Of course, it is not just Rowling herself that has achieved such accolades but also the Harry Potter series itself. Rowling has stated that one of her favourite authors when she was a child was E Nesbit, because “her children are very real children”.  This is something which she herself managed to create in her stories and which, undoubtedly, led to their huge success with both adult and child audiences. Rowling has also poured important parts of her own life into her series, for example struggles with depression and dealing with grief after the death of her mother, and this has enabled her to establish inherent connections with her readers. It would also be remiss not to briefly mention the movie franchise, which made roughly $8 billion worldwide. Rowling assisted directly with the writing and production of all Harry Potter films to ensure that they remained true to the novels, including a directive that the cast and shooting locations were to remain largely British.

While she will never say never to a new book in the Potter series, Rowling’s legacy continues through supplements to the series such as The Tales of Beedle the Bard  and the recently developed online experience Pottermore.  Rowling’s primary intention has only ever been to share her fantasy world and, with experiences such as the Leavesden Studio Tour and the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park in Florida, this fantasy world has become an integral part of real life for billions of fans worldwide. I count myself as one such fan. Having been introduced to the series as part of a Children’s Literature module at university, I have now re-read the entire series around twenty times and each re-reading still allows new discoveries and raises new questions about the world, it remains a topic about which I could talk endlessly. I have also taught the first novel to A Level students for four years. Each year I would start study of the novel by asking how many students had already read the book, generally around 75% of the class had. With those who had not read it, I would simply make a bet that by the end of the year at least one of them would have read the entire  series and would be a Harry Potter devotee – and I never lost!

With the publication of her first non-Potter novel, Rowling proved to be equally as skilled at writing for an adult audience. The Casual Vacancy,  defined by Rowling as a “comic tragedy”, sold over a million copies worldwide in the first few weeks of release. Similarly to the first Harry Potter novel, the idea for The Casual Vacancy  was conceived by Rowling while she was travelling. Rowling stated that she “had that totally physical response you get to an idea that you know will work”.  Aside from the notably adult nature of some scenes and language, as a number of reviewers chose to focus on, more importantly it becomes further apparent that Rowling is an exceptionally skilled craftswoman of both character and narrative. The novel features a vast cast of characters, all of which could have been plucked from real life, they are so vividly presented, and the narrative is cleverly woven through to its resolution.

From being told to publish the first Harry Potter novel androgynously as “J K Rowling” (so as not to deter male readers who may be dissuaded from reading a novel by a female author) Rowling has become one of the most famous women in the world – as a philanthropist, a courageous spokeswoman and, most importantly, an excellent story teller.

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Joanne Rowling is born

Joanne was born in Yate, Gloucestershire to parents Peter James Rowling and Anne Rowling.

Rowling attends Wyedean Comprehensive

Having moved to Chepstow when she was nine, Rowling has stated that the character of Hermione is “loosely” based on herself in her teenage years.

Rowling begins a degree course in French and Classics at Exeter University

After completing her course, which included a year of study abroad in Paris, Rowling graduated in 1986.

Rowling moves to London and begins work as a Post Graduate

One of Rowling’s jobs was working as a researcher for Amnesty International, a charity with which she is still affiliated.

The idea of a story about a young boy who attends a school of wizardry first comes to Rowling’s mind

A now famous story, the character of Harry was created on a four-hour delayed train journey. Rowling had nothing to do but spend the time thinking about her idea and she began writing the first pages of the first novel when she returned home that evening.

Rowling’s mother dies

Rowling’s grief at the loss of her mother is evident in her touching and realistic portrayal of Harry’s own parental loss in the first novel. Rowling had never told her mother about Harry Potter, something which she considers one of her biggest regrets. Her mother suffered from Multiple Sclerosis and Rowling has continued to support MS charities.

Rowling moves to Portugal and works as an English teacher

Rowling continues to write the first Harry Potter novel after completing her teaching each day.

Rowling has her first child, Jessica

After marrying in Portugal, Rowling gives birth to her first child. The marriage is short lived and Rowling returns to the UK with her daughter at Christmas. It is in Edinburgh that she completes Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, often writing in cafes. Fans flock to one such location.

You can find out more about here.


'The Philosopher’s Stone' manuscript is submitted to numerous publishing houses

All of the initial publishers rejected Rowling’s manuscript. However, it is finally accepted by Bloomsbury.

Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone is published

Rowling is told that she will most likely make little money from being a children’s writer and applies for a grant from the Scottish Arts Council so that she can write the second novel in the series. The novel has since been translated into over 60 different languages and first editions can reach up to £20,000 at auction. Visitors to King’s Cross Station can now also visit the famous Platform 9 ¾.

Visit Platform 9 3/4


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is published

The second novel in the series proved how broad the readership had become, remaining number one in the adult hardback bestseller list for a month after publication.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is published

The third novel in the series won the Smarties Prize making Rowling the first person to win the award three times running (after also winning for Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets). It also won the Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year award.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is published

The fourth novel in the series had a record first print run of one million copies. It broke the record for the most copies sold on the first day of publication. During this year, Rowling also established her charitable trust, Volant, with an emphasis on helping women and children suffering social deprivation.

Rowling receives an OBE

Rowling received her commendation for services to Children’s Literature.

You can read a short article about the ceremony here.


Rowling publishes Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages

Produced in aid of Comic Relief, Rowling wrote these two, now familiar, textbooks from the Harry Potter series. They are still in print and Comic Relief receives a donation for every copy purchased.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone opens in cinemas

The first in the film franchise, shot at Leavesden Studios and around the UK. Rowling was heavily involved with this and the subsequent films over the next decade, ending with the release of Deathly Hallows Part 2 in 2011.

Rowling marries

Rowling marries Dr Neil Murray during a ceremony at their home. In 2003 they welcome their son, David, and in 2005 a daughter, Mackenzie.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is published

Breaking all previous records, the fifth novel in the series became the fastest selling book in history.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is published

The sixth novel in the series again broke all previous records and went on to win Book of the Year.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is published

The seventh, and final, novel in the series sells 11 million copies in its first day. Rowling revealed that the last chapter of the book had actually been written more than a decade earlier.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard is published

Initially Rowling produced only seven copies of the text, which had been an integral part of the story in Deathly Hallows. However, it was eventually made available to the general public – again with donations made to charity for every purchase.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opens

The theme park boasts a replication of the town of Hogsmeade and a full sized Hogwarts. This was followed in 2012 by the opening of the Leavesden Studios in London for a tour of the Harry Potter sets.

Pottermore is made available to the first million users

Pottermore is an interactive website for which Rowling has written exclusive content giving fans further inside into the world of Harry Potter. Members are sorted into a Hogwarts house and given a test to determine which wand they will receive. For the first time, readers were also able to purchase digital copies of all of the novels.

You can join the experience for free at


The Casual Vacancy is published

Rowling’s first novel for adults centres on a local election in a small village. It has recently been revealed that there are plans to serialise the novel for television.

You can read a review of the novel here.

About the Contributor

A teacher for ten years, Emma Gardiner has taught in both Secondary and Post Compulsory Education. Emma specialises in Children’s and Young Adult Literature and Authors of the Victorian Era. [Image of JK Rowling © Daniel Ogren]