J.K. Rowling is not just an author, she is a beacon of light for aspiring writers. Her story serves as an inspiration, showing us that it is never too late to live your dreams and nothing can hold you back from succeeding.
She was once like us – struggling to fit in the world while juggling her responsibilities. So what changed and how? Let’s see it from my eyes.
Struggles, Failures, and Resilience
Just as many of us are conditioned to pursue degrees that promise greater job opportunities, Joanne Rowling also followed this path. Despite her desire to become a writer, she was compelled to take a different path. After completing the BA in French and then graduating in 1987, she took a course to become a bilingual secretary.
Lacking passion, she kept switching between multiple temp jobs. She could never connect with anything other than writing. Although she kept writing some novels, nothing was ever published. She even fell in love and started dating but still, it wasn’t all that she expected.
It was all stuck until her creative mind showed her what she was missing all along. Try picturing that you are traveling on a train and it is delayed. You are sitting and then suddenly something comes to your mind. It’s a vivid idea that follows the journey of three characters: Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger. That’s exactly how Joanne found her way to the world’s most magical story. It was mid-1990.
She quickly started writing the Harry Potter story but couldn’t complete it sooner. This is because life started hitting her harder.
Joanne lost her mother to an illness in December of the same year. Not only her life but her writing was also affected by it. The influence it had on her was somehow impactful enough to fuel her passion for writing.
She moved to Portugal in 1991 and started teaching English as a foreign language. She used to teach during the night and write during the day. There she met a Portuguese television journalist Jorge Arantes. After experiencing various troubles in their relationship (mainly sparked by a miscarriage), they married in 1992. Their daughter, Jessica was born in 1993.
The fairy tale turned into a catastrophe when domestic violence and subjugation crumbled Joanne’s spirit. She left her husband in the same year.
Now imagine yourself in Joanne’s place. You don’t have a job, your mother’s death still traumatizes you, you are estranged from your father, your marriage has failed, and you have no idea how to feed your months-old daughter. You are all alone in the world. That’s exactly what Joanne experienced.
The first three chapters of the Harry Potter book were ready while she was going through all this. But she wasn’t ready to complete it yet.
Suddenly, she was living a life full of poverty. At first, she moved in with her recently married sister but then shifted to another place. Seeking government assistance, she started receiving £69 (US$103) per week from Social Security. It was all that she could get to provide for her daughter as a single parent.
With the help of a friend, she moved to a flat in Leith. There she finally finished the first Harry Potter book, entitled “The Philosopher’s Stone”. She has affirmed that writing the first Harry Potter book “saved her life”. She could reflect on her concerns of love, loss, separation, and death through Harry Potter’s story.
But still, Joanne’s struggles were nowhere to end. In 1994, her husband, Arantes came looking for a way back to her life. She sought an order of restraint, forcing him back to Portugal.
Although Arantes was no longer a threat, Joanne descended into a deep depression. She even contemplated suicide. None of us can imagine what must have gone through at that time. Despite losing her balance, she somehow sought medical help. Several months of therapy helped her recover. She filed for a divorce in 1994, which was finalized in 1995.
So finally Joanne was free from a toxic marriage. But was she liberated by all means?
Yes – Joanne said that all that happened from her mother’s death to her divorce, and single parenthood was “liberating” her to focus on writing. I’d say she poured all her emotions, thoughts, and experiences into her writing.
If you pay attention to details, you’ll see the majority of the concepts and themes in Harry Potter films reflect what Joanne experienced or desired. Take the portrayal of women for example. From Hermoine to Ginny and McGonagall, she depicted every female character as “strong, wise, and leading”. That’s exactly how Joanne wanted to be.
Publishing, Success, and Fame
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was finally ready for publishing by June 1995. You know what all 12 publishers she approached “rejected it”. This was probably because they didn’t see any potential in a children’s book. Then luck sided with her and Christopher Little Literary Agency acknowledged her talent. They decided to represent Joanne in Britain, opening the road to her success.
Finally, Joanne became J.K. and her first book was published in 1997. The story behind her pen name is for another time, so let’s leave it out for now. By the time her second book “Chamber of Secrets” came out in 1998, she had earned £2,800 in royalties.
It didn’t take long for her books to reach the United States. Scholastic Corporation bought the rights to the books for $105,000. She used the money to buy a flat in Edinburgh. The American version of the first book had a different title, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” and it became a bestseller.
The next three books, “Prisoner of Azkaban”, “Goblet of Fire”, and “Order of the Phoenix” came out in the respective years (1999, 2000, and 2003). Each book sold millions of copies around the world. There were rumors that Rowling had writer’s block before the fifth book came out but as expected, it was also a big success. The sixth book came out in 2005 and was also a bestseller. The series ended with the seventh book in 2007. Interestingly, the Harry Potter books eventually fell under the category of “young adult fiction”.
J.K. Rowling was named “the world’s highest-paid author” by Forbes in 2008. Amazing, isn’t it?
The UK sales of her books equal to £238 million, making her the best-selling and highest-earning author in Britain. However, due to charities and donations, her net worth was reduced, excluding her from this list. The 2021 Sunday Times Rich List estimated J.K. Rowling’s net worth at £820 million, ranking her the 196th-richest person in the UK.
Both J.K. and her Harry Potter book series have received various awards, honors, and accolades so far. As of February 2023, the Harry Potter books have sold more than 600 million copies worldwide, available in 85 languages.
Joanne Rowling wrote many more stories, some of which are related to the Harry Potter franchise while some are entirely different. She has used another pen name, Robert Galbraith for some of her adult fiction books, “Cormoran Strike” series.
Films, Growth, and Legacy
In 1999, Warner Bros. bought the rights to make movies based on J.K. Rowling’s first two Harry Potter books for a whopping $1 million. This decision turned out to be a turning point in her career.
She made sure to set some rules like no additional storylines would be added, she’d have the final say on the movie scripts, and have some control over the related merchandise.
The first Harry Potter film came out in November 2001 and then the chain continued till 2011. The films (except for the fifth part) were written by screenwriter Steve Kloves, with J.K. helping to ensure they stayed true to her books.
Indeed, the Harry Potter films brought her magical world to life on the big screen, winning the hearts of billions of people all over the world. I’d say, even after two decades, no other magical story or film has been able to top the Harry Potter series. This is the truth and all the Potterheads are living proof of it.
Amidst the growing fame, the media left no chance to label J.K. Rowling as a “penniless divorcee hitting the jackpot”. She was also criticized for the powerful portrayal of the occult and gender in the Harry Potter series. Some even questioned her faith in God. All of this ultimately positioned her public profile higher rather than damaging it.
I’m so proud to say that J.K. Rowling never let any such thing hold her back. In fact, she has sued the media several times for defamation and other troubling concerns.
Her life took a big turn when she met Neil Murray, a doctor. They had a small, intimate wedding in 2001. They welcomed their son, David Gordon Rowling Murray in 2003 while their daughter, Mackenzie Jean Rowling Murray was born in 2005.
I couldn’t be happier when saying that J.K. Rowling finally found her “happily ever after”. It was indeed a part of her growth. She grew strong enough to move on and give herself another chance at love.
J.K. Rowling released her first book for adults in September 2012, titled “The Casual Vacancy.” It’s a modern take on 19th-century British fiction about village life and was marketed as a black comedy. The book was later adapted into a miniseries co-created by the BBC and HBO.
Following this, she published “The Cuckoo’s Calling” in April 2013 under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, initially selling a modest 1,500 copies in hardback. After a while, it was revealed that Robert Galbraith was actually J.K. Rowling writing under a pen name. She enjoyed the experience of writing under this pseudonym, which she derived from her personal hero, Robert F. Kennedy, and a childhood invention, Ella Galbraith. Sales of “The Cuckoo’s Calling” took off once her true identity was revealed.
J.K. Rowling continued to write detective novels in the Cormoran Strike series, with the publishing of “The Silkworm” in 2014, “Career of Evil” in 2015, “Lethal White” in 2018, “Troubled Blood” in 2020, “The Ink Black Heart” in 2022, and “The Running Grave” in 2023. There’s also a TV series, “Strike,” which is adapted from J.K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike novels. It premeired in 2017.
Back in 2013, Warner Bros. and Rowling decided to extend their collaboration. They planned a new series of films based on her Harry Potter character Newt Scamander, the fictitious author of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” The first film in this series was released in November 2016. Rowling wrote the screenplay for this film, which was also turned into a book. The next two parts were released in 2018 and 2022, respectively.
The Fantastic Beasts film series may not be as perfect as the Harry Potter films but it is highly praised among fans, adding to the appeal and fame of J.K. Rowling.
There’s still a lot more to what J.K. Rowling captivated us with so far.
She brought her magic back for children with two new books: “The Ickabog” and “The Christmas Pig”. She shared “The Ickabog” for free during the UK’s COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. Whereas “The Christmas Pig” was published in October 2021, becoming the best seller in the UK.
For sure – J.K. Rowling’s legacy extends beyond her creation of the Harry Potter universe. Her writings not only revitalized crossover fiction and the fantasy genre but also rekindled interest in older children’s fantasy classics. She deeply sparked the creativity of numerous writers, inspiring them to be the best. I’m also one of the writers who looks up to her.
I’m proud to say that J.K. Rowling has spawned a new world of magic and creativity in the last 25 years. I believe she’ll continue to do so for many more decades, as the magic of her writings is beyond bounds. It’s something that has been written in history with golden words. It will never fade away.
Now I am, like billions of her fans, looking forward to the release of the Harry Potter TV Series. Let’s see how well they do it this time, especially under J.K. Rowling’s direct influence. This will surely carry on her legacy, taking it to another level.