J.K. Rowling’s Rise To Riches
I have not forgotten what it feels like to worry whether I’ll have enough money to pay the bills.”
One long train ride from Manchester to London, the characters Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger came into the mind of a young lady named Joanne Rowling.
Over the next six years, Joanne would map out all seven books of the series, writing mostly in longhand on odd scraps of paper. She would eventually assume the pen name J.K. Rowling, publish Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone and her series would eventually sell more than 450 million copies, win innumerable awards and be made into Hollywood films.
In a classic rags to riches tale, Rowling came from humble beginnings. When she began Harry Potter, she was a single mother, impoverished, and depressed. Still, she managed to push through and chase her dreams.
Born in Bristol in 1965, Joanne grew up surrounded by literature, saying “I lived for books. I was your basic common or garden variety bookworm, complete with freckles and National Health spectacles.”
On her website she wrote that she had always known she would be a book author. “As 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.”
She wrote her first book about a rabbit, called ‘Rabbit’. At just eleven, she wrote her first novel – about seven cursed diamonds and the people who owned them. When her mother praised her work, she says she “stood there and thought, well, get it published then.”
Her teenage years were unhappy with a complicated home life due to her mother being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and a strained relationship with her father.
She describes the most traumatising moment in her life as the day her mother died. It was New Year’s Day in 1991 when Rowling was 25, about six months after she began writing Harry Potter. The loss of her mother would eventually lead Rowling to make Harry Potter suffer the death of his parents.
“My books are largely about death,” she told the Telegraph in 2006, referencing the death of Harry’s parents and villain Voldemort’s obsession with immortality. “I so understand why Voldemort wants to conquer death. We’re all frightened of it,” she said.
An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless … By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.”
After the death of her mother, Joanne moved to Portugal, to teach English where she began writing. She met Portuguese television journalist Jorge Arantes, who she married and had a child with. However, the rocky marriage only lasted a year. Joanne and her daughter, Jessica returned to Scotland with the beginnings of Harry Potter in her suitcase.
Living in a cramped apartment with her daughter, jobless and penniless, Rowling fell into a deep depression and hit rock bottom. Forced to rely on state benefits and spending much of her time writing Harry Potter in cafés with Jessica sleeping in the pram next to her, Rowling was in a rut.
“An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless … By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew,” Rowling said during a 2008 Harvard University commencement speech.
After finishing the first manuscript, Joanne endured another long process of rejections from publishers. FInally, in 1997, Bloomsbury, a publishing house in London, gave Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone the green light.
Although they were interested in publishing the book, Rowling was advised to get a day job, since she had little chance of making money, but soon after this, she received an £8,000 grant from to enable her to continue writing. Philosopher’s Stone was published with an initial print run of 1,000 copies, 500 of which were distributed to libraries. Five months later, the book won its first award.
Rowling said that she “nearly died” when she heard the news and the following year, began on the next book in what would become the series of seven. In 1998, Warner Bros. purchased the film rights to the first two novels and by 2004, Forbes had named Rowling as the first person to become a US-dollar billionaire by writing books. She remains on its lists of the most powerful celebrities and the world’s top-earning authors.
The very best thing her wealth has given her, she wrote on her website, 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 anymore is the biggest luxury in the world,” she said.
Before Harry Potter, people loved to read, and even after Harry Potter ended people loved to read, but this series did something truly special to an entire generation of kids – it turned them into lifelong readers. It inspired little girls and boys to become writers. It sparked imaginations and will continue to inspire for generations to come.
Through personal battles and multiple rejections, Joanne Rowling never gave up on Harry Potter or her dreams. She showed her fans how determination and faith can pull you through just about anything, and that hard work really can pay off.