It’s the birthday of the British author of the “Harry Potter” series: J.K. Rowling (books by this author), born in Yate, near Bristol, in 1965. She was born Joanne, with no middle name; when the time came to publish her first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997), her publishers wanted initials rather than her first and last name. She needed a middle initial, so she took her grandmother’s name: Kathleen. She studied French in college, and after college she went to work for Amnesty International as a secretary. She was on a train coming home to London from a weekend looking at flats in Manchester in 1990, when she suddenly got the idea for a novel. “I was looking out of the window at some cows, I believe and I just thought: ‘Boy doesn’t know he’s a wizard — goes off to wizard school,'” she said in an interview with Stephen Fry. “I have no idea where it came from. I think the idea was floating along the train and looking for someone, and my mind was vacant enough, so it decided to zoom in there.” She found a publisher in 1996, and was paid an advance of £1,500, about $2,500. Six more books followed. Her rags-to-riches story is legendary: In five years’ time, she went from being on public assistance to being a multimillionaire. She’s now one of the richest women in Britain, even richer than the queen, and Forbes magazine estimates her net worth at 1 billion U.S. dollars.
Her readings are wildly popular now, and people come to them in costume, but that was not always the case. At her first reading, attendance was so sparse that the bookstore had to have their employees fill some of the seats. She appeared a few years ago at the Royal Albert Hall, and told the audience, “This is the nearest I’ll ever get to being a Beatle, hearing you all shouting. It was very nice. I see myself as the George Harrison.”
She’s often asked to give advice to aspiring young writers, and her answer is always the same: “Read as much as you possibly can. Nothing will help you as much as reading and you’ll go through a phase where you will imitate your favourite writers and that’s fine because that’s a learning experience too.”