Her Pen Sparked the Imagination of Generations
British author, film producer and screenwriter, she gifted the world with the Harry Potter series which captivated young and old. Like a pearl is polished from grit and hardship, she overcame tremendous struggle to polish her ideas into reality with the best-selling children's series in history. This is another installment of the Living like a Pearl series. Find the other stories here.
Once too shy to ask for a pen, we now know her pen name as J.K. Rowling, the woman who created Harry Potter, whose own story is one of the most inspirational of our time. Much like the fantasy stories she wrote, her real-life rags to riches story includes determination and faith to overcome hardships.
Born July 31st, 1965 in Gloucestershire England, Joanne Rowling had ambitions to be a writer from an early age. After finishing school, studying French and a year in Paris, she graduated from university and worked various jobs in London, with her favorite being for Amnesty International. Little did she know that one day she would support them, along with many other charities as a wealthy philanthropist.
An Idea Born on a Train
It was in 1990 that she first conceived the idea about Harry Potter while on a long journey by train from Manchester to London. With the characters and storyline forming in her mind with a young boy as the main character, the train was delayed for over four hours. But…“To my immense frustration, I didn’t have a pen that worked, and I was too shy to ask anybody if I could borrow one.”
Reflecting on how the story was born;
“If you define the birthplace of Harry Potter as the moment when I had the initial idea, then it was a Manchester-London train. But I’m perennially amused by the idea that Hogwarts was directly inspired by beautiful places I saw or visited, because it’s so far from the truth.” – J.K. Rowling
Loss and Hardship That Shaped Her Story
Later the same year that the story of Harry Potter was conceived, she lost her mother to Multiple Sclerosis. She mirrored this painful loss in the storyline with the untimely death of Harry Potter’s mother that would be a central theme throughout the series.
In 1991 she left Britain to work as an English teacher in Portugal where she would meet her first husband, and they welcomed their daughter, Jessica. But a bitter breakup occurred a few years later, leaving her on her own as a single mother.
After moving to Edinburgh in December 1993, she struggled to finish her first book while surviving on state benefits and raising her daughter alone. She carried out the writing in her rented flat over a sports shop, and also in the now infamous Elephant Café while her young daughter would nap.
“I was renting a room in a flat over what was then a sports shop. The first bricks of Hogwarts were laid in a flat in Clapham Junction.” – J.K. Rowling
After six years of writing and polishing her story, J.K. Rowling finished ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’, but had yet more struggles to endure with publishing it.
Working with an agent, it took over a year and the rejection of 12 major publishing houses before finally Bloomsbury agreed to take it on, which they published June 26, 1997. Her advance was £1,500, and she was advised to continue her training as a teacher because she was told children’s book authors didn’t get very well paid.
Polishing Inspiration into Reality
“There’s always room for a story that can transport people to another place.” – J.K. Rowling
She revealed her writing process on a BBC Radio program, where she imagines walking through a forest to a lake and gathering inspiration from the watery depth, then polishing the spark of inspiration until it was ready to publish.
Her magical process of storytelling has no signs of slowing. There are seven Harry Potter books from the main series, along with an additional nine other books, short stories and screenplays, all written by J.K. Rowling who once upon a time, was too shy to borrow a pen.