I first heard about J K Rowling from my my local Junior School Head Teacher, Ron Dowding. The school had been shadowing the Carnegie Prize and had backed the first Harry Potter all the way. So much so that they won a visit From J K Rowling before anyone had heard of her. I believe a few lucky people bought first edition hardbacks and had them signed on the day! The whole school was buzzing about Harry Potter and J K Rowling’s visit. Both had an electric effect on reading standards in the school that year.
J K Rowling came from nearby where I live in the Forest of Dean and many local landmarks (and a few people I’ve met) appear in her books. The local press like to refer to her as, “local girl made good.”
I seemed to follow her around the country, from festival to festival, ever after, always missing her by a day or two here and there, and never actually meeting her. She always leaves a bit of a buzz behind. I realised recently that her editor was my editor before! (I loved working with her, but wasn’t sure I wanted to work with yet another new publishing company when she moved firms.)
A strange picture of her has grown up in my mind, influenced by gossip, adulation and, sometimes, what sometimes comes across from some people as a visceral hatred of the poor woman. It’s extraordinary how the love of Harry Potter is matched by irrational loathing and contempt from those who haven’t read the books. Much of this negativity is then loaded onto J K Rowling herself, fuelled by the gospel truth pedalled by the press.
So I was fascinated to come across the Harvard Commencement speech given by J K Rowling, which you can see below. It’s the first time I’ve seen her in action and I think she comes over as warm, thoughtful, funny and, most of happily, unspoilt by fame. When I find myself having to defend her again from thoughtless cynics, I shall have this picture of her in my head and will find it easier to silence them.