Throughout history women have made their mark in a wide variety of ways. Each Saturday I plan to highlight one of these remarkable women. There will be no limit to the areas of history that I may include; however as a guide I will look to the month of their birth, the month of their death or the month associated with their mark in history when I select them. Is there an outstanding women in history you would like me to include? I welcome your suggestions. Would you like to guest blog one of the world’s outstanding women? Let me hear from you.
Today an outstanding woman from literature. Meet J.K. Rowling.
Joanne Kathleen Rowling is known under her pen name, J.K. Rowling. The British novelist is the author of the best selling book series in history. In the Lifetime movie, Magic Beyond Word: The J.J. Rowling Story, we learn about an ordinary woman with life’s everyday struggles writes a series of books that makes her life extraordinary.
Childhood and education
Rowling was born to Peter James Rowling, a Rolls-Royce aircraft engineer, and Anne Rowling (née Volant), a science technician, on 31 July 1965 in Yate, Gloucestershire, England. Rowling’s sister Dianne was born at their home when Rowling was 23 months old. The family moved to the nearby village Winterbourne when Rowling was four. She attended St Michael’s Primary School, a school founded by abolitionist William Wilberforce and education reformer Hannah More. Her headmaster at St Michael’s, Alfred Dunn, has been suggested as the inspiration for the Harry Potter headmaster Albus Dumbledore.
As a child, Rowling often wrote fantasy stories which she frequently read to her sister. At age nine, the Rowling family moved to Church Cottage in the Gloucestershire village of Tutshill, close to Chepstow, Wales. She attended secondary school at Wyedean School and College, where her mother worked in the science department.
Rowling has said that her teenage years were unhappy. Her home life was complicated by her mother’s illness and a strained relationship with her father who she is still not on speaking terms with. Rowling later said that she based the character of Hermione Granger on herself when she was eleven. Steve Eddy, who taught Rowling English when she first arrived, remembers her as “not exceptional” but “one of a group of girls who were bright, and quite good at English”. Sean Harris, her best friend in the Upper Sixth, owned a turquoise Ford Anglia which she says inspired a flying version that appeared in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. At this time, she listened to the Smiths and the Clash. Rowling studied A-levels in English, French and German, achieving two As and a B and was Head Girl.
In 1982, Rowling took the entrance exams for Oxford University but was not accepted and read for a BA in French and Classics at the University of Exeter. Martin Sorrell, a French professor at Exeter, remembers “a quietly competent student, with a denim jacket and dark hair, who, in academic terms, gave the appearance of doing what was necessary”. Rowling recalls doing little work, preferring to listen to the Smiths and read Dickens and Tolkien. After a year of study in Paris, Rowling graduated from Exeter in 1986 and moved to London to work as a researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty International. In 1988, Rowling wrote a short essay about her time studying Classics entitled “What was the Name of that Nymph Again? or Greek and Roman Studies Recalled”; it was published by the University of Exeter’s journal Pegasus.
Marriage, divorce and single parenthood
After working at Amnesty International in London, Rowling and her then boyfriend decided to move to Manchester where she worked at the Chamber of Commerce. In 1990, while she was on a four-hour-delayed train trip from Manchester to London, the idea for a story of a young boy attending a school of wizardry “came fully formed” into her mind. When she had reached her Clapham Junction flat, she began to write immediately. In December of that year, Rowling’s mother Anne died after ten years suffering from multiple sclerosis.
From an advertisement in the newspaper, Rowling to move to Porto in Portugal to teach English as a foreign language. She taught at night, and began writing in the day. After eighteen months in Porto, she met Portuguese television journalist Jorge Arantes in a bar. They married on October 16, 1992 and their child, Jessica Isabel Rowling Arantes (named after author, Jessica Mitford), was born on July 27, 1993 in Portugal. The couple separated on November 17, 1993. In December 1993, Rowling and her daughter moved to be near Rowling’s sister in Edinburgh, Scotland, with three chapters of Harry Potter in her suitcase.
Even with graduating from university, Rowling saw herself as a failure. Her marriage had failed, and she was jobless with a dependent child, but she described her failure as liberating and allowing her to focus on writing. During this period Rowling was diagnosed with clinical depression and contemplated suicide. Her illness inspired the characters known as Dementors, soul-sucking creatures introduced in the third book. Rowling signed up for welfare benefits, describing her economic status as being “poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless”.
Rowling was left in despair after her estranged husband arrived in Scotland, seeking both her and her daughter. She obtained an order of restraint and Arantes returned to Portugal, with Rowling filing for divorce in August 1994. She began a teacher training course in August 1995 at the Moray House School of Education, at Edinburgh University, after completing her first novel while living on state benefits. She wrote in many cafés, especially Nicolson’s Café, and The Elephant House,(the former owned by her brother-in-law Roger Moore) wherever she could get Jessica to fall asleep.
In 1995, J.K. Rowling finished her first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Twelve publishers rejected the manuscript but finally Bloomsbury London gave the green light. In June 1997, Bloomsbury published Philosopher’s Stone with an initial print run of 1,000 copies, 500 of which were distributed to libraries. Today, such copies are valued between £16,000 and £25,000. Five months later, the book won its first award, a Nestlé Smarties Book Prize. In February, the novel won the British Book Award for Children’s Book of the Year, and later, the Children’s Book Award. In early 1998, an auction was held in the United States for the rights to publish the novel, and was won by Scholastic Inc., for US$105,000. Rowling said that she “nearly died” when she heard the news. In October 1998, Scholastic published Philosopher’s Stone in the US under the title of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a change Rowling claims she now regrets and would have fought if she had been in a better position at the time. Rowling moved from her flat with the money from the Scholastic sale, into 19 Hazelbank Terrace in Edinburgh. Her neighbors were initially unaware that she was the author of the Harry Potter series, but treated her with respect.
The rest is history. J.K. Rowling authored seven books in the Harry Potter series and the books spawned eight movies and a themepark in Orlando Florida. As stated earlier, J.K. Rowling’s series about a boy wizard became the best selling book series in history.
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