Biography of J.K. Rowling

A natural born storyteller, Rowling - who wrote her first book called Rabbit at the age of six – came up with the idea of Harry Potter in 1990.

Magic is very much alive and well in the British isles, and author Joanne Rowling, better known by her pen name J.K. Rowling, most certainly brought that to light in her Harry Potter series, touching the lives of children and adults in one of the most popular book and film franchises in history.

The creator behind the bespectacled wizard and his magical tales grew up surrounded by books. “I lived for books,” she said. “I was your basic common-or-garden bookworm, complete with freckles and National Health spectacles.”

It was while sitting on a delayed train from Manchester to London King’s Cross - the station which would became home to the most famous albeit fictional railway platform in the world, Platform 9¾ - that the legendary wizard was born. Over the next five years, she began to map out all seven books of the series - amassing copious notes of which many were scribbled on odd scraps of paper.

The Harry Potter author received a number of rejections before selling her first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in 1997, which quickly became a bestseller. The Harry Potter series is now published in 80 languages, and over 500 million copies have been sold across the world. The books were adapted for the big screen across eight movies. Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, the movies proved as popular as the books.

Rowling has also written books for adults including crime novels. In 2016, she made her screenwriting debut with the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. A further exploration of the world of magic and wizadry, the new series of adventures featuring Magizoologist Newt Scamander is planned as a five-film series.

1. Rowling's early life

A photo of Rowling at the US National Press Club in 1999 (© John Mathew Smith, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Rowling's childhood home, Church Cottage, Tutshill, Gloucestershire (© Nicholas Mutton, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Rowling moved to Porto to teach. In 1993, she returned to the UK accompanied by her daughter and three completed chapters of Harry Potter after her marriage had deteriorated. (© Lacobrigo, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling was born Joanne Rowling on 31 July 1965, at Yate General Hospital near Bristol.

Her father, Peter, was an aircraft engineer at the Rolls Royce factory in Bristol and her mother, Anne, was a science technician in the Chemistry department at Wyedean Comprehensive, where Rowling herself went to school.

Rowling’s younger sister, Dianne, was born almost two years later and Joanne’s earliest childhood memory is of Dianne’s arrival. The Rowlings lived in Winterbourne, Gloucestershire, until the family moved to Tutshill, near Chepstow when the eldest daughter was nine.

Rowling wanted to be a writer from an early age. She wrote her first book at the age of six – a story about a rabbit, called ‘Rabbit’. At 11, she wrote her first novel – about seven cursed diamonds and the people who owned them.

She went to school at Wyedean Comprehensive School and then went on to study French and Classics at the University of Exeter. Her Classics studies would come in handy later when she was thinking up all the spells in Harry Potter, some of which are based on Latin.

2. The Harry Potter series

The letter that told Harry Potter that he had been accepted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Rowling's parents met on a train from King's Cross Station. After Rowling used King's Cross as a gateway into the Wizarding World it became a popular tourist spot. (© Bert Seghers, CC0)
The Hogwarts Express at Universal Studios Orlando, Florida

After her degree, Rowling moved to London and worked in a series of jobs, including one as a researcher at Amnesty International.

Rowling first had the idea for Harry Potter while delayed on a train travelling from Manchester to London King’s Cross in 1990. Over the next five years, she began to plan out the seven books of the series, amassing numerous notes many of which were on scraps of paper.

Rowling moved to Portugal in 1990 to teach English, taking her notes with her. There, she met and married the Portuguese journalist Jorge Arantes. The couple's daughter, Jessica, was born in 1993. After her marriage ended in divorce, Rowling returned to the UK to live in Edinburgh, with Jessica and a suitcase containing the first three chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Much of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone had been written in Edinburgh cafes while Rowling and her daughter lived on benefits. Rowling finished the first book whilst training as a teacher. She was teaching in schools in Edinburgh when the manuscript for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone ended up with Bloomsbury Publishing, after what the author describes as “loads” of rejections.

The book was the first introduction to Harry Potter, a young wizard who discovers his magical heritage on his 11th birthday, when he receives a letter of acceptance to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Harry makes close friends and a few enemies during his first year at the school, and with the help of his friends, Harry faces an attempted comeback by the dark wizard Lord Voldemort, who killed Harry's parents, but failed to kill Harry when he was just 15 months old.

Bloomsbury published Philosopher's Stone in 1997 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.

The book was first published under the name J.K. Rowling. The “K” stands for Kathleen, Rowling’s paternal grandmother’s name. It was added at her publisher’s request, who thought a book by an obviously female author might not appeal to the target audience of young boys.

The second book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, came out in 1998, followed by the third book in Rowling's series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, in 1999. The fourth volume in the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, became the fastest-selling book in 24 hours ever on its release in 2000.

In 2001, the film adaptation of the first book was released by Warner Bros., starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane and Ralph Fiennes. That same year, Rowling married anaesthetist Dr Neil Murray at the couple's home in Scotland. The couple have two children together, David (born in 2003) and Mackenzie (born in 2005).

Continuing with the hugely successful Harry Potter series, Rowling released the fifth instalment, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, in 2003. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince followed in 2005, while the final book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published in 2007.

Each of Rowling’s Harry Potter books were followed by seven more big screen adaptations, concluding with the release of the eighth film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, in 2011.

In 2014, Rowling published a short story about grown-up Harry Potter and a Hogwarts school reunion on her website Pottermore. Since the site launched, she’s added more stories and information about all things Harry Potter.

In 2017, Rowling announced on her website that she would publish two new books for an exhibition at the British Library that celebrates the 20th anniversary of the publication of her first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

The books, Harry Potter: A History of Magic (described as the adult version) and Harry Potter: A Journey Through a History of Magic (the kid-friendly version), were released on 20 October that same year, and featured manuscripts, original illustrations and an exploration of the Harry Potter characters and magic.

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3. Other books

Hogwarts Castle at Universal Studios Orlando, Florida
The Elephant House, one of the cafés in Edinburgh in which Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter novel (© Stephen Montgomery, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Letter to Dumbledore with the official Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry emblem

Rowling's first book aimed at adults, The Casual Vacancy, was published in September 2012.

The following year, writing under the male pseudonym of Robert Galbraith, she introduced the world to her thrillers starring the private detective and war veteran Cormoran Strike. She was outed as the author of the first Galbraith novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, by the Sunday Times.

In 2016, Rowling made her screenwriting debut with the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, as she delved further in to the world of magic and wizadry.

A prequel to Harry Potter, this new series of adventures featuring Magizoologist Newt Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne, is planned as a five-film series.

The second instalment, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald was released in November 2018.

4. Rowling’s impact on the world

A photo of J.K. Rowling reading from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone at the Easter Egg Roll at the White House in 2010. (© Daniel Ogren, CC BY 2.0)
People waiting for the book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in a californian bookshop (Borders, Sunnyvale), 5 minutes before the book's official publication (© Zack Sheppard, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Author J.K. Rowling reads from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone at the Easter Egg Roll at White House. Screenshot taken from official White House video.

Bringing magic in to people’s lives, Harry Potter is naturally one of the most loved and most recognised characters in entertainment history.

As the author of the bestselling children’s books, J.K. Rowling is just as well known worldwide as the wizard and other magic users that she created.

Harry Potter is now a global brand which includes the Watford-based themepark Warner Bros. Studio Tour London. The series, totalling 4,195 pages, has been translated into 80 languages.

Rowling’s Harry Potter books have also gained recognition for sparking an interest in reading among the young at a time when children were thought to be abandoning books for computers and television.

Rowling has received many awards and honours, including an OBE for services to children’s literature, France’s Légion d’Honneur, and the Hans Christian Andersen Award. Although she does not plan to write any more books in the Harry Potter series, she has not entirely ruled out the possibility.

She is truly one of Britain's most successful writers among others like George Orwell or Charles Dickens.