JK ROWLING has revealed that there is life after Harry Potter, the spectacled boy wizard who turned a single mother into the world's richest author. A new children's book aimed at younger readers has already been written by the Edinburgh author, who describes it as "a political fairy story".
The new story may have been penned in one of Edinburgh's bustling cafes for, in spite of her global fame, the author, who famously wrote portions of her first Harry Potter novel in Nicolson's cafe in the capital, says she still prefers the din of a coffee shop to the solitude of her study.
"For the first time I have a proper study, but you know what: I still prefer doing it in cafes," she explains in a rare interview, published tomorrow in Tatler magazine. "Occasionally I might look up and find a table of people staring at me. I get very embarrassed and go."
All that is known about the new novel is that it is about a monster and that it is certain to top the best-seller charts. Rowling, whose Harry Potter novels about an orphaned wizard have sold more than 300 million copies in 63 different countries, explained that even Bloomsbury, her British publishers, were in the dark about her latest project: "I haven't even told my publisher about this."
In the interview, which Rowling gave to promote a masked ball she is hosting in March at Stirling Castle as patron of the MS Society Scotland, she reveals that she was actually writing the first Harry Potter novel at the exact moment when her mother, Anne, died after a 10-year battle with multiple sclerosis.
She also gives an insight into the unsettling nature of her worldwide fame and the mild guilt she feels over her personal fortune, estimated to be over 500 million, as well as discussing her greatest fear: the death of a loved one. Rowling also says that one of her greatest regrets was that her mother never lived to see her success.
"The night she died I had been staying with my boyfriend's family, the first time I had ever spent Christmas away from home. I had gone to bed early, ostensibly to watch The Man Who Would Be King, but instead I started writing. So I know I was writing Harry Potter at the moment my mother died. I had never told her about Harry Potter.
"Dad called me at seven o'clock the next morning and I just knew what had happened before he spoke. As I ran downstairs, I had that kind of white noise panic in my head but could not grasp the enormity of my mother having died."
Anne Rowling died on New Year's Day, 1991, when her daughter, Joanne, was 25. Her boyfriend drove her home. "I was alternately a wreck and then in total denial. At some point [during] the car journey, I remember thinking: 'let's pretend it hasn't happened', because that was a way to get through the next ten minutes... Barely a day goes by when I do not think of her. There would be so much to tell her, impossibly much." In particular she would have liked to have told her that she was to receive an OBE from the Queen. "My mother would have loved for me to have phoned to say I was getting the OBE, but you mustn't tell the neighbours. Can you imagine! That would have been so hard for her."
Three years ago Rowling brought the magic of Hogwarts to Stirling Castle when she organised a gala ball for the MS Society Scotland, which raised 225,000. This year the event will be repeated on 17 March and is set to include a treasure hunt for which she has devised the clues. The memory of her mother's own suffering has driven her to do all she can to assist those afflicted with the disease today. Rowling says: "She was so young and so fit. To have your body in rebellion against you is a dreadful thing to suffer, let alone witness."
The portrait of JK Rowling that emerges from the interview is that of a contented woman, happily married to her husband, Neil Murray, a GP, and besotted by her three children, Jessica, 12, David, 2, and MacKenzie, nine months. This year she will finish writing the seventh and final Harry Potter novel, the last chapter of which is already written and locked in her safe, and there are hints that the hero may not survive. Death, she insists, is the theme which runs through her work. "My books are largely about death. They open with the death of Harry's parents. There is Voldemort's obsession with conquering death and his quest for immortality at any price, the goal of anyone with magic. I so understand why Voldemort wants to conquer death. We're all frightened of it."
Fame has also brought its own fears. Rowling, who receives between 800 and 1,000 fan letters each week, but who has also endured her share of death threats and stalkers, says she was unprepared for her phenomenal success. "This world was very alien to me and I was scared rigid," she says. "I have never said this before, but when I was repeatedly asked, 'how are you coping?' I would say 'fine'. I was lying to myself at the time. It was as though I had lived under a rock for a long time and suddenly someone had lifted it off and was shining a torch on me. And it's not that life under the rock was awful, but actually I was petrified and didn't know how to handle it."
Her fame has brought pressure and new friends. Bill Clinton, the former President of the United States, is a fan and the film star Sigourney Weaver invited her to her home, but Rowling declined. "I was in America, but it was all so strange; I had never met her so I didn't go." Nelson Mandela was another whose invitation she had to refuse. "Sadly, I had to say no as I was pregnant."
In order to secure her privacy she now travels on holiday by private jet. The family recently went on safari in the Kalahari. Yet she has also enjoyed little victories over the media, such as organising her own 40th birthday party at the Marquess of Linlithgow's country estate, Hopetoun, which she booked under her married name: "Mrs Murray." She originally wanted to book the Royal Yacht Britannia, but was put off as no dancing was allowed on board.
Rowling, who has three houses in Edinburgh, Perth and London, says she still found it "freakish" to find herself in a position where her PA could arrange for her to meet anyone in the world. She decided, however, not to pick up the phone to the Pope after he was critical of her novels "subtle seductions" which, he claimed, could "distort Christianity". The author, who is an Episcopalian Christian, says of the complaints of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, that: "I can remember reading about it and thinking, surely there are more important things for him to worry about than my books - world peace, war in the Middle East." In the interview she compares her own faith to that of Catholic author, Graham Greene: "Like Greene, my faith is sometimes about if my faith will return. It's important to me."
Despite her vast wealth - which is now said to have surpassed that of the Queen - the author insists she still has a mental cap on the amount of money she could spend. When she recently bought a pair of expensive earrings in London's Bond Street, mild guilt led her to write a cheque for the same amount to a charity.
She says: "I'm certainly not going to complain about having the money. Not for a second. If you've literally been worrying: 'Will the money last until the end of the week?' you will never complain about having money. It enables you, sets you free from worry. It allows you to travel, to help people. I'm grateful for it every single day."
Among the recipients of her assistance are impoverished orphans in eastern Europe. The author was moved recently by a newspaper article. "I thought: 'Why don't I try and do something to help.'" She then wrote to the president of the Czech republic, her MP and to anyone else she could think of who could help. She is now part of an EU group that will be visiting orphans in similar dire straits in Romania.
Her anchor is her husband, Neil, who, she insisted, has no interest in wealth. "Money just wasn't an issue with him. In fact, Neil just doesn't really spend money." She explains that before meeting Neil she thought that her position as a famous, wealthy woman might attract the wrong suitors. "I had thought before I met Neil that it would be a factor in my remaining single for ever. Certainly before I met Neil I hadn't met anyone that I could conceive of marrying."
Yet, despite her astounding professional success and personal contentment, JK Rowling still has her regrets. "Not a day goes by when I don't think of my mother. Her death depth-charged me. It changed me."
For MS Society Scotland, call 0131 335 4050; for the Stirling Castle Masquerade Ball, call 0131 558 8851.
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