Finish or bust - JK Rowling's unlikely message in an Edinburgh hotel room

SHE began her journey to literary fame by scribbling in cafés with a baby in a pram at her elbow, while living on benefits.

Twelve years and 600 million later, JK Rowling finished her Harry Potter series in a luxury room at one of Scotland's most famous hotels.

And the writer celebrated the completion of the seventh and final novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in bizarre fashion, by signing a marble bust in her room.

"JK Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room (652) on 11th Jan 2007," she wrote.

In the stroke of a marker pen she may have created the most valuable item of Potter memorabilia next to a signed copy of a first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

The bust was yesterday in the care of Debbie Taylor, general manager, of the Balmoral in Edinburgh.

The memorable image of Rowling's first steps on the road to fame is of an impoverished single mother escaping her freezing flat to write for hours in the warmth of a cafe with her baby in a pram beside her. Finding shelter in Edinburgh from a former husband, she would nurse one cup of coffee because she couldn't afford more.

Two famous and well-marked venues include Nicolson's restaurant, owned at the time by her brother-in-law and now replaced by a Chinese restaurant. Legend has it that much of the Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was written there.

She was also a regular at the Elephant House caf, on George IV Bridge, writing in long-hand and typing up the work at home on a manual typewriter.

The pressures on JK Rowling are very different now. Ten years after she published her first book, her baby daughter, Jessica, is now a teenager, and the concern is to keep a normal life with two other young children and her husband, Dr Neil Murray.

There are other Edinburgh cafs where she has written, well after her worldwide fame, keeping their names quiet to discourage tourist traffic. "She has just got into the habit of writing in places other than the house. Writers do need locations other than a bedroom," said a friend.

But while Edinburgh residents may respect her privacy, book collectors are not so polite. It has become increasingly difficult for her to be anywhere in public.

It remained a mystery yesterday why JK Rowling chose to scrawl on a statue in black marker pen, in an incident that had some hallmarks of a publicity stunt.

Her note was reportedly spotted by hotel staff.

A spokeswoman for the 188-room Balmoral, where rates run from 290 to 1,575 a night, said: "We can confirm that the author signed a bust, following a recent visit to the hotel."

But there are no plans, apparently, to turn the room into a tourist shrine.

"It was hotel property. We have many different antique artefacts within the hotel," said the spokeswoman. The bust was believed to be of the Greek god Hermes, not Emperor Hadrian as first thought.

A spokesman for the author said: "We can confirm that JK Rowling did write some of the book at the Balmoral last month and did complete the book at that hotel."

Rowling announced on Thursday that the seventh and final instalment in the series, which will follow Harry during his final year at Hogwarts, will be published on 21 July.

• MANY writers work from home, but regularly go in search of inspiration or escape from the pressures of family life. Sir Walter Scott began his early career as a writer in a summer cottage in Lasswade. Ernest Hemingway wrote anywhere he could.

Writer's retreats are always in demand. In the United States, the austere setting of the MacDowell writers' colony in New Hampshire, with 32 its cabin studios, has drawn the likes of Alice Sebold, writer of The Lovely Bones. Author Michel Chabon and his novelist wife Ayelet Waldman are also regular visitors.

In Scotland, one well-known writers' retreat is Hawthornden Castle near Roslin, owned by Drue Heinz. Scottish writers who win the Robert Louis Stevenson Award earn two months near the Forest of Foutainebleau, France, where writers and artists from across Europe converge to work.

The Isle of Jura whisky distiller, meanwhile, is now offering a month-long fellowship for an established writer to travel to Scotland and write and live on the island at the distillery lodge at Craighouse.