Jeremy Paxman: [Intro] There are books, and there's Harry Potter. They're the biggest phenomenon in the history of publishing: two hundred million copies about a boy who discovers he's a world famous wizard. They're sold in over 200 countries and translated into over fifty languages. Beyond the books is an industry, films, dolls, games, and merchandise, making hundreds of millions of pounds a year.
[ Rowling reads random book quote ]
All this from an idea which wandered into the mind of the then pretty penniless JK Rowling, as she sat on a train. She imagined his story as a series of seven books, each spanning a year at the Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry.
[ Rowling reads random book quote ]
The fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order Of The Phoenix, goes on sale in twenty-eight and a half hours. It's confidently expected to have the biggest print run in history. The author of this phenomenon lives in Edinburgh.
So this is it, is it? [indicating the book]
This is it, yeah. [holds book 5 up to the camera]
Are we allowed to look inside it?
Mmmmno..yes, a bit. You can look in there [holds book open at the inside front cover]. Yes, uh, that's it.
How many pages?
Seven hundred and sixty-six. All with writers' block, which I think you'll agree is a bit of an achievement.
Can we know what the first sentence is?
You know what the first sentence is. I could read you a random sentence. [looks] Um, no, not that one, that gives way too much away. You can have: '"Yes, but I think we ought to vote on it properly", said Hermione unpeturbed.'
That's a very Hermione sort of thing to say, isn't it.
It is a very Hermione sentence, isn't it.
But do you find the whole secrecy issue, the need for secrecy, a bit ridiculous?
No, not at all. Because, well a lot of it comes from me.
Yeah, definitely. I mean, of course one could be cynical, and I'm sure you would be deposed to be so, and say it was a marketing ploy, but I, I don't want the kids to know what's coming. Because that's part of the excitement of the story. And having, y'know, sweated blood to create all my red herrings and lay all my clues, to me this is my, I was going to say this is my life, it's not my life, but it is a very important part of my life.
Has it come at a price, this sucess and fame?
The fame thing is interesting, because I never wanted to be famous and I never dreamt I would be famous. My fantasy of being a famous writer, and again there's a slight disconnect from reality which happens a lot with me, I imagined being a famous writer would be like being Jane Austen, being able to sit at home in the parsonage, and your books would be very famous, and occasionally you'd correspond with the Prince of Wales' secretary. You know, I didn't think they'd rake through my bins, I didn't expect to be photographed on the beach through long lenses, I never dreamt it would impact my daughter's life negatively which at times it has, um... it would be churlish to say there's nothing good about being famous. To have a total stranger walk up to you as you're walking around Safeway's and say... um, I don't know, a number of nice things, something like say about your work, I mean of course you'd walk on with a bit more spring in your step, that's a very very nice thing to happen. I just wish they wouldn't do it while I was buying, you know...
Always, always! Never when you're in the fresh fruit and veg section, never. Always.
Do you think success has changed you?
In what way?
Um... I don't feel like quite such a waste of space any more.
You didn't really feel a waste of space.
I totally felt a waste of space, I was lousy, yeah, I did, yeah. And now I feel that it turns out there was one thing I was good at, and I always suspected I could tell a story. And, um, I suppose it's rather sad that I needed confirmation by being published.
But what about the money? A lot of people when they suddenty make a lot of money feel guilty about it. Do you feel guilt?
Yeah, I do feel guilty, definitely feel guilty.
Um, when it first happened, of course I didn't immediately become very rich, the biggest jump for me was the American advance, which was enough for me to buy a house, not outright, but we'd been renting until then. And I didn't feel guilty, I felt scared at that point because I thought "I mustn't blow this, I've got some money, and I mustn't do anything stupid with it." And then yeah, yeah, I felt guilty, yeah I did. But I mean at least I could see cause and effect, I knew I had worked quite hard for quite a long time. Of course the rewards were completely disproportionate but I could see how I'd got there, so that made it easier to rationalise.
[ Rowling reads random book quote ]
Let's talk a little bit about the next book. Harry, Ron and Hermione are all going to be older. How are they going to change?
Quite a lot, because I find it quite sinister the way that, looking back at the Famous Five books for example, in I think twenty-one adventures they had, or twenty or something, they never had a hormonal impulse except that Anne was sometimes told that she would make someone a good little wife whenever she unmade the picnic things.
But that's the usual pattern of children's books, Swallows and Amazons is the same isn't it, the children never age...
And it reaches its hypothesis in Peter Pan obviously, when it's quite explicit, and I find that very sinister. I had a very forthright letter from a woman who had heard me say that Harry was going to have his first date or something, and she said, "Please don't do that, it's awful, I-I want these books to be a world where my children can escape to and" - she literally said, "free from hurt, and fear, and" - and I'm thinking, have you read the books? What are you talking about, free from hurt and fear? Harry goes though absolute hell every time he returns to school! So I think, you know, a bit of snogging will alleviate matters a bit.
So there will be some pairing up will there, in this book?
Well, in the fullness of time.
Unlikely pairings? Not Hermione and Draco Malfoy, or anything like that?
I don't really want to say, 'cause it'll ruin all the fan sites. They have such fun with their theories, and it is fun, it is fun, and some of them even get quite close. I have gone and looked at some of it, and there is one thing that if anyone guessed I would be really annoyed, because it's kind of the heart of it all, and it kind of explains everything, and no-one's quite got there, but a couple of people have skirted it. So, you know, I'd be pretty miffed after thirteen, fourteen years of writing the books, if someone just came along and said "I think this'll happen in book seven". Because it's too late, I couldn't divert now, I mean everything's been building up to it, you know, I've laid all my clues.
Is Harry going to become a bolshy [?] teenager?
He's a lot, lot, lot angrier in this book, he really is quite angry a lot of the time, and I think justifiably so, look at what he's gone through, it's about time he started feeling a little bit miffed at the hand life has dealt him.
When you look at a lot of that marketing stuff, that merchandise, when you look at things like, you know, the Harry Potter Ice Pumpkin Slushie Maker, and all that... junk...
Is that a real thing or have you made that up?
I'm serious, I mean there's a list of about fifty of these things: Harry Potter Embroidered Polo Shirts, The Late-Night Ride Towel, Harry Potter and Ron Weasley Alarm Clock, I mean it goes on and on.
Oh, I knew about the alarm clock. Yes, some of it... [exhales] how do I feel about it, honestly I think it's pretty well-known, if I could have stopped all merchandising I would have done. And, twice a year I sit down with Warner Brothers and we have... "conversations"... about merchandising, and, um... I can only say you should have seen some of the stuff that... was stopped. Moaning Myrtle... um, lavatory seat alarms, um... and worse.
I thought that sounded rather fun.
I knew you were going to say that! It's not fun! It was horrible! It was a horrible thing.
You could have said, no, I'm not going to have any merchandising.
I don't think I could at the time, not at the time. This was is in 19... I'm so bad on dates... it must have been '98, '99, I started talking to Warner Brothers, and at that point I just didn't have the power to stop them. That is the nature of the film world, because they're very expensive films to make, and if they keep making them, which is obviously not guaranteed, but if they do keep making them they're going to get really even more expensive. I mean, I shudder to think what they're going to say when they see book five, because I think they're starting to feel that I'm writing stuff just to see if they can do it. Which of course I'm not, but you know I know that there are headaches about the scale of the world that I'm writing.
But do you never worry that perhaps your legacy will be not this entire world that you created, but lots of bits of plastic?
Do I worry, honestly? Completely honestly not. I don't worry about it, I think the books will always be more important than bits of plastic, and I really, really believe that, and maybe that sounds arrogant, but, how I feel.
Do you even know, when it gets to the level that you're at, do you even know what you're earning? Do you know what you earned last year?
No. I... no.
Well, it's tens of millions. My guess.
I met my accountant recently, and I said they say in the Rich List I'm richer than the Queen, I said so that means you've embezzled quite a lot of money, 'cause I mean I do know ball-park what I've got, I mean I'm not that clueless, and I certainly have not got £280 million.
What is it, roughly?
Would I tell you?
Well dunno, you can't blame me for asking.
No, I don't blame you for asking.
[ Rowling reads random book quote ]
You mentioned that previous books, you finished one and immediately started the next. Have you started the sixth one?
How far are you into it?
Not that far, because I had a baby. But yeah, I started it when I was still pregnant with David, and I actually did get some writing done the other day and that's not bad going, he's only ten weeks so he's pretty full-time at the moment, but yeah, I did a bit more the other day.
Are we going to discover in book five why, for example, Voldemort has such an animus against Harry's parents?
Can you give us a clue, as to...?
No. It's not long now, come on! Yes, you do find that out in book five.
What else are you willing to tell us about what's in book five?
Um... obviously new Defense against the Dark Arts teacher.
Is that going to be a woman?
Yes. Mmhmm. And it's not Fleur, which everyone on the Internet speculates about, and it's not... who was the other one they keep asking about? Mrs Figg, it's not Mrs Figg. I've read both of those.
Are we going to discover anything more about Snape and...
...and Harry's mother? Did he have a crush on Harry's mother, unrequited love, anything like that?
Hence his animosity to Harry? You speculate?
I speculate, yes. I'm just asking whether you can tell us.
No, I can't tell you. But you do find out more about Snape, and, um... yeah, quite a lot more about him, actually.
And is there going to be a death in this book?
Yeah, horrible, horrible death.
A horrible death, of a significant figure?
Yeah. I went into the kitchen having done it...
What, killed this person?
Yeah, well I'd re-written the death and that was it, it was definitive and the person was definitely dead, and I walked into the kitchen crying. And, er, Neil said to me, "What on earth is wrong?" and I said "well I've just killed the per..." Neil doesn't know who the person is, but I said I've just killed the person, and he said "Well don't do it then!" and I thought this doctor, y'know, and I said it just doesn't work like that, when writing children's books you need to be a ruthless killer.
Is it going to upset people?
Yes. Upset me. I always knew it was coming but I managed to live in denial and carry on with the character and not think about it.
So you know what is going to become of really all the major characters over the span of the series. Why stop when they grow up? It might be interesting to know what becomes of Harry as an adult.
How do you know he will still be alive?
Oh. By the end of book seven?
It'd be one way to kill off the merchandising. [laughs]
That really would be killing the golden goose, wouldn't it?
Yeah, well... I'm supposed to be richer than the Queen, what do I care. [laughs]
I'm happier now, I would say, than I've ever been in my life. Yeah, definitely.
But that's not just because of writing, of course.
No. Um... but it does have a lot to do with that, because... I needed to take off the time between books four and five. And I really feel as though I got to grips with a lot of things, I sort of put my head up and got a big lungful of air, and I looked around and I saw what had happened, and I allowed myself time to deal with it a bit better, and I think that if you had interviewed me four years ago I don't think I would have been nearly as relaxed.
There's an element in a way in which you've become sort of public property, that because of what you created the people feel you belong to them.
Yes, that's definitely true. I think we get a thousand letters a week to this office. Come and open my fete, write a personal letter to my daughter, come to my son's birthday party, you know what I mean, and in some ways that's very touching, that they think that I have the time.
Well if you don't ask you don't get, you can't blame them for trying.
Exactly, and I don't blame them for trying, I absolutely don't... except for the woman who wrote to me and said, would I please make her and her husband an annual payment because they hadn't been to the theatre in three years. As begging letters go, that wasn't a great angle.
But as begging letters go, you must get loads. Do you give a lot of money away?
Well, that's... hmm, I give money away. That's all I'm going to say.
This is um, this must not be seen too closely, this is the plan for Order of the Phoenix. So I have these grid things for every book, well I have about twelve grid things for every book, but it's just a way of reminding myself what has to happen in each chapter to advance us in the plot, and then you have all your sub-plots, so it's just a way of keeping track of what's going on really.
And these scraps of paper which you've filed elegantly in a carrier bag, they're plot ideas, or...
Well some of them are totally redundant now because it's been written, and I keep it out of sentimentality's sake I suppose, but some of it has back story, like this... in here is the history of the Death Eaters. And I don't know that I'll ever actually need it, but at some point which were called something different, they were called the Knights of all Purgiss [?]... well I don't know if I'll need it but I like knowing it, so I like to keep that sort of stuff on hand.
What's your preferred way of working? I mean, lots of people sit down and say I must churn out six hundred words or a thousand words a day, but how do you do it?
Well that's like painting a fence, isn't it...
Well I mean some quite distinguished writers have written like that...
That's how you do it, isn't it?
No, distinguished writers I said...
No, I don't write like that!
I mean Somerset Moore [?] used to write six hundred words a day and he'd stop more or less whether he was in mid-sentence.
No, I couldn't do it like that.
So what do you do? You sit down and you just keep going until you're too exhausted to continue, and then...
Yeah, pretty much actually. It's the "flogged horse" school of writing... um, yeah. Well the thing about the six hundred words, I mean some days you can do a very very very hard day's work and not write a word, just revising, or you would scribble a few words.
And we know that you've written the ending.
I've written the final chapter of book seven. Yeah.
So, you know where you're going to get to. Do you know how you're going to get there?
Yes. Y-yes but, I mean I allow a margin, I mean it would be so boring if I really knew, you know, it would be joining the dots, it's not that well worked out, but it's fairly well plotted. I mean it would be worrying if I weren't at this stage, wouldn't it, if I slid off the end of book five and thought right, what shall I write about in book six? It's a complicated story, so I need to know what I'm doing.
Do you ever wish you hadn't started on it?
Yes, but not for the reasons you might expect. Sometimes, yeah, I've had very low moments and I've thought, "What the hell do I do this for", but very rare.
Why do you think that occasionally?
I haven't thought it for a long time now, but it was while I was writing book four. I went through a very bad patch. The funny thing is that the press were writing that I had writers' block with Phoenix, and there was speculation that I was finding the pressure... well, it was funny, because literally on consecutive days you'd have either I was feeling the pressure too much and I was cracking up, or I was too happy being married, and that was stopping me writing, and you kind of couldn't have both. But in fact Order Of The Phoenix never gave me any trouble, it was quite a docile book to write and a lot of fun to write. Chamber of Secrets I really did have writers' block, briefly I think, it wasn't a very serious case, it was only about five weeks, and compared to some people, you know, what's five weeks? Goblet of Fire, you know, I was very unhappy towards the end of writing Goblet, and at the point where I realised I was fantasising that I would break an arm, and therefore not be able to - I really mean this, I mean I was just a little way away from actually thinking right, how can I break my arm so I can tell my publishers that I can't physically do it, and then that would give me more time, because I committed to a totally unrealistic deadline. And I made the deadline, but I really did make it by working round the clock really, in some ways, and I was so unhappy.
[ Rowling reads random book quote ]
So you didn't have writers' block, the reason this book has been what, three years, it's three years since the last one isn't it? Why has it taken so long?
Um, well it hasn't. Well it hasn't, the book didn't that long, what happened was, Goblet of Fire, I was really in quite a state by the time that book was finished, and I mean at that point I really did feel... a lot of things came together with Goblet of Fire, I mean the press attention had reached an hitherto unknown level, and I couldn't work outside the house any more, and just a hell of a lot of stuff was going on, you know, it was the fame thing. Do I still feel like that? No. But that's because I took the time off. And I'm still writing during these three years, because I never stopped writing, but I didn't want to be published again, that was a big difference. So when I finished Goblet of Fire, there were only two publishers who had bought the next book, and I said to both of them I want to repay my advance. And both of them, you could almost hear them having cardiac arrests on the end of the phone, and why do you want to repay your advance? And I said because I don't want to publish next year, I want to write this book in a more leisurely way and I want to take some time off. Because I finished Philospher's Stone I literally started Chamber Of Secrets that aternoon, I finished Chamber Of Secrets I started Prisoner of Azkhaban the next day, and I finished Azkhaban and I'd already started Goblet of Fire because they overlapped. So there was absolutely no let-up, and I knew I couldn't do it, I just knew I couldn't do it, my brain was going to short-circuit if I tried to do that again. So they said, well, how about if we do still get the book when you finish it, but we don't have a deadline. So I said OK, so that's how we worked it, so there was no deadline. So just once and for all and for the record, I didn't miss the deadline, because there was no deadline.
And you didn't have writers' block on that book.
No, I've just produced a quarter of a million words! It's quite hard to do.
But I mean, that's longer than the New Testament, you know.
Oh, God, stoppit with all these new facts that I didn't know. That's... is it?
Yeah, by about seventy thousand words or something.
D'you know, the Christian fundamentalists will find a way to turn that into a reason to hate me as well. "She's more verbose than God."
Has book five, that thing that's the size of a house brick, it was originally much longer than that was it?
No, actually it wasn't. No, that's not even true. Originally, I think it would have been slightly shorter than Goblet of Fire, and um, what is the phrase, the tale grew in the telling, it did. The thing is I've got so much now, so much back story to tell, that I really mean it this time, six will not need to be that long, it won't need to be that long. I had to move them around a lot in there, there's a lot of toing and froing in there.
Are you going to have a lot of loose ends to tie up in seven?
Oh God, I hope not. [laughs] No, I'm aiming to tie it all up neatly in a nice big knot, that's it, goodnight.
So that may not be particularly long either?
No, I think that will be long, because I won't want to let go, I'll just keep writing. I'll probably start a completely new plot in book seven just to... no, it's going to be very difficult to leave it, I mean I do look forward to a post-Harry era in my life, because some of the things that go along with this are not that much fun. But at the same time I dread leaving Harry, because I've been working on it over what I sincerely hope will prove to have been the most turbulent part of my life, and that was the constant, and I've worked on it so hard for so long and then it will be over, and I think it's going to leave a massive gap.
Do you know what you'll go onto next after that?
Well while I was in-between, you know, during the three years that I've just had, I was writing something else for a while, which was really great, it was good, and I might go back to that, I don't know.
Is that an adult novel, or...?
Mmm. It's just something completely different, it was very liberating to do it.
It'd be quite difficult for you though, you'd have to publish under a pseudonym.
Exactly, but they'll find out within seconds, I don't underestimate the investigative powers of the press, but I don't know what I'll do. I'll definitely still be writing, but will I publish? I don't know. But i- it's what you said, of course you write to be published because you write to share the story, but I do think back to what happened to A.A. Milne, who of course tried to write adult novels, and was never reviewed without mention of Tigger, Pooh and Piglet, and I would imagine that the same will happen with me. And that's fine, I could cope with that, but I would like some time to have some normal life at the end of the series, and probably the best way to get that isn't to publish immediately.
It's not a bad thing to go to your grave with, having invented this entire world that made children want to read?
Oh God no! No, not at all! I mean of course I'm immemsely proud of Harry, and I'm never going to disown it, and I promise I'm never ever ever going to apologise for it, never, because I am proud of it, and I will defend Harry against all comers.
J.K. Rowling, thank you.