‘An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern UK’
The creator of a wizarding empire which has dazzled the world, J. K. Rowling struggled through hardship to become an unrivalled children’s author with a global voice.
Rowling once told a beaming crowd of Harvard University graduates how she had initially failed “on an epic scale”.
“An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless,” she said.
Now 20 years since “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” was first published, inspiring a generation of young readers — and their parents — it is hard to imagine Rowling before the seven Harry Potter books.
But her longstanding commitment to charitable causes is a testament to the author’s early days, following a French and Classics degree at Exeter University, when she survived on state benefits and struggled to find a publisher.
The Harry Potter series has since been translated into 79 languages and transformed into eight films, with numerous off-shoots including a hit London theatre production which will open in New York next year.
The wealth amassed along the way gives Rowling an estimated fortune of £650 million ($825 million, 743 million euros), according to The Sunday Times newspaper’s 2017 Rich List.
Such riches would have seemed impossible to Rowling in the early 1990s, when she worked as an English teacher in Portugal’s second city Porto.
She spent her free time writing early drafts of the Potter world, but in 1993 split from her husband and left Portugal with her four-month-old daughter.
Rowling continued crafting Harry Potter in Edinburgh sitting on a modest oak chair, part of a mismatched set of furniture which she was given for free while living in subsidised housing.
Such is the magic of the author’s own story, the chair sold in a New York auction last year for $394,000.
Children amassed at book shops to get their hands on newly-released Harry Potter novels and, as they grew up, young readers looked to Rowling for adventures outside Hogwarts.
A trio of crime novels followed with “The Cuckoo’s Calling” initially published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, on Rowling’s wish to “work without hype or expectation and to receive totally unvarnished feedback”.
Having been writing books since the age of six — the first foray of J. K. (Joanne Kathleen) was a story about a rabbit — Rowling at 51 shows no signs of slowing down.
She co-wrote the award-winning play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” along with director John Tiffany, which shows the boy wizard as a grown father of three.
Rowling’s screenwriting debut came last year with “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”, an adaptation of her 2001 volume about magical creatures.
While the world of Harry Potter has been transformed into theme parks in the United States and Japan, with merchandise traversing the globe, Rowling remains a revered public figure in Britain.
She took centre stage in 2012 when London hosted the Olympics, reading from J. M. Barrie’s classic “Peter Pan” during the opening ceremony as part of a celebration of British children’s literature.
This month Queen Elizabeth II made her “Companion of Honour”, a rare order which has a maximum of 65 members, for her contribution to the arts.
Famed for creating her much-loved wizarding realm, Rowling has in the real world become a vocal champion of social causes and speaks up frequently for minorities.
“We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better,” the author said in 2008.