There are very few readers alive today who have not heard of Harry Potter, and almost as much is known about his creator, British author JK Rowling, who celebrates her birthday on July 31st. Jo, as she likes to be called, was a voracious reader as a child, devouring authors like E. Nesbit, C.S. Lewis, and even the backs of cereal boxes. "I loved writing as a child," she says. "I wrote my first 'book' when I was six years old, about a rabbit, called Rabbit." She believes that reading "gives you an understanding of what makes good writing and will enlarge your vocabulary."
Ms. Rowling would like to squelch the myth about the first Harry Potter manuscript. "I didn't write on napkins; I wrote in the used tea bags on which I drafted the first book!" It is true that as she was on a train from Manchester to London when she thought about a boy who didn't know he was a wizard and goes off to wizard school. "The idea was just floating along the train and looking for someone and my mind was vacant enough and so it decided to zoom in there." As she writes she imagines the scenes in her head very clearly and then attempts to describe what she can see. Sometimes the characters surprise her but she has the entire series already outlined in her head.
Rowling's use of language is wonderful, and she often bases her new words on old meanings. For example Albus Dumbledore's name means "white" in Latin. Alba was an old name for Britain and also means wisdom in Latin. The Mirror of "Erised" is desire spelled backwards. "Parselmouth" is an old word for someone who has a problem with their mouth. Although Jo doesn't believe in magic the way it appears in the books, she says "I could be slightly corny and say I do believe in other kinds of magic; the magic of the imagination for example, and love, but magic as in waving a wandno. I'd love to believe in it but I'm afraid I can't."
JK Rowling writes almost daily, although the length of time she writes varies. Cafes were once her favorite writing destination, but due to her high profile she now writes at home. "I am an extraordinarily lucky person, doing what I love best in the world. I'm sure that I will always be a writer. It's kind of a compulsion. Sometimes the ideas just come to me. Other times I have to sweat and almost bleed to make ideas come. It's a mysterious process, but I hope I never find out exactly how it works. I like a mystery, as you may have noticed."