Life after Harry Potter

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First aired on Q (19/10/12)

It's been five years since the world saw the release of the final Harry Potter book. For more than a decade, author J.K. Rowling steered her much-beloved hero from boy wizard into adulthood. And just as Harry grew and changed, so has Rowling as a writer, having released her first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy, in late September.

This story features no spells or magical worlds -- it's actually a gritty exploration of life in contemporary small-town England, where bucolic beauty coexists with class tensions, drug use and poverty. The book revolves around the town of Pagford and its residents, who are thrown into turmoil after the sudden death of a local councilman leaves an open council seat, and many secrets and community issues come out into the open.

jk-rowling-profile.jpgRowling describes writing and publishing her first post-Potter book as a freeing experience.

"It's such a relief," she told Q host Jian Ghomeshi in an exclusive Canadian broadcast interview. "It felt very liberating to finally have it published and be able to talk to people about it."

After years of being in the media spotlight and working to complete the Potter saga with the expectations of millions of fans upon her, Rowling said it was refreshing to once again have a "private world" of new settings, stories and characters that no one else knew of. For the first couple of years she worked on The Casual Vacancy, Rowling constantly told herself that she didn't have to release the book if she didn't want to.

"Even though I knew in my soul that I would publish it, it was nice to think there's no deadline, no one really knows what I'm doing, so I gave myself the space to do exactly what I wanted to do."

To that end, she sought out a publisher who would stand by her and was "prepared to let me do what I want to do." She eventually went with Little, Brown and Company.

As soon as word got out that Rowling would be publishing her first adult novel, the buzz swelled in the literary community. But the author insists that she never felt any pressure for her book to be commercially and critically successful. 

"The wrong thing for me to do would have been to try to duplicate Harry or do it over again or do an imitation, or feel I must keep doing what I have been doing because that's where I'm successful. I think that you've got to be free to fail in this life. And I do believe that very strongly."

casual-vacancy-100.jpgShe's also seen how chasing success has left other people with exhausted, emptier lives because their identity becomes so wrapped up in maintaining their status. Rowling has never wanted to go down that road.

"I'm 47 years old. There are worse things in life than writing a book people don't like."

It turns out that a lot of people like The Casual Vacancy. After its first week of release, it was 15th on the list of bestselling books of the year in Britain. She's received some quite positive book reviews and a few negative ones. But ultimately, perhaps what's more satisfying to Rowling than having a well-received new novel is the knowledge that she took a chance.

"I am a writer and that's what we do, that's what we're supposed to do."

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