Though her blockbuster Harry Potter series has millions of devoted fans around the globe, J.K. Rowling says she's fine if people don't like her newest novel, The Casual Vacancy.
"I'm 47 years old. There are worst things in life than writing a book that people don't like," the bestselling British author told CBC's Q.
"There is an expectation, I think, when you have had success — for which I'm very, very grateful — that becomes your entire sense of self worth and identity," she said from New York, where she was promoting the new book this week.
"We've seen people go under with the weight of that expectation. I want to be free to fail."
Because of Rowling's unparalleled success with Harry Potter, The Casual Vacancy has been eagerly awaited. Curiosity made it an instant bestseller, though the dark story has garnered mixed reviews since its release.
In her first book written specifically for an adult audience, she explores human nature and our communal sense of responsibility through the tale of a small, idyllic, fictional British town grappling with the poor community located on its outskirts. Her plot touches on issues ranging from state-funded housing and services to class struggles to cyber bullying. In her native Britain, some have suggested Rowling is using her writing to condemn conservative points of view.
'Every novelist exposes himself. Having said that, I am not in this book. My life story is not in this book' —J.K. Rowling
"I know how much I benefitted from certain kinds of state help and I think I would be a liar and a fraud not to acknowledge that helped me turn my life around," she said.
"Every novelist exposes himself. Having said that, I am not in this book. My life story is not in this book. I would say a variety of characters say, at different times, things that I believe and they're not always the characters that people would assume that I would use as a mouthpiece."
Drawn to exploring adolescence
Though targeted to adults, the novel puts a strong emphasis on a host of teen characters; adolescence is a key period to which Rowling is drawn to writing about, she explained.
"It's a time in life... where you are starting to comprehend shades of grey, probably from a position of having seen things in a very black and white way. You're very fragile emotionally, though we have a tendency to see teenagers as not very fragile. But I would say that they're vulnerable, extremely vulnerable," she said.
"Often you find teenagers are preoccupied with the big things in life — What matters? What counts? — [while] some, not all, of my middle-aged characters are more caught up, understandably, with the minutiae of life. Teenagers can be very interesting: simultaneously blinkered or appearing selfish and yet, in a couple of instances in this book, the real truth-seekers."
Perhaps unsurprisingly then, Rowling acknowledges that her next project will likely see her return to writing for younger readers and that she plans to keep writing for many more years to come.
"I've got a few things partially written or plotted. I think probably the next thing I publish will be a book for children, but I've been very careful to not absolutely promise that because I'm relishing the freedom of doing anything I like."
Rowling talked to Q's Jian Ghomeshi about the freedom of her post-Potter writing, why she didn't publish The Casual Vacancy under a pseudonym and the reason she doesn't give many interviews.