Books

50 things you might not know about J.K. Rowling

50 things you might not know about the mastermind behind the blockbuster Harry Potter series.
J.K. Rowling (Mary McCartney)

When J.K. Rowling created Harry Potter more than 20 years ago, she ensured a special connection with the boy wizard: they shared a birthday, July 31. 

Feb. 7, 2019 is the fifth annual Harry Potter Book Night. To celebrate, here are 50 surprising facts we found about Harry Potter's creator, J.K. Rowling.


1. Her first Harry Potter manuscript was rejected by 12 publishers before Bloomsbury picked it up.

2. But, her publisher did suggest she not use her real name — Joanne Rowling — for her books, because they didn't believe boys would want to read a fantasy book about a boy wizard that was written by a woman.

3. The "K" in J.K. is the initial of her grandmother's name — Kathleen. Rowling had no middle names of her own. Friends and family call her "Jo."

4. In 1993, she spent Christmas in Edinburgh with her sister and her young daughter Jessica. She stayed for a few months and received welfare benefits while she finished Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

6. A voracious reader from an early age, Rowling said she based the character of Hermione Granger on her 11-year-old self.

7. She used to write books for her family's entertainment and penned her first one at age six, titled Rabbit.

8. She's a big fan of the block-building video game Minecraft, which she plays with her son David.

9. In her late 20s, struggling as an underemployed single mom after a failed marriage, Rowling went through a period of clinical depression. Her experiences with this later inspired her descriptions of the soul-stealing Dementors introduced in the third Potter book.

11. Her net worth is estimated to be around $1 billion U.S. In 2004, Forbes magazine declared her the first person to become a U.S.-dollar billionaire primarily through book writing.

12. Rowling's parents actually met on a train from King's Cross Station. Potter fans will recognize King's Cross as the magical gateway into the wizarding world.

13. On her writing style: "I am quite disciplined in my writing and do try to have a set working day, but I don't set myself targets of number of words to achieve."

14. The first print run of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was a mere 1,000 copies.

16. She wrote two companion books to the Harry Potter series in 2001: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages.

17. Rowling has a charitable heart and a funny bone. In 2009, she donated the proceeds of the two Potter companion books to Comic Relief  — a total estimated at over £17 million and counting.

18. She received an honourary degree from Harvard University in 2008, where she gave a stirring commencement speech, which you can watch below.

19. Only one Harry Potter character is named after a real person — Natalie McDonald, who was a young Canadian girl who wrote to Rowling shortly before she died of cancer.

21. Her first adult book, The Casual Vacancy, was published in 2012.

22.The Casual Vacancy was adapted into a TV three-part miniseries. It aired in early 2015 on BBC One and HBO.

23. Rowling has over 14 million Twitter followers. She regularly communicates with fans and even gets into arguments over comments or behaviour she disagrees with.

24. In 2015, Rowling came to the defense of tennis star Serena Williams on Twitter when some one posted a sexist comment about Williams' physique. She has also called out Rupert Murdoch for making Islamophobic comments.

25. You know you've become an icon when you make a guest appearance on The Simpsons. Rowling was animated into the long-running comedy series in 2003, in an episode in which the family visits the U.K.

26. Rowling founded the international children's organization Lumos, whose mission is to "support the 8 million children in institutions worldwide to regain their right to a family life and to end the institutionalization of children."

27. In March 2015, Rowling received the British Red Cross Humanity Award for her charitable work and advocacy for humanitarian causes. The award honours prominent philanthropists and humanitarians whose work has changed people's lives around the world.

28. In 2015, Lumos won the overall Charity of the Year award at the U.K. Charity Awards.

29. In 2010, when J.K. Rowling turned 45 — the same age her mother was when she died of multiple sclerosis — Rowling donated £10 million to the University of Edinburgh to found a clinic in her mother's name. The Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic opened in January 2013.

31. Due to the popularity of the books, Quidditch has become an actual sport with teams at many universities and its own world cup tournament.

32. On May 8, 2012, Rowling was granted the Freedom of the City of London, a traditional ceremony normally reserved for royalty and heads of state. The first recorded Freedom was presented in 1237.

33. In 1982, she took the entrance exams for Oxford but was not accepted. She ended up studying French at Exeter, a university with a reputation for being "frantically posh," as Rowling puts it.

34. Early in her career, she worked as a Francophone Africa researcher for Amnesty International in London.

36. Rowling had significant input into the film adaptations of the Harry Potter series, which became the second highest-grossing movie series in cinema history. She consulted on the film scripts and later joined the operation as a producer.

37. What a ride it's been with the Harry Potter franchise... literally. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is comprised of Universal Studios theme parks in Orlando, Hollywood and Osaka, Japan

38. British comedians French & Saunders created a send-up sketch of the second movie called Harry Potter and the Secret Chamberpot of Azerbaijan for Comic Relief in 2003.

39. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a play based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, premiered in the summer of 2016 at the Palace Theatre in London. The show premiered on Broadway in 2018 and is set for more productions around the world.

41. She says she wrote under a pseudonym because "I was yearning to go back to the beginning of a writing career in this new genre, to work without hype or expectation and to receive totally unvarnished feedback."

42. Her secret identity was revealed on Twitter a few months after she published her first book under the Galbraith name. Rowling sued the people who leaked the information and won her case. She donated the damages she was awarded to charity.

43. Career of Evil  is the third book in the series featuring private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott. The first two books are titled The Cuckoo's Calling and The Silkworm.

44. Rowling and her second husband, Dr. Neil Murray, live in Edinburgh with their children. They were married on Dec. 26, 2001.

46. Harry Potter has inspired more than 600,000 pieces of Harry Potter fan fiction, a total that increases by at least a thousand stories a week.

47. In 2007, Rowling was a runner-up in Time's annual Person of the Year issue (after Russia's Vladmir Putin).

48. Rowling has three children. Her oldest daughter is named Jessica Arantes (from her first marriage), her son is David Murray and her youngest is Mackenzie Murray (born in 2005).

49. The names of the houses at Hogwarts were originally written on a barf bag!

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