The Girl Who Lived
“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.” — Joanne
Joanne wrote fantasy stories at an early age and read them often to her sister, Dianne.
Things got complicated as a teenager. Her mother Anne was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and her father Peter was frightening at times. She did well in secondary school but was rejected from Oxford University. Undeterred, she completed her formal education at the University of Exeter while dreaming of becoming a novelist.
Joanne came up with the idea for her first novel on a delayed train ride from Manchester to London. The idea spurred her to write as soon as she got home. But life spun out of control when her mother passed away that same year. She was devastated.
Joanne moved to Portugal and taught English at night while continuing her writing during the day. She soon married and gave birth to a daughter named Jessica, but her husband quickly became abusive. She was forced to flee with her daughter to Edinburgh, Scotland with three chapters of her novel tucked in a suitcase.
Left with a broken marriage and no job, Joanne was forced into welfare. She filed for divorce and a restraining order after her estranged husband came looking for her. Life hit rock bottom.
Only seven years removed from University, Joanne saw her life as a complete failure. She suffered from clinical depression and entertained thoughts of suicide.
She later described her failure as “liberating,” allowing her to channel deep-seeded feelings of regret and loss into her writing. She finally completed the novel… about a boy who lived and became a wizard.
Twelve consecutive publishers rejected the manuscript. One finally gave her a shot with a limited run, but only after the daughter of its chairman read the first chapter and demanded the second one.
Joanne changed her name to J.K. Rowling with the book’s release. “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” quickly garnered awards and popularity. Those awards and sales in the UK led to a bidding war with American publishers for a U.S. release.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Each book broke records set by the previous one. In total, the series sold over 500 million copies and was translated to over 80 languages. The success of the print series led to a blockbuster movie franchise. All told, the Harry Potter franchise is estimated at over $15 billion today.
Rowling’s journey from rock bottom to meteoric success in the span of three years is truly astonishing. In that time, she became the world’s first billionaire author while capturing the hearts and imaginations of millions of children and their parents worldwide.
In her own words, “Anything is possible if you’ve got enough nerve.”