Last night my family and a few hundred other Bath folk enjoyed the inspiration that is JK Rowling for an hour or so. With big thanks to the Bath Literature Festival and its artistic director, James Runcie, the chap who made the documentary ‘JK Rowling, A Year in the Life.’
What I enjoy most about JK Rowling, apart from her experience of and belief in the redemptive power of love, is her passion for imagination. Yeah, but she is a writer. She is going to be passionate about imagination. Not so. A lot of writers are completely without imagination. And very rarely do they come with the awareness of the power of imagination beyond their craft.
JK Rowling said: “Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and, therefore, the foundation of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and relevetory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.”
And…”We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already. We have the power to imagine better.”
So it was a pleasure and a privilege to listen to her chat about her relationship to her craft, writing.
And my goodness does she put in the hours. She spent 18 years writing Harry Potter, which has over 200 characters. Then arrived a whole lot more characters for The Casual Vacancy. She knows the back story on all of them before she starts to write the story properly. Only Crystal in the Casual Vacancy arrived fully formed. All the others she has to work out. As she puts it: “You have to be willing to go through a lot of trees, a lot of trees if you are a writer.”
And the motivation? A mix of need, desire, compulsion and freedom.
“I write because of a burning desire to tell a story.”
“Writing is a place of freedom, always where I feel most free.”
“There is a click in my head and I have to write. It is almost compulsive.”
“I need the enforced loneliness of a writer. Some writers struggle with that. I need it.”
“Life to me is writing.”
I went along specifically to listen to her experience of writing her next book after 18 years with Harry Potter. I mean nothing can top that, surely? So how did she feel coming to write The Casual Vacancy? Did she have ‘second album’ syndrome?
“In knowing that nothing is ever going to top Harry Potter, that was like Beatlemania, I feel liberated. I could be all like ‘oooh I’ll never write anything like that again,’ but I’m not. How lucky am I that I don’t have to worry about paying the bills. I can write what ever I like now. I am finally free.” She is currently writing a new children’s story.
And as a bonus thrown in, it was comforting and surprising to hear her share: “As a writer you have to accept that bouts of self-loathing is part of it. Once you accept that, it is okay. I can’t count the amount of times I put Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone away for two months and then I’d get it out again and think, oh it’s alright.”
What can you say? JK Rowling is one committed writer.
Watch JK Rowling: A Year in the Life by James Runcie
If you haven’t seen this doco, it is worth watching alone for the moment JK Rowling returns to the flat in Leith where she was surviving on benefits, a single parent, clinically depressed, writing Harry Potter in Edinburgh cafes. It was here she turned her life around. As she walks in to what is now someone else’s bedroom she sees the Harry Potter books. She explains that she didn’t know back then that she would return 10 years later with a film crew, as a published author with a fairy tale resolution. Back then it was hard. That is quite some journey way beyond imagination that she has been on in between.