J.K. Rowling at Raincoast Books
Transcribed by the HP Galleries
Raincoast Books (RB): Why did you want to write Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them?
J.K. Rowling (JKR): They are two titles that appear in the novels – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a book that Harry buys to go to Hogwarts, so it’s one of his school textbooks, and Quidditch Through the Ages is a library title. I always write more than I need for the books, so bits of them were just written for my own fun. So when Comic Relief asked me to write something ,I thought I would just love to write them. I just thought it would be so much fun, and I was completely correct. It was more fun than I’ve had writing the others.
RB: How did these books come about?
JKR: I got a letter from Richard Curtis, who started Comic Relief, saying, “Would you consider writing us a short story?” And then he cunningly said something like, “I’m sure you won’t. We’ll still love your books even if you don’t but just thought we’d ask.” Which is a very clever way of asking someone to do something. But I didn’t really need much persuasion [because] I have always supported Comic Relief, and I think they do fantastic work, so I wrote back and said, “Yes, but I’m not good at short stories, particularly not short Harry stories. I tend to ramble on, so how would it be if I wrote a couple of the titles that appear by title in the novels?” So that’s how it all started. And I decided to do two just because I had two in my head, and I couldn’t really decide between Fantastic Beasts and Quidditch, so I thought, “We’ll do them both.”
RB: In the UK, almost all the money raised is going to Comic Relief (UK). Is the same thing happening in other countries, where Comic Relief is not so well known?
JKR: Yes, they will be happening in other countries. Money raised outside Britain will be going into an international fund to help children in some of the poorest countries in the world, and it’s been absolutely miraculous that everyone who would usually take a cut from the production of a book to gave their services for free. So almost all the money from the books will be going into these funds.
RB: When people buy the book, how much money will be going to charity?
JKR: Everyone who would usually take a cut from the book is giving their services for free, and they’re donating what would’ve been their proceeds to Comic Relief, which means booksellers, paper suppliers, publishers, and my royalties… everything will be going to Comic Relief. Over 80% of the cover price will be going to Comic Relief.
RB: How much money are you hoping to raise?
JKR: As much as possible. Loads. Millions and millions. The important thing to remember is that for every book bought it will make a difference, a real difference in someone’s life, someone living in poverty. So the important thing to remember is that by buying one book, parting with your pocket money you will make a real difference to someone probably of your age living elsewhere in the world.
RB: What do you like most about Comic Relief UK?
JKR: Lots of things I like about Comic Relief. They have a Golden Pound principal, which means that every pound that’s given to them, or any money that’s given to them, will go directly to the causes involved. And it’s fun. There is something wonderful about the idea that laughter should be used to combat real tragedy and poverty and suffering, and it just is the most wonderful thing.
RB: Did the books take you a long time to write?
JKR: Not a very long time; I wrote them right after I’d finished Book 4, so compared to Book 4, which as you probably know is a very, very long book, they didn’t take long at all.
RB: One of them has extra stuff written in it by Harry. What’s all that about?
JKR: That’s Harry and Ron graffiti-ing the book, as you do to your schoolbooks. You do doodle on them; I always wrote all over mine. Teachers reading this will not be happy that I’m saying it, but you do, don’t you? So they’ve just scribbled things on them and said rude things in them, the name of their favorite Quidditch team, and stuff in the book.
RB: Can you tell me where and when Quidditch was invented?
JKR: Quidditch started in the 11th century at a place called Queerditch Marsh, which you probably won’t find marked on maps. But obviously that’s because wizards have made the place unplottable (which means you can’t plot it on a map). Originally it was quite a crude game played on broomsticks, and over the subsequent two centuries they added more balls until it became the game we know now.
RB: Why do they have four balls?
JKR: They started off with only one ball – the Quaffle, which is the ball you use for goal scoring. Then there was the addition of the Bludgers to make things a bit more interesting, and finally you’ve got the Golden Snitch. The story about the Golden Snitch is so long and convoluted you will have to buy the book to find out.
RB: Is Quidditch just as popular as it is in England all around the world?
JKR: It’s popular nearly everywhere but not so much in the Far East [because] they prefer the flying carpet to the broomstick, so it’s a real minority sport over there. But in most other places it’s fairly popular. The US… they have their own magical game, but again, you have to buy the books to find out about it!
RB: Which is the best national team?
JKR: At the moment, Bulgaria [is] pretty good. Ireland [is] very good, and Peru, surprisingly, [is] also very good.
RB: What do you most like about Quidditch?
JKR: That would probably be the violence.
RB: I hope you’re not going to turn violent on me!
JKR: It’s too early in the morning for that.
RB: How many beasts are there in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them?
JKR: There are 75, but that’s not including the ten different species of dragon. So that would be 84 if you counted them.
RB: Are they all dangerous?
JKR: No. They range from very dull, like Flobberworms, which just sit there and don’t do anything particularly interesting, right up to Quintapeds, which are very, very vicious creatures.
RB: What is the most dangerous beast?
JKR: Well, dragons. You don’t want to mess with a dragon, obviously. Then you have things like Acromantulas, which Harry has already met in Book 2, but he didn’t know it was an Acromantula when he met it. I’m not going to say anymore because you have to buy the book! Then there’s a Lethifold, which is the thing I would least like to be attacked by, which I think is quite a sinister creature. It slides under doors at night and suffocates its prey. So personally that would be my worst one.
RB: What is the most venomous beast?
JKR: You don’t want to be bitten by a Doxy, which is a kind of biting fairy, and probably wise not to be pinched by a Mackled Malaclaw either [because] it makes you very unlucky after you’ve been pincered!
RB: Which is your favorite beast?
JKR: I would most like to have a phoenix if I could choose.
RB: Why’s that?
JKR: They have all sorts of interesting properties, which I would like. They’re also very beautiful, not that I’ve ever seen one; they’re very shy. Yes, I’d like a phoenix most.
RB: Hagrid is always trying to keep beasts that are dangerous. Are there any that are safe?
JKR: Yes, there are quite a few that are safe, but Hagrid would just consider them very dull. For him the whole thing is overcoming something that could kill him. Puffskeins are a popular wizarding pet. They’re these big, fluffy, yellow balls of fur [that] don’t really do much until they get hungry, and then this long tentacle comes out and goes snaking through the house, looking for food. One of its favorite foods is bogies. It likes to put its tentacle up people’s noses and suck out their bogies, which makes it very popular with wizard children.
RB: Could Harry have a pet dragon?
JKR: You can’t domesticate a dragon whatever Hagrid thinks. That’s simply impossible. So no. He’s got more sense. He might get a different pet at some point, but I’m saying no more at this moment.
RB: Has Harry’s success shocked you, or did you always suspect he would catch on like this?
JKR: It’s really shocked me. No, I didn’t suspect this. I thought I would be lucky to get published. I knew that I’d written quite a long book for people of 8+. That’s why publishers kept turning me down; they kept telling me the first book was too long. Little did they know what was coming in Book 4, obviously! I just didn’t think it would be very commercial. I really liked it, obviously, and I had enough faith to keep trying to get published, but to say, “This is a bit of a surprise” is a bit of an understatement.
RB: When you write about Harry, is he based on any boy you know?
JKR: No, he’s not; Harry is entirely imaginary. He just came out of a part of me. Ron was never supposed to be based on anyone, but the longer I wrote Ron the more I realized that he was a lot like one of my oldest friends, a man named Sean. The longer I wrote Ron the more I realized he was a bit Sean-ish. Hermione is most consciously based on someone, and that person is me when I was younger. She’s a bit of an exaggeration of me, but that’s where she came from.
RB: What parts of the success of Harry Potter have you most enjoyed?
JKR: The first time I ever had to do a reading, which was to about four people… in fact, so few people turned up at this bookshop that the staff felt really sorry for me and came and stood around and listened as well. I was shaking so badly I kept missing my line. I was terrified. But since then, I have found readings to be the most fantastic experience. I think partly because I was writing the books in secret for so long. For five years I was the only person who read a word of it, knew all these things about Harry’s world and his friends, and so the experience of sitting in front of all these hundreds of people and hearing them laugh, answering their questions, and they all know my characters… the novelty still hasn’t worn off, and I absolutely love it, so I would say, “giving readings.” The writing is my favorite part; that’s the part I love above all else, but part of being famous is you go out, and you meet your readers, and that is incredibly satisfying.
RB: What parts have you least enjoyed?
JKR: Journalists banging on my front door! Don’t like that at all.
RB: What do most children say when they realise you’re the one who wrote the Harry Potter books?
JKR: The funniest ones are the people [who] don’t say anything at all, and they stand there staring at me, and their mothers are prodding them in the back, saying, “Go on! Tell her how much you like the book!” I like those ones.
RB: Can you tell me anything about Harry Potter 5?
JKR: Well, it will be a papery object with pages inside. Harry will appear in it. The title is Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and I think that’s as far as I’m prepared to go at the moment.
RB: Has Harry ever used the Internet?
JKR: No. He’s not allowed near Dudley’s computer, and Dudley’s the only one who’s got a computer. He gets beaten up if he goes too near the keyboard. So no, he’s never used the Internet. I use it a lot but not Harry. Wizards don’t really need to use the Internet, but that’s something that you’ll find out later on in the series. They have a means of finding out what goes on in the outside world that I think is more fun than the Internet. Could anything be more fun than the Internet? Yes!
RB: What would you say to children is special about the two books?
JKR: I would say that you will be doing real magic by buying these books; you will have in your power by parting with £2.50, or whatever it might be in your particular country, to transform other children’s lives because the money you hand over… over 80% of it will go to the neediest children in the poorest parts of the world. So there is probably never a better thing to spend your pocket money on.
RB: Will people in countries where English is not the main language be able to buy these books?
JKR: Yes, they’re going to be available all over the world in translation.