I was a single-mother, jobless, diagnosed with depression, barely able to keep the lights on or feed my daughter. I am now one of the most successful, and wealthy women in the world, whose billionaire status was stripped after donating ‘too much’ to charity.
I have been named ‘Most Influential Woman in Britain’, and once upon a time, conceived a story now worth 25 billion dollars.
I was born on July 31, 1965, in Yate, Gloucestershire, England. My father was an aircraft engineer, and my mother, a science technician. I always surrounded myself with stories and lived in books being your average bookworm. To this day, my favorite book remains Jessica Mitford’s autobiography. While other kids played sports, went shopping, or saw movies, I was at home quietly reading everything Mitford had to offer. She became my heroine – one who followed her heart to the very end.
One of my earliest memories was my love for writing. I wrote my first book titled ‘Rabbit’ when I was 6 years old. My favorite were fantasy stories for my sister where we were both particularly interested in the fantastical where worlds wherein the extraordinary hid among the ordinary. Primary school was unexciting to me and was especially strict. As a way to escape, writing became my distraction. But, as much as I tried to escape, tragedy struck when my mother was cursed with an aggressive form of multiple sclerosis – an unforgiving neurological disease that impairs motor control and cognition. There was - and still is - no cure. I felt helpless. But, I believed if I could achieve my dream as a writer, so too would my other dreams come true – to see mum healthy and happy. And so, I wrote believing – hoping – it would eventually fight off her disease.
My dream school was Oxford University, but when I was rejected, I enrolled at the University of Exeter. I eventually graduated and continued to write stories while working at a number of jobs I thought would be ‘only temporary’ as I pursued a career as an author. Although I wanted to be a writer, I felt like a drifter. At this point, all I had were two adult novels, which never saw the light of day. Family and friends began to worry about my career, trying to convince me that I should ‘let go’ of writing, and focus on getting a ‘real job’ because there was no money in writing. I was torn. But suddenly, like a bolt of lightning, in 1990, on an excruciating train ride from Manchester to London, a curious story of a young boy attending a school of wizardry came fully formed. But before I could complete the book’s fourth chapter, my mother’s final chapter had sadly concluded; she had passed away.
My single greatest regret was that I never told her of my work as I was ashamed of what she might have thought. Her death devastated me and I quickly left the country trying to run away from all of my devastation. I moved to Portugal where I taught English and for a time, I figured this is what life had in store for me. I was content and things began to pick-up. I found love! Within three years, I married. Not long after, I gave birth to my daughter, Jessica after Jessica Mitford my favorite author. Sadly, just four months after her birth, Jessica’s father and I separated. I didn't know where or what to do. I was lost and decided to return to Edinburgh. My marriage was dissolved, I was a single mother and now, I was homeless with little to no money. In the eyes of many and myself, I was a failure. I was the person others would point to and say, “Work hard or you’ll end up like her.” It didn't take long until I retreated into a certain numb, cold, and unhappy state. I fell into a depression.
Looking at my daughter, I felt fear. Fear that she would die because I was a failure. Increasingly, I became exhausted of all hope and peace, consumed by fear and the judgments of others, I felt as if a dark figure was slowly sucking the life out of me. Soon, I felt like there was no reason for me to live anymore. I became afraid of living and contemplated suicide. I could not care less about myself. But fortunately for me, I still had Jessica and staring into my daughter's eyes, I knew I could not leave her an orphan. Clinically diagnosed with depression, I walked into the small clinic, tears falling with the pen as I signed my name, and began to heal. I attended sessions regularly and only after a period of counseling, I realized that not only did I have a daughter to feed, but now, a book to write.
Still homeless, I began writing on an old typewriter and managed to finish a manuscript of an entire story. I submitted the book to twelve publishing houses and was rejected by every. single. one. Feeling like a failure once more, I figured my 'career' as a writer was beyond possibility, and so I reluctantly accepted a teaching post. Barely able to feed Jessica and myself, my head was barely above water. Suddenly, as if by magic, a publishing house Bloomsbury contacted me about the book I had submitted a year earlier. I was ecstatic! My imagination ran wild as I would finally become an author. The editors encouraged me to maintain a day job as there was apparently little money in writing children’s books. But that didn't matter to me because, for the first time since childhood, I felt like I was entering a new world. Shortly after, I was granted £8,000 by the Scottish Arts Council who became one of the first in my life to earnestly encourage me to continue writing. For once, everything fell into place.
In June 1997, the book I had worked on for 7 years was published with an initial 1,000 copies. Most would be in children's libraries, but I couldn’t be happier. To my surprise, the book about a boy wizard – my book – won an award: The Nestle Smarties Book Prize and within three months, it won the British Book Award for Children’s Book of the Year. The novel’s rights were soon claimed by Scholastic Inc., the world’s largest publishing house. I nearly fainted when I heard the news, and I only wished mum had been here to hear it with me. I took this as a sign and began writing full-time eager to finish my book series. Well received and quickly building a fan base, within 3 years, I released another 3 novels continuing the story of the boy who lived; Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone.
Three more books, a number of awards and records broken, the seventh and final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released on July 21st, 2007. Although the story of a young boy attending a school of wizardry had come to its conclusion, it gained a global following being translated into 65 languages with an estimated worth of $15 billion dollars. Eight films based on the core Harry Potter series have since been released pushing me to become the world's first billionaire author. But I haven't forgotten the tough journey that led me here. Since then, I have donated to the creation of a new Centre for Regenerative Medicine at Edinburgh University, in honor of my mother, and much of my fortune to providing welfare, giving back to those who need help like I once did.
I no longer have to worry if I have enough money to pay the bills nor do I have the anxieties of telling strangers that I followed my childhood passion and became an author. I am still one of the top-earning authors in the world, but like Harry Potter, living a happy healthy life amongst friends and family is all the wealth anyone really needs. Sometimes, things just never go the way they should. Sometimes we find ourselves in the most difficult situations lost and confused in a dark place. And sometimes, you question whether things will ever get better. But as we all board a train, unsure of where you are headed, you just have to trust in yourselves that by the end of your journey you would have made it to your destination. I never got to tell my mum that I was an author. And I never got to share my stories with her. But I like to believe that she is my greatest fan.
My name is Joanne Rowling. You know me as J.K. Rowling and I am the author of the Harry Potter book series.