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J.K. Rowling Speaks Out on Writing Real, Gritty Characters

Many readers of YABR will know about Goodreads but did you know that users had the opportunity to ask The Casual Vacancy author J.K. Rowling one question? The winning user asked Rowling about why she wrote a gritty reality in The Casual Vacancy instead of a fantasy like Harry Potter.

Some of you might not want to read her exhaustive answer so in summary Rowling writes that she felt her characters are all trapped by circumstances, whether forced upon them or created by themselves, and draws comparison to the fact that most adults feel like they are trapped and thus unable to change their lives once they are stuck in a situation. She goes into detail with a few characters so if you’ve read and managed to get all the way through The Casual Vacancy read the full question and answer below! (Beware of spoilers.)

winning question


Recap of J.K. Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter’ Webcast

SO much J.K. Rowling news lately I feel like Young Adult Book Reviewer has become Harry Potter Rowling News! But I just couldn’t let this news story pass because it is filled with goodies that all Potter fans will love. If you happened to catch Jo’s webcast with Scholastic yesterday you will have heard what characters she enjoyed writing the most, the moment she realised she was famous, the Pottermore house she is in and so much more. Here’s a recap of what she said:

-Jo says some things in the books wouldn’t have happened without living in Edinburgh. Names and street names came out of the books. The town also has great coffee shops and is respectful of her privacy.

– Jo says she’s come to understand the appeal of Harry Potter over the years. People fell in love with the characters, and the idea of the hidden world was so appealing. Fundamentally it was the characters that made people fall in love.

– Jo always wanted to be a writer in her heart of hearts. She’d always been writing up stories.

– Jo had great teacher role models who inspired her.

– The first sentence Jo wrote in Potter (in Philosopher’s Stone), you saw what happened in Godric’s Hollow. In the final version, you don’t know what happens until much later in the story.

– One of Jo’s favorite moments from the books was Luna’s appearance, the Graveyard scene in Goblet of Fire, and some small moments: “stupid jingles that Peeves says” were fun to do.

– The second American tour Jo did was “unbelievable” – she can remember traveling in a car towards her first signing and there were blocks of people queuing. She thought a sale was going on, but they were actually in line for Jo.

– Jo reads an excerpt from Sorcerer’s Stone: Harry meeting Ollivander.

– She does a great Hagrid voice!

– On the trio’s changing relationship: “Some writers say character is plot, to a large extent I think they’re right. I gave Harry two very different friends. In some ways Ron is more human than Harry. Ron is there as a maybe slightly more real boy with his faults and flaws. But he’s always there by Harry’s side. Ron’s one problem is insecurity. He feels he’s not as good as his brothers, he comes from a poor family, and then makes friends with the most famous boy in the Wizarding World. I did know those things about Ron from the start.”

“Then with Hermione. Harry is a boy who needs fun and gets that from Ron. Hermione is all about knowing stuff. I give him these two friends who brings him things he needs. Hermione is very clever, she knows a lot of stuff and where to find a lot of stuff. Hermione learns to loosen up quite a lot. Hermione learns that there is more to life than book learning. So, I did know these things even from the first book. I needed to because I would’ve run out of steam quite early.”

– The journey is about more than magic. “What they really need to learn about themselves, and of course each other, but self knowledge is key. When we get to Deathly Hallows, what the Hallows are and what they represent tells you something about the kind of person you are. By the time we get to that point of the story, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are equipped to handle them.”

– On how much of the characters are within Jo: “There’s an argument that an author is the characters they write. Harry, Ron, and Hermione absolutely – I am in all three of them. Hermione is an exaggeration of myself at that age. I was the bookish girl, and finding books would’ve been how I answered a challenge when I was in school.”

– One of my favorite ever comments from a very early reader, in 1999, about 10 years old, he said to me: “Harry doesn’t often ever know what’s going on, and nor do I.” That reader was semi-joking, but he meant it at the same time. We all had the feeling of, ‘I’m not sure what’s going on.’ We all felt that at school.”

– How did she come up with Pottermore: “The initial idea was, it’s time. People were asking for eBooks. It felt like it was the right time to do it. Then I wanted it to be more than that, because as you say, the internet offers amazing possibilities. I saw it as a way to create an environment where you could see extra tidbits, we can go inside illustrations. It’s making a book – it’s putting a book in that world. It’s still a reading experience – you still need to be able to read the books. But I was excited that we could put a really good reading experience online. I think it’s important to say that this is completely free. But the REALLY exciting thing for me – again, for free – is I had a way to put extra material online. It was a way of making sure any fan could access it. If I loved a series of books, to be able to learn more about a character – it’d be a great experience.”

– Pulling things out of boxes or inventing more for Pottermore is just fun. It’s a wonderful way to stay connected to the world. Has a character come back and surprised me? No, but I recently completed a biography for Remus Lupin. In writing his biography, even though it was in my head and I had never written it down, I found myself getting very upset – that’s all I can say because I don’t want to give anything away. I can’t say anymore than that. I felt very connected to the character.

A look at the Knight Bus in Pottermore (presumably in Prisoner of Azkaban) was exclusively revealed. (See above)

– Jo revealed which house she was sorted in in Pottermore – Gryffindor! But she also boldly stood up for Hufflepuff students, saying that “Hufflepuff is my favorite house in some ways. There comes a point in the book where each house has a chance to rise up to a certain challenge [she didn’t want to spoil it]. The Slytherins decided they’d rather not play, the Ravenclaws – some play, some won’t, but the Hufflepuffs stay to fight. The Gryffindors – compromised of lots of full hearty and show off people. The Hufflepuffs stayed for a different reason. They didn’t want to show off, they weren’t being reckless, that’s the essence of Hufflepuff.”

– Jo says her next book is likely to be a book for children. She’s hesitant to commit herself fully because she still wants the freedom to decide.

Jo Rowling loves Jo March in NY Times Interview

One of the wonderful aspects of a new book being published by an author is the fascinating facts we can learn about them through their promotional tour. Today another great interview with Rowling has surfaced from the New York Times. When the New York Times asked J.K. Rowling, “Did you have a favorite character or hero as a child? Do you have a literary hero as an adult?” she admitted that her “favorite literary heroine is Jo March. It is hard to overstate what she meant to a small, plain girl called Jo, who had a hot temper and a burning ambition to be a writer.” I’m sure many readers, concur with Rowling’s favourite character, especially me since I’m also a Jo!

The interview is filled with interesting tidbits but one other piece of information I found intriguing was Rowling admitting to not reading, ““chick lit,” fantasy or science fiction”. While I’m not surprised about the chick lit, I am surprised that she doesn’t read fantasy, given that she is the author of one of the most incredible fantasy series ever written.

Visit the New York Times to read the full interview.

Rowling’s ‘Casual Vacancy’ Runs Third in Print Debut Race

The past week and a half has been filled with J.K. Rowling news and here’s another piece to wet your appetite. Rowling’s new book The Casual Vacancy is not the biggest print debut of the year. Shock! Or not?

No Easy Day by Mark Owen, one of the Navy Seals who killed Osama Bin Laden last year holds first position on the list. His book sold 274,000 physical copies.

In second place is E.L. James’ second book in the Fifty Shades trilogy Fifty Shades Darker. It sold 176,000 copies.

In third is J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy which sold 156,000 copies. In fourth and fifth place are Fifty Shades Freed and Fifty Shades of Grey with 147,000 and 136,000 books sold respectively.

If worldwide eBook numbers are added The Casual Vacancy has sold over 500,000 copies across eBook and physical platforms. The above numbers came from a Publisher’s Weekly article examining the success of physical books in the age of digital.

The problem with these numbers is that it does not seem to include pre-orders which makes this list strangely incomplete. I wonder if Rowling’s book would come out on top. After all the Fifty Shades books were all printed and sold at the same time leaving little room for pre-ordered copies. No Easy Day however would have had many pre-orders.

Details for J.K. Rowling NYC ‘Casual Vacancy’ Event Revealed

If you were one of the lucky few to get tickets to J.K. Rowling’s New York City The Casual Vacancy event next week then you might be interested in the following details. The Lincoln Center has announced an itinerary as well as a set of guidelines for attendees.

The email states:

We are thrilled that you will join us for J.K. Rowling’s only U.S. event for THE CASUAL VACANCY. After the on stage reading, interview and Q&A, J.K. Rowling will sign one copy of The Casual Vacancy only per person. Please see below for the program and the signing procedure which will be strictly enforced. Thank you so much and we look forward to seeing you on the 16th.

7:30pm: DOORS OPEN
-Opening remarks and reading
-Ann Patchett interviews J.K. Rowling on stage
-J.K. Rowling answers previously submitted/selected audience questions

In an effort to accommodate every ticketholder in a swift and timely fashion, we ask that all guests read and understand the following SIGNING GUIDELINES:

-Guests will remain in their seats until their row is called to the signing area.
-Once guests are called to the signing line, each guest will receive one copy of THE CASUAL VACANCY.
-J.K. Rowling will sign that one copy per person with no dedications.
-Guests are not permitted to bring any other books or materials to the signing line.
-Without exception, no other books or materials will be signed by J.K. Rowling at this event.
-Guests can take photos while J.K. Rowling is signing, but no posed photos will be permitted.

We appreciate your cooperation and look forward to a spectacular evening.

I will jealously keep up to date with the event via twitter dreaming of JK signing my copy of The Casual Vacancy but for all of you lucky attendees it sounds like these measures guarantee everybody a moment with the Queen of Potter herself. Too bad she won’t sign other items! I’m sure many people were planning on getting their Potter books signed.

Quote of the Week

“You must accept the reality of other people. You think that reality is up for negotiation, that we think it’s whatever you say it is. You must accept that we are as real as you are; you must accept that you are not God.”
― J.K. RowlingThe Casual Vacancy

J.K. Rowling Responds to ‘Casual Vacancy’ Criticism and Talks Future Projects at Cheltenham Literature Festival

J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy has been received with mixed reviews over the past week due to its controversial sexual, political and social aspects. While promoting the book at the Cheltenham Literature Festival yesterday, Rowling responded and disagreed with the dissenting opinions.

The Telegraph who attended the event says that Rowling claimed critics “misrepresented” her social views after being “accused of hypocrisy in ridiculing the middle-class.”

“I am not a particularly thick-skinned person,” she said. “It is true that a lot of what I am looking at in the book are certainly middle-class issues, but then I think that’s fair and I am well-qualified as I am from the middle class, which I can empathise with. But I think some critics have misrepresented my views as more extreme or black and white than they really are. I don’t think I am evangelical in my work.”

Later in the event, Rowling said that her next book will most likely be for children slightly younger than the Harry Potter audience: “I have a lot of things on my laptop currently, including a couple of things for children – for a slightly younger age group than Harry Potter was aimed at – which are nearly done and will, I think, be the next thing I publish. I have run them by my children and they seem to like them which is always a good sign.”

“I also have some ideas for another book for adults but it isn’t too far on [in development].”

You can also read YABR’s review of The Casual Vacancy here.






[Review] The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Published: 27 September 2012

Publisher: Little, Brown Company

Edition: Australian Hardback

Summary: “When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?
The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults.”


First there is something that you must know, before you go out to read The Casual Vacancy, and that is that this book is an adult book. Not just an adult book that you will find in the general fiction area of your local bookstore or library but an adult book containing adult content that you would not want your thirteen-year-old sister reading. J.K. Rowling has set aside her magic wand and delved into the world of a small town named Pagford where the poor expect a drastically reduced life expectancy and where the rich, or rather ‘comfortably affluent’ live for the challenge of being better than their neighbour.

Upon opening the book I was a little thrown by the difference in style. No matter how many times reviewers and Rowling forewarned us to expect an adult novel from the greatest children’s book author of all time, actually reading this magnificently diverse book was a different kettle of fish altogether. I am 22 years old, about the average age of the first generation of Harry Potter fans, and therefore in the grouping of people who went early to the bookstore on Septermber 27th and immediately bought a copy. Having read the book in two days I can say with absolute certainty that if you are in your early 20s you can read this book and take some powerful messages from it.If you are younger then probably not, if you are older then you should give it a try too!

I can’t say that I enjoyed it exactly. I would liken it to reading a biography about a person struck by some terrible disease or misfortune. You don’t enjoy books like that but you find them interesting and worth reading because they say something about life and the human body. Essentially The Casual Vacancy drew me in because it offers up a truthful piece of our existence on this earth. I don’t and have never lived in a small English town but we have all known our fair share of the Mollisons and the Princes. I was particularly struck by the character of Simon Prince, who I believe is someone we would all not admit to knowing in real life but probably do. The tragic thing about this book is that while these characters seem to live dull, absurdly selfish lives they ring true to the kind of mundane existence many of us lead. If we are not trying to be better than our neighbour, we are trying to be better than our friends, or family or workmates. I can’t tell you how many fully grown adults I know that consciously or subconsciously spend every hour of their day gloating about themselves, trying to do things to make people believe they are ‘coming up the social ladder’ and always offering up a story that can beat the one you just told. We are all guilty of this and Rowling artfully weaves through a host of characters who are guilty of many things of which conceit is one.

Unlike Harry Potter, The Casual Vacancy deals with sexuality in an upfront and explicit manner that I found rather refreshing. Sexual acts and desires are so often hidden away in books and films because it is not considered ‘appropriate’ but most of us are sexual beings who have desires from teenagehood and sometimes earlier. The sexual awakening of teenagers is a topic that I think everybody will relate to when reading this book, wondering perhaps, ‘How did J.K. Rowling know the thoughts I had when I was fifteen?’. Drugs and the affect they have on disadvantaged families is one of the strongest messages that you will take from the book. Characters such as Krystal and her mother will have you swinging from feelings of disgust to feelings of pity. The exploitation and dreadful existence of the poor and drug abused lead to some tragic endings that will leave you in tears within the last 50 pages of the book. The sad truth is that stories such as Krystal’s are unfolding every day.

I can’t say that it wasn’t a struggle to get through the book, although I did finish within 48 hours, it is slow-going. The characters are all flawed and it is hard to care when the reader doesn’t have a ‘hero’ to cling onto. But for those in the process of reading and thinking of giving up, I urge you to hold on until the last 50 pages because the events that transpire will make the journey worth it.

‘The Casual Vacancy’ Tops New York Times and USA Today Best Seller Lists

The controversial new book by J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame has done what I think we all expected it to do – debut at No.1 on the New York Times Best Seller’s List. While the lists haven’t been updated online yet, thanks to Hypable, we know that Rowling’s adult novel, The Casual Vacancy has sold 375,000 copies across hardback and digital formats in the United States and 124,000 copies in the United Kingdom. To be honest I was expecting the numbers to be higher but it has only been a week since it’s release and these numbers do not count the one million pre-orders the book had before its release.

Rowling also made it to the top of the USA Today best seller list, a spot she has held  71 times before with the Harry Potter books.

I will be reviewing The Casual Vacancy very soon. Please be warned though, that The Casual Vacancy is neither a childrens or Young Adult novel. It is an adult novel in every sense of the definition ‘adult’. Think M15+ in Australia or NC17 in America. You get the picture. Don’t give this book to your favourite little 13 year old cousin who just read the Harry Potter books last year. I will cover the maturity levels and Rowling’s entry into adult territory in a G rated review.



J.K. Rowling is Coming to America!

20120827-010030.jpgJ.K. Rowling is coming to America! The Harry Potter author plans to make her one and only in-person appearance in the U.S. to promote her first novel for adults.

She will discuss “The Casual Vacancy” at New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center on Oct. 16. The venue can seat around 1,100 people.

Little, Brown and Company announced Wednesday that Rowling will be interviewed on stage by fellow author Ann Patchett and will take “select” audience questions. Rowling also will sign copies of her new book for each audience member. Booksellers will have access to a live web cast.

Tickets will be sold on a first-come, first-serve basis, starting Sept. 10. Prices range from $44 for phone purchases, $43 for online and $37 at the Jazz at Lincoln Center box office.

Can you imagine how crazy fast these tickets will sell? May the odds be ever in your favor!