Meeting JK Rowling

A Frances and Lynne Adventure
The Times Cheltenam Literary Festival
6 October 2012

You have to know your characters from the inside out.
JK Rowling at the Times Literary Festival
**Please note that JK most likely said this in a much more eloquent manner, but we are recalling her words from memory**

For Frances’ birthday in August, Lynne bought us both tickets to see JK Rowling at the Cheltenam Literary Festival. JK was going to talk about her new book for adults, The Casual Vacancy. We both picked up the book once it was released and started reading it. Frances only managed to read about 80 pages, and Lynne read over 100 pages. Although neither of us finished it, we had some idea of the style and content of JK’s new book.

Frances drove to Cheltenham, which went pretty smoothly considering how lost we got travelling to Bath to see Garth Nix. We did get lost, but this was mostly around Rugby. Considering that Frances lives in Rugby, this probably shouldn’t have happened! We made it to the racecourse in Cheltenham and parked. We were both dead excited once we got there, but we had a little time to wait, so Lynne taught Frances how to knit.

We made quick detours before the talk and befriended the staff selling books for the signing, which helped us later at the Benedict Cumberbatch event. Also we scoped out where the book signing would be happening, as we only had an hour in between our events. Then we headed into the auditorium and sat down. We were a fair distance from the stage, but there was a large screen projecting what was happening on stage. We couldn’t wait to see the author that had written the books we’d read while growing up. When JK walked on stage, she looked stylish in black trousers, a pinkish shirt and a jacket. She was also wearing very high heels. She was accompanied by her friend, James Runcie.

James began by asking JK where her inspiration came from for The Casual Vacancy. JK explained that she was interested in the smallest form of Government, the parish council, and how the small decisions made here can have big consequences for the people who live there.

The conversation turned to whether JK had purposefully tried to write a book that was completely different to Harry Potter. She said that she had not set out to do that, she had had many ideas, and this one had caught her interest the most. James pointed out that Barry (the character who creates the casual vacancy) rhymes with Harry, and that Robbie rhymes with Dobbie. JK laughed, and said that she had not intentionally done this, and considering all the names in Harry Potter, it wouldn’t he hard to find one that rhymed. James also asked whether Pagford, the fictional town in the book, is related to the town where she grew up. JK said that she does drawn on her experiences throughout life, so the ruins of an abbey overlooking the town in Pagford probably represents the church that overlooked the town where she grew up. She also said that she doesn’t purposefully pick people and put them into books, for example, she doesn’t see a woman and say ‘I’ll put her in the book.’ She said that you couldn’t do that because you know your characters much more than you could any other human being. We turned to each other and nodded at this point. This is something we have both found when writing our own novels.

While she touched on the subject of mortality, it was mostly a focus on her character Fats. She talked about how when her husband was reading the drafts, he mentioned feeling a bit guilty for liking Fats. But that certain of the scenes with Fats were very realistic, so much so that he had to ask JK how she knew what boys are like at that age? JK then went on to talk about how all the characters had their flaws but all of them had redeeming qualities or something more human about them; all except two of the characters, Simon and Obbo.

JK talked about how she thought about naming the book, Responsibility. How there is a political responsibility for the council, a collective responsibility for the community, responsibility for the family unit, and personal responsibility. She also fleetingly thought about using ‘What do we do with Crystal Weedon’ as the title of the book. She said that it is a big question for society. What do we do with all the Crystal Weedon’s in the country?

JK also read an excerpt from The Casual Vacancy. She stood at the podium and read a dinner party scene. JK did all the voices for the characters, and brought the scene to life. It was interesting to hear how she portrayed the voices of the characters, because she knows what they sound like.

When the event opened up for audience questions, we tried to sit still and listen. But we decided in the interest of time, wanting to get JK’s signature and not miss the next event, we went and joined the queue. We have to admit, we don’t think we missed anything, as most audience questions are more a reflection of that person (usually giving a long winded explanation of their life) than anything about the author. We were luck in that we made it into the main room, and were not too far from the front. We did not really talk with the people around us; it was not really that sort of crowd near us. It took about 45 minutes for us to make it to the signing table. During that time Lynne knitted, Frances held the bags. And we talked about books. Lynne also answered a question to Sky Arts for the Book Show (we have been unable to find any footage of this or anything to do with the book festival. If you see it please pass it on to us!).

Upon reaching the final turn of the line, we could clearly see how practiced JK was at all of this. We had to have the books open to the proper page, and a holographic sticker for authenticity was already placed in our books. We then had to hand our books to an assistant who passed the book to JK, and then another assistant would help hand it back to us. It was probably less than 15 seconds in front of her, and it felt even faster. But it was nice because JK made a point of looking up at everyone when she passed the book back. It might have been easy to misconstrue all of this for JK not caring about her fans, but we took it for what it was: there were almost 2000 people at her event, and most wanted a signature. She did her best to sign as many as she possibly could, which really showed us how much she valued all of us.

The few pictures we were able to take were right after we had had the books signed. Although Frances was able to snap a couple as she got her book signed. Overall though just being that close to this very famous woman was breathtaking. It was something that did not really sink in until we were driving home much later that night.

Final Verdict: A truly amazing woman who no matter what the critics say, loves and values her fans, and gives very eloquent interviews. Run and push small children out of the way to attend any event she does!

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