J.K. Rowling @ The Lincoln Center, NYC – 16th October, 2012

While promoting the release of her first “novel for Grown-ups,” J.K. Rowling took to the stage at the Lincoln Center in New York City for a conversation with writer Ann Patchett. As a huge fan of the Harry Potter novels, I’ll admit to being a little skeptical of this book, but after hearing Ms. Rowling discuss the story I’m quite excited to find the time to read it, and I’ll admit to tearing up a bit when she first took to the stage. Below are some of the highlights from the conversation, and a gallery of photos.

  • Rowling states the biggest challenge in writing The Casual Vacancy was the structure, as it was not determined before she started to write the work, and the point of view often changes from paragraph to paragraph. She states that, “For the reader not to realize how difficult [changing POV from paragraph to paragraph] was, that was the challenge.”
  • According to Rowling, there are two heroes in the book, Krystal and Sukhvinder. At this point Patchett proudly shows Rowling her next question, showing that those were the characters she’d guessed were Rowling’s heroes.
  • Talking about the story without spoiling it for those who haven’t yet read it is difficult for Rowling.
  • When Rowling and her family moved house two years ago, she took the opportunity to sort through, “the pit that was [her] office”, and placed notes for each Harry Potter book in separate boxes so her “precious materials” were sorted and safe.
  • Patchett states that she cannot call The Casual Vacancy Rowling’s “novel for adults,” because she owns a book store and they sell 50 Shades of Grey. To this, Rowling replies that what the two books have in common is that there is sex, only in her novel, no one enjoys it.
  • One of the first people to read the book had this reaction – “Bloody Hell,” which Rowling says is not the best reaction, so she prodded for her friend to be more specific.
  • The second hardest challenge she found while writing The Casual Vacancy was constantly trying to keep up tension through the book, without overbalancing.
  • There were a couple scenes in the book that she dreaded writing, one being what happened to Krystal, but she admits that she felt it had to happen. Rowling describes it as the ultimate loss of power, and though she hated it, felt it was integral to the book, because there are people that horrible and that evil in the world.
  • The character of Gavin is included to represent the person who doesn’t act. Who allows things to happen, because too many of those people exist as well.
  • When asked why she thinks it’s so rare that adult novels will go to this dark place, Rowling states that she feels that children and young adult literature tends to look at the darker side of the world more often, because children are so familiar with fear.
  • Rowling admits that she once heard someone say that, “children must be protected from their own imaginations,” a statement which she feels is one of the most dangerous things she’s ever heard. She elaborates that to say this means you are then telling that child that there is something within them that is wrong, evil, and bad, and therefore you are telling them that they are wrong, evil, and bad.
  • She definitely feels that it’d be inappropriate for a child to read The Casual Vacancy, and then shares an anecdote about the launch in London. A small child was in the audience while she read a passage that used the “f” word several times, and he stayed even though they gave several warnings before the reading.
  • Rowling feels the 13-14 year age range is the earliest anyone should attempt the read the book, and that it might be good for young adults of this age as they are beginning to deal with these kinds of issues.
  • After prompting from Patchett, Rowling gushes about the world of publishing and working with a publisher, and states that even though she would easily have the means to do so, she never thought of publishing the book on her own.
  • That said, Pottermore was her way of giving something special directly to fans.
  • When writing the Potter books, Rowling never shared the works with anyone until she had completed the story.  She was finished with the overall structure and tale of the book before she ever handed them over to her editor, who was always the first person to see the books.
  • Rowling exclaims that she thinks that discussing an idea before she’s written it is the surest way to kill it stone dead. In fact, when sharing the concept for The Casual Vacancy with a friend, she received such a negative reaction (“You’re writing what?!“) that it’s a miracle she continued with the story at all.
  • The worst question you can ever ask her? Why Harry has the Marauder’s Map again in Order of the Phoenix after it had been given to the fake Moody in Goblet of Fire. Her husband was the only person who she could rely on to not ask that question.
  • At this point Rowling took a moment to read a selection from The Casual Vacancy that Rowling calls “the dinner party from hell.”
  • When Patchett asks if the family names used in the book – “Mollison” and “Weedon” – are symbolic in any way, Rowling confesses that she did think of the “weeds,” but “moles” had never occurred to her. She said she’d be using that one in future, though.
  • Rowling states that she did feel the same powerful need to write this story as she felt when she created the Harry Potter universe.
  • Her own experience with poverty greatly influenced her when writing this story, because she felt she needed to discuss the way that society treats and deals with the poor.
  • It was a bit of a relief for Rowling to write this book, as it is, and will remain, a standalone story. Here she brings up her response to that question about the Marauder’s Map again, and exclaims that her reaction the first time the question was asked was, “Oh, shit!”
  • If she could go to any place, real or fictional, her first reaction is to go to Merryton in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and beat out Elizabeth Bennett for Mr. Darcy’s affections, because as she says, “who doesn’t love Mr. Darcy?!”
  • She then says that of course Hogwarts would be the obvious answer, but her favorite book when she was a child was called The Little White Horse and she remembers so clearly the world she discovered in that book, with the heroine who was plain, but still got to be the heroine. So if she could choose, that would be where she would go.
  • And wrapping up the discussion, Rowling admits she’s working on something now, and that her next book is likely to be a story for a slightly younger age group than the Potter books were targeted for.