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Cover of J.K. Rowling by Bradley Steffens won the 2007 San Diego Book Award for Best Young Adult & Children's Nonfiction and the Theodor S. Geisel Award for Best Book by a San Diego County author


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J.K. Rowling

Chapter Two - Page 1

Stranded on a train between Manchester and London, Joanne Rowling imagined all kinds of things about the boy she had seen in her mind’s eye. He was a wizard: not a full-fledged wizard, but a wizard in the making. He had powers, but he did not understand them. He would have to go through special training. Wizard training, at a school of witchcraft and wizardry. The trickle of ideas turned into a stream, then a torrent. Rowling searched for a working pen, but found none. She continued to daydream about the boy wizard until the train started moving again. For the remainder of the trip, Rowling tried to remember everything she could about the strange fantasy. “Rather than try to write it, I had to think it,” she later recalled. “And I think that was a very good thing. I was besieged by a mass of detail, and if it didn’t survive that journey, it probably wasn’t worth remembering.”

Rowling realized all of her story ideas would not fit in one book, or even two. She envisioned the young wizard’s saga as a seven-book series, one book for each year he would spend in school. The practical aspects of writing a seven-book series did not enter Rowling’s mind. “When you dream, you can do what you like,”  she later recalled.

Creative Rush

When she got home, Rowling wrote down everything she could remember about the boy wizard and his adventures. She worked in a frenzy of inspiration. “I had this physical reaction to it, this huge rush of adrenaline, which is always a sign that you’ve had a good idea,” she says. “I’d had ideas I liked, but never quite so powerful. And Harry came first, in this huge rush. Doesn’t know he’s a wizard, how can he not know? And, very bizarrely, he had a mark on his forehead, but I didn’t know why at that point. It was like research. It didn’t feel as if I were entirely inventing it.”

Remembering the difficulties she encountered with her two unfinished novels, Rowling did not immediately start writing the first chapter of her imagined book. Instead, she made notes, sketched characters, and plotted the story. She reviewed the lists of names she had collected through the years, trying to match them up with the characters she created. She wanted to think the project through completely before she started writing.

Shortly after conceiving her story, Rowling moved to Manchester and took a clerical job with the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. She split her free time between the two men in her life—her boyfriend and the boy wizard she decided to name Harry Potter. Instead of spending her lunch hours with her coworkers, Rowling stole away to nearby cafés to work on her growing collection of notes and sketches.

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