Page last updated at 14:38 GMT, Saturday, 20 September 2008 15:38 UK

JK Rowling: From rags to riches

JK Rowling
The Harry Potter stories came to JK Rowling during a train journey
Inventing the magical world of Harry Potter has made author JK Rowling, who has donated £1m to Labour, into a multi-millionaire.

But her wealthy lifestyle is a far cry from the world she lived in when she first dreamt up the boy wizard.

Born Joanne Rowling in 1965 in Yate, near Bristol, she spent her childhood years in Gloucestershire and later south Wales.

Inspired by the fantasy books her parents read to her, the dreamy youngster began inventing stories to tell her younger sister, Di.

She penned her first story, about a rabbit called Rabbit, aged six and from that moment wanted to do nothing but write.

"Jo" Rowling was later head girl at Wyedean School, a mixed comprehensive in south Gloucestershire, before going on to study French and literature at Exeter University.

She has admitted to using herself as the model for the bookish Hermione Granger, one of the characters in the Harry Potter series.

I was never paying much attention in meetings because I was usually scribbling bits of my latest stories in the margins of the pad or thinking up names for my characters
JK Rowling
"I wasn't as clever as I thought I should be. I don't think I was a know-it-all. I was obsessed with achieving academically, but that masked a huge insecurity," she said.

She took on several secretarial jobs but was never happy in them and her habit of devising fantasy stories when she should have been working led to her being sacked more than once.

"I was never paying much attention in meetings because I was usually scribbling bits of my latest stories in the margins of the pad or thinking up names for my characters," she said.

The idea for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - the first in the series - came to her during a delayed rail journey between Manchester and London.

But Rowling's world was rocked on New Year's Eve in 1990 when her mother died, aged 45, after a 10-year battle with multiple sclerosis.

She left the UK to teach English in Portugal where she met her first husband, the Portuguese journalist Jorges Arantes, but she continued to write.

Marriage break-up

Ms Rowling gave birth to their daughter Jessica in 1993 but she and husband split soon afterwards and she moved to Edinburgh to be near her sister.

She initially intended to start teaching again but pulled back from the idea because she says she would never have finished the book.

"I knew that full-time teaching, with all the marking and lesson planning, let alone a small daughter to care for single-handedly, would leave me with absolutely no spare time at all," she said.

Living off welfare payments in "grotty and depressing" government housing, Ms Rowling developed Harry Potter's world as a means of escape.

I had to type the whole thing out myself - sometimes I actually hated the book
JK Rowling, about Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

She would wander around the town pushing Jessica in a pram until the infant fell asleep, giving her mother the chance to head for a coffee shop to write.

The owners of her favourite cafe, Nicolson's, would let her stay all day - Jessica sleeping at her side - as she wrote out the stories in longhand, having ordered only a glass of water and an espresso.

A Scottish Arts Council grant helped her to pay for a typewriter and she hammered out the manuscript which would eventually convince the publisher Bloomsbury that Potter could be a hit.

"I had to type the whole thing out myself. Sometimes I actually hated the book, even while I loved it," Rowling admits on her official website.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone eventually hit the UK shelves in 1997 and went on to win awards including the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize Gold Medal.

No middle name

By this time she was known as "JK Rowling" - it has been suggested that her publishers encouraged her to use initials rather than her name in order not alienate the teenage boys who were the target audience for her book.

As she had no middle name Ms Rowling says she took the K from Kathleen, her favourite grandmother.

Since then, the Harry Potter series has sold more than 400 million books worldwide in 65 languages and spawned a series of hit films starring Daniel Radcliffe as the boy wizard.

JK Rowling married second husband Dr Neil Murray, in 2001, at a mansion they bought in Perth, Scotland, and has since had a son, David Gordon, and daughter, Mackenzie Jean.

Rowling receives Edinburgh honour
19 Sep 08 |  Edinburgh, East and Fife
Rowling wins book copyright claim
08 Sep 08 |  Entertainment
Potter prequel book sets record
08 Aug 08 |  Entertainment
Potter fairytales to be published
31 Jul 08 |  Entertainment
Rowling's Harry Potter 'regret'
22 Jul 08 |  Scotland
Rowling honoured at book awards
10 Apr 08 |  Entertainment

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