It was early 1997. I was thinking of giving up my increasingly well-paid and interesting job, with an office overlooking Piccadilly Circus, a gym, great friends and lots of international travel for another job that paid … nothing and had … no benefits and couldn’t guarantee any friends. Occasionally I would sneak off to a local cafe and read the paper and ponder.
One day I was reading the arts pages of the Financial Times. There was a little article about a children’s book that was due to come out in the summer. Nobody had heard of it outside the publishing trade, because nobody ever talked about children’s books, but it had received a massive US advance after the Frankfurt Book Fair, there was talk of a possible film deal, and it was one to look out for.
So I looked out for it. It came out in late June of that year – the wait seemed endless, even then. I read it and it was brilliant. Funny and clever and playful and beautifully told and just … brilliant. There was a bit of a buzz among those of us who knew, but I promise that back then, we were a bit of a secret cult.
The book, and the publishing buzz around it, contributed strongly to giving me the courage to give up my job as a management consultant for McKinsey and become a writer. My plan was to spend up to a year writing something amazing, sell it for a fortune and be as good as JK Rowling. If she could do it, I could, surely? Couldn’t we all?
Even when the second book came out (still 3 years before the first film), I remember recommending it to adult friends, who thought I was mad. How could a children’s book possibly be that interesting? What was all the fuss about? Why was I lending them my chunky hardback edition? Had resigning from McKinsey sent me a little doolally? Then they read it and joined the cult.
And so we went on our merry way. I wrote my book, and it didn’t get published after all. So I wrote another, and another. I went back to work. JK Rowling got more famous. More and more people understood what the fuss was about. I had a baby. I’m pretty sure the first Harry Potter was the first film he watched all the way through on DVD. He was a toddler at the time. He was entranced.
JK got married and had a new baby of her own. I acquired some stepdaughters. They introduced me to the non-pareil performances of Stephen Fry on the audiobooks. His Hermione is still definitive to me. JK went stratospheric and overtook The Queen as the richest woman in the country. I wrote another book. This one got published – by the same man who’d originally found and published JK. I needed an agent. Barry, my publisher, suggested hers. It seemed a nice idea to keep it in the family.
My toddler grew old enough to read all the Harry Potters, back to back, in the first term of Year 4 at school (I think it was). I gave him all my old copies – the ones I’d managed to rescue from the friends I’d lent them to – and we arranged them side by side on his bookshelf. He got the wand and the cloak for Christmas. They were rubbish. He got into the Harry Potter Lego, though. So did his little brother. The four year-old now plays Harry Potter Lego on the X-box, while I write stories about brave children who stick together and stand up for what they believe in. I occasionally sneak in references to Hermione’s Time-Turner or the Horcruxes. It’s hard not to, and everyone will know what I mean.
And now I’ve just taken my older boy, now 10, to the final film. I’d seen a video clip of Daniel Radcliffe bravely saying it’s the first one he’s proud of, and I’d heard general consensus that it was by far the best. So our expectations were high, and they were met. It is by far the best. Dare I say it? – I think this movie is better than the book. And now – short of Pottermore – it’s all over.
David Yates has kindly put in a couple of lingering longshots of the three of them – Harry, Hermione and Ron – (SPOILER ALERT) looking up at ruined Hogwarts, after the battle is won. Emma Watson looks in pieces. She’s just channeling the emotion we all feel. Of course I cried.
I didn’t exactly grow up with them, the way a generation of young readers did, but I grew into myself as a creative person with them, and they are just as much a part of me as The Secret Garden, or Ballet Shoes, or The Railway Children. More so, because for years they used to be published around my birthday, which was something extra to look forward to. And because I’ve shared them with my children, and the world. We know what they mean and why they’re important. We’re all going to miss them, even though they’re there on every bookshelf, in every toy box, in every DVD collection, and JK is on every rich list …
So it’s been a 14-year journey. Hard to believe it’s over. But thrilled that for my favourite trio, it ended so well.
Thank you, Jo.