Last night I was lucky enough to have a ticket for the JK Rowling event at the teeny Lennoxlove Book Festival in Haddington, East Lothian.
Like everyone else in the audience I was buzzing with excitement way before the 8.30pm kick off and when JK finally stalked on in glittering diamonds, skintight PVC leggings and six, maybe even seven-inch kinky boots – WOW! An audible gasp from the audience.
She is so much skinnier, sexier, funnier and kind of raunchier than you might ever have guessed from the TV interviews. She gives the impression that she’s really, really enjoying letting her hair down from being the world’s treasured author of the Harry Potter series. Yes, the effect was definitely like bumping into your teacher out of school and being disconcertingly dazzled.
Fetch JK Her Reading Glasses
JK’s interviewer for the evening was Muriel Gray, a non-stop fizzball of pop energy, and they sparked off one another brilliantly. Hilarious middle-aged moment though when JK realized she didn’t have her reading glasses and Muriel, quick as a flash, brought out hers.
Of course, we were here to hear JK talk about her new book for adults, The Casual Vacancy. It’s famously very nasty about the middle class who are accused of ignoring the glaring problems of the very poor right in their midst. But JK disarmed her thoroughly middle class audience immediately by telling us: ‘We’re all a little like this, I’m like this, we all have these thoughts.’
Her enthusiasm for her new book, her subject matter, her difficult characters and some of the dark scenes was infectious. She knew this was a book she had to write. When she pitched the idea to people, she could tell by the look on their faces they were not impressed, but nevertheless she pressed on, knowing with absolute certainty, she couldn’t write about wizards again.
‘I knew back in 2000 when I was being driven somewhere and all these people were looking at me, I knew I would never, ever be able to create something like this again.’
In 2000, she was publishing Harry Potter book four, so it seems an amazing insight to have half way through a planned series.
Don’t expect her to write a series again soon. When Muriel suggested she would like to read more about the characters in The Casual Vacancy, JK rolled her eyes and collapsed into her chair. She’s been the slave to her own creation for so long that she’s clearly relishing the freedom.
In fact, she spoke of the liberation of writing the new book. The heady pleasure of being a writer who could now write exactly what she wanted, the way she wanted to: ‘I love writers who take risks.’ She sprinkled Colette, Iris Murdoch, Trollope and Dickens into her talk.
Because she’s British and programmed to be self-deprecating, she also told us that she keeps a quotation by the Jaws writer, Peter Benchley on her study wall: ‘It took me 15 years to realise I wasn’t a good writer. But by then, I couldn’t stop because I was too famous.’
See, this is why we love her.
We’re not at Hogwarts anymore
The audience was very teen heavy, which was brilliant. Not nearly enough teenagers go to literary festivals – and they should!
I loved the handling of the: ‘Why did you use the C-word?’ question. JK laughed, urged the shocked lady, who’d been reading the book in the doctor’s surgery, to read the Vagina Monologues, get out there and ‘really reclaim the c-word’.
Afterwards there was a book signing. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to go because meeting your heroes even for a moment or two is… tricky. But teenagers were coming out of stunning Lennoxlove House gasping: ‘That was the most epic moment of my life!’ so I joined the airport security style queue.
Your book gets a special holograph sticker to prove it really has been JK Rowling-ed. Then you queue and watch her sign with a charming military precision. Her face absolutely lights up when anyone under the age of 20 approaches.
I thought I might manage: ‘Thank you for the YEARS of reading pleasure you’ve brought me and my children,’ as I was hustled past. But that just wouldn’t have summed up the countless nights we’ve snuggled in bed to read about Harry; the hours of Stephen Fry narration which kept us going on endless car journeys; the fact that even as a grown-up I couldn’t sleep on the day I read about dementors.
But I’m afraid when the moment came, I barely managed a croaked: thank you.
Like the true superstar she is, JK left every single person in that packed marquee desperate for more.
PS Thank you so much to festival sponsors McInroy and Wood for my ticket.