"Living with Harry Potter"

Interviewer: Stephen Fry
Source: BBC Radio4
Broadcast: December 10, 2005
Audio: Available from the QQQ [mp3; 13MB]
Context: This interview was recorded in the late summer of 2005 and broadcast as a Christmas special.

Transcription: Courtesy of Matthew at Veritaserum with corrections by Roonwit and Lisa Bunker

Stephen Fry: It was at Christmas five years ago that I had the strange experience of hearing myself on the radio all day long on Boxing Day as Radio4 broadcast the recording of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

It has been a privilege to be the voice of JK Rowling's work over 6 books, 2,764 pages, and 100 hours and 55 minutes of recordings.

The characters are familiar friends - and enemies - for me, but like millions of others, I eagerly await each new installment.

I first met Jo nearly seven years ago when she came to the studio where I was recording the first book. She remains famously reticent, and like millions of Potter fans, I am fascinated to know what it's like to live with Harry, where the inspiration for the books comes from, what she thinks of her critics, and what she will do when she finishes the final chapter.

So when Jo agreed to record a conversation with me, I jumped at the chance.

Jo, I suppose a good question to open with would be simply which character you find yourself identifying with most when you're writing or when you're reading what you've just written.

JK Rowling: Probably Harry, really, because I have to think myself into his head far more than any of the others, because everything is seen from his point of view. But there's a little bit of me in most of the characters, I think. They say of writers that, um, I think it's impossible not to put a little bit of yourself into any character, because you have to imagine their motivation.

SF: Did it occur to you when you were planning the books, hoping the first one would be published, that so many people who have never been inside a boarding school would relate to the very particular world of an English boarding school which Hogwarts represents?

JKR: Well, the truth is, I've never been inside one either, of course. I was comprehensive educated. But - it was essential for the plot that the children could be enclosed somewhere together overnight. This could not be a day school, because the adventure would fall down every second day if they went home and spoke to their parents, and then had to break back into school every week to wander around at night, so it had to be a boarding school. Which was also logical, because where would wizards educate their children? This is a place where there were going to be lots of noises, smells, flashing lights, and you would want to contain it somewhere fairly distant so that Muggles didn't come across it all the time.

But I think that people recognize the reality of a lot of children being cloistered together, perhaps, more than they recognize the ambience of a boarding school. I'm not sure that I'm familiar with that, but I think am familiar with what children are like when they're together.

SF: The thing is, you have created a world, it's the sort of the definition of successful fiction, is to have a world that is somehow circumscribed by its own rules, its own ethics, its own cultural flavour, and smell and senses, and you've done this, and that's why it's very common to hear about children and adults dreaming that they are in Hogwarts, dreaming that they are side by side with Harry and Ron and Hermione and so on. And naturally, what comes as a result of this, too, is you get strange warning voices from people I always imagined with the steel-colored hair with a knitting needle stuck through it and a bun at the back, arguing that somehow this is dangerous...

JKR: Yes.

SF: ...for people, and, aside from the whole business of whether or not magic is dangerous for people, which I think we can ignore because...

[Both laugh]

SF: ...it seems to cover such wild shores of unreason.

JKR: It's all part of that. Young ladies, two hundred years ago, weren't allowed to read novels because it would inflame them and excite them and make them long for things that weren't real. And I remember being very distressed to read, when I was quite young, about Virginia Woolf being told she mustn't write because it would exacerbate her mental condition.

We need a place to escape to, whether as a writer or a reader, and obviously, the world that I've created is a particularly shining example of a world to which it is very pleasant to escape. That beautiful image in C.S. Lewis where there are the pools - the world between worlds - and you can jump into the different pools to access the different worlds. And that, for me, was always a metaphor for a library. I know Lewis wasn't actually thinking that when he wrote it, of course...

SF: Yeah, he was writing Christian metaphors.

JKR: No, it was more Christian a metaphor for him, yeah. Of course, but to me, that was to jump into these different pools, to enter different worlds, what a beautiful place, and that, for me, is what literature should be. So whether you love Hogwarts or loathe it, I don't think you can criticize it for being a world that people enjoy.

SF: No. Precisely. I mean, that is, that is why it, it exercises such a keen hold on all our imaginations, this.

JKR: I read an interview with you in which I was very flattered to see that you drew a parallel between that world and the world of Sherlock Holmes, and I found that a very flattering comparison that also resonated with me, because when I read the Holmes stories, it is, of course, it's a world that never really existed. And yet, you can wholeheartedly believe it existed, and more importantly, you want it to have existed, don't you?

SF: Exactly right.

JKR: So that's why it's such fabulously entertaining reading.

SF: Yeah. And why Sherlock Holmes, to this day, still gets letters to 221b Baker Street.

JKR: Exactly, yeah.

SF: And of course, it is a peculiarity that you will be accused of creating both a world in which children can luxuriate in an escapist fantasy and for creating a world that is frightening...

JKR: Mmm.

SF: ...because it's so full of wickedness and danger...

JKR: Mmm.

SF: ...and that it could upset them. Now they can't both be true.

[Both laugh]

SF: But I do think it is one of the advances in children's literature that you have made with this remarkable series, is that you have not held back from the difficult and the frightening and the treacherous and the unjust and all the things that most exercise children's minds.

JKR: I feel very strongly that there is a move to sanitize literature because we're trying to protect children not from, necessarily, from the grisly facts of life, but from their own imaginations.

I remember being in America a few years ago and Halloween was approaching, and three television programmes in a row were talking about how to explain to children it wasn't real. Now there's a reason why we create these stories, and we have always created these stories, and the reason why we have had these pagan festivals, and the reason why even the church allows a certain amount of fear... we need to feel fear, and we need to confront that in an controlled environment. That's a very important part of growing up, I think. And the child that has been protected from the dementors in fiction, I would argue, is much more likely to fall prey to them later in life in reality.

And also, what are we saying to children who do have scary and disturbing thoughts? We're saying that's wrong, that's not natural, and it's not something that's intrinsic to the human condition. That they're in some way odd or ill.

SF: Exactly.

JKR: That's a very dangerous thing to tell a child.

SF: And guilt is the greatest trigger for aggression that man has. And if people grow up thinking they're peculiar for having dark thoughts or being aware of the weirder side of the world and their lives, then that's going to make them awful human beings, isn't it?

JKR: [quietly] I totally agree.

SF: One of the jobs of writing, in a sense, is to show you that you're not alone.

JKR: Yes, yes, it is, and certainly, I discovered I wasn't alone through books, I think, arguably more than I did through friendships in my early days, 'cause I was quite an introverted child, and it was through reading that I realized I wasn't alone on all sorts of levels.

SF: Absolutely. And it's a central anxiety, if you'd like, that the reader is always confronted with Harry, is that there is this extraordinary closeness he has to Voldemort - the one who must not be named, but must be named. And I think that as the series progresses and we feel "Gosh, it's not long now - what is going to happen?" There's a great deal of speculation, and I'm not asking you to come out with any answers here, but there's a great deal of speculation as to how close this relationship is...

JKR: Mmm.

SF: ... between the darkest wizard of them all and our hero, who saved the world.

JKR: Well, the question I was asked a lot early on was "Was Voldemort really Harry's father?" And of course, that's a Star Wars question...

SF: Exactly. Total Star Wars.

[Both laugh]

JKR: ...really, isn't it? And, no, he is not going to turn out to be Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. He is not, in a biological sense, related to him at all.

SF: Now, that's a very good answer to have. I think that one of the current front-running endings - I'm not sure if you're aware of this - as far as the betting goes, is that Harry will finally defeat Voldemort at the expense of all his own powers, and he will end by going into the world as an ordinary Muggle. [JKR gasps theatrically] Which is an extraordinary idea.

JKR: It's a good ending.

SF: It is a good ending! You can borrow it if you like.

JKR: And be sued for plagiarism by about 13 million children.

SF: This is your problem, isn't it? You're not allowed to read anything...

JKR [chuckling]: No, I'm not.

SF: ...written by anybody else, just on the off chance. Well, let's think about the world that you've used, in terms of its tradition, if you like, from little cornish pixies to, you know, kelpies and, you know, mentions of particular types of plant, like mandragora and so on.

JKR: Mmm.

SF: These are all real and a lot of children will, of course, imagine you made them up completely.

JKR: I've taken horrible liberties with folklore and mythology, but I'm quite unashamed about that, because British folklore and British mythology is a totally bastard mythology. You know, we've been invaded by people, we've appropriated their gods, we've taken their mythical creatures, and we've soldered them all together to make, what I would say, is one of the richest folklores in the world, because it's so varied. So I feel no compunction about borrowing from that freely, but adding a few things of my own.

SF: Absolutely.

JKR: But you're right, yes, children, they know, obviously, they know that I didn't invent unicorns, but I've had to explain frequently that I didn't actually invent hippogriffs. Although a hippogriff is quite obscure, I went looking, because when I do use a creature that I know is a mythological entity, I like to find out as much as I can about it. I might not use it, but to make it as consistent as I feel is good for my plot. There's very little on hippogriffs. I could read...

SF: It's the map, isn't it? It's the "Here Be Hippogriffs."

JKR: Exactly. "Here Be Hippogriffs," yes.

SF: Like Heffalumps in Pooh.

JKR: But they don't seem to have been closely observed by many medieval naturalists, so I could, I could take liberties.

[both laugh]

SF: I presume they are, as the name would imply, and this is to bring this onto your other love, which is language itself, at its most basic level of words and derivations that hippogriff is, of course, is a mixture of the idea...

JKR: Horse

SF: ... of the Welsh "griffin" and the Greek for horse "hippo,"

JKR: That's right.

SF: ...which is a perfect example, as you say, of the bastardization of our English folklore, like our language.

JKR: Arcane. Like our language.

SF: It's the perfect mixture.

JKR: Which is what makes our language so rich.

SF: Exactly.

JKR: Nobbily, and textured, and I love it.

SF: And even things like Mundungus have a meaning.

JKR: Mundungus.

SF: Isn't that wonderful?

JKR: Isn't that a fantastic word?

SF: And it means?

JKR: Foul-stinking tobacco, which really suits him.

SF: Exactly. Isn't it perfect? Now do you actually trawl through books of rare words or OED [Oxford English Dictionary] or things, or are they just things that you somehow, you've got a good memory for words?

JKR: Um…I don’t really trawl books. They tend to be things I’ve collected or stumbled across in general reading. The exception was Gilderoy – Gilderoy Lockhart. The name Lockhart, well, I know it’s quite a well-known Scottish surname…

SF: Yeah.

JKR: …I found on a war memorial. I was looking for quite a glamorous, dashing sort of surname, and Lockhart caught my eye on this war memorial, and that was it. Couldn’t find a Christian name. And I was leafing through the Dictionary of Phrase and Fable one night. I was consciously looking for stuff, generally, that would be useful and I saw Gilderoy, who was actually a highway man, and a very good-looking rogue.

SF: Really?

JKR: And Gilderoy Lockhart, it just sounded perfect.

SF: It is a perfect, perfect…

JKR: Impressive, and yet, in the middle, quite hollow, of course.

SF: Indeed, as we know, he was.

JKR: As we know.

SF: So, to get down to the really important bit, which is me.

JKR: Yes, let's, let's do you. [Both laugh]

SF: I wondered if the way I’ve read the books has altered your writing of them?

JKR: I know that I’ve told you this before. There was a time when Jessica, my daughter, who’s now ten – she absolutely loves the tapes – and there was a time when I was writing Goblet of Fire in particular, where I would settle down to work in the evening, and I could hear you reading from her bedroom, which really was a mind-warping experience to be writing one book while listening to you reading Chamber or, you know, Azkaban.

SF: Yes.

JKR: It was bizarre, and I felt that I couldn’t escape Harry Potter. There was no escape. I could hear him, and I could see him, and I was writing about him.

SF: Yes. Certainly, I have to say, without just meaning to be flattering that the shapes, the phrasing, the balance of sentences does make the books a delight to read in that sense.

JKR: Well, that’s really kind, and that’s really good to hear.

SF: It really…sometimes writers have a marvelous sense of writing for the page and the words happen in that part of the brain that does it…

JKR: Yeah.

SF: …but really, the matter is terribly difficult.

JKR: See, I love writing dialogue.

SF: Yeah.

JKR: I really love writing dialogue.

SF: Yeah.

JKR: And when I hear you reading it, it gives me a whole new sense of pleasure, because I never read my work aloud. And yet hearing the dialogue spoken, and I always hear you speak it before I hear actors speak it – it’s very pleasurable, because I’ve always enjoyed writing it.

SF: Each time I do a new book, there’s a CD that the engineer at the sound studio produces with all the characters…

JKR: I remember, yes.

SF: It’s almost going to have to be a DVD next time. [laughs]

JKR: Oh sorry!

SF: It’s so that I could remind myself of what, you know, what Lavender sounded like, or what, you know…

JKR: Yeah.

SF: What, with a particular character.

JKR: Of course. Jessica wanted to know how you got Hermione’s voice. She thinks you’re so brilliant at doing Hermione and she doesn’t understand how someone with such a deep voice can do a girl’s voice, so I was to ask you.

SF: That’s an interesting question. I always loved the Scottish comedian Stanley Baxter. Do you remember him?

JKR: Oh yeah. [Laughs.]

SF: And I noticed from a very early age, when I was ten, that when he did a woman, he usually deepened his voice. So unlike trying to do a sort of falsetto, he would go, “Hello, I’m Faith Douche.” [JKR laughs] Or some strange character like that. And actually, for a lot of women that works well.

JKR: Yes.

SF: Not for young girls, but for grown-up women that works very well.

JKR: So softening the voice, really, more than…

SF: It’s a sort of softening, exactly.

JKR: I do remember being there to see you record, and you said to me, “It’s very hard to hiss something with no sibilant in it.” [Both laugh] Someone had hissed something like “don’t do that.” [SF laughs heartily.]That’s another influence you’ve had on me. Every time I want someone to be hissing, which Snape does quite a lot, I have to check there’s actually an “s” in it before I…

SF: Yes.

JKR: Before I make them do it.

SF: You’ve done it with Snape and all that’s around him. He’s got three s’s himself, and his house has got an “s,” and it’s got a Slytherin, it’s you know, the whole, the whole, herpetic, I believe is the adjective.

JKR: Yes, right.

SF: The whole snake-like work is done. Now, the question I’m sure you’re asked a lot, and that is for generations now, the ideal child’s hero is Harry Potter. But that didn’t exist when you were a child. Who was the one you went hunting with, the one you dreamt of being with?

JKR: Loads and loads.

SF: Loads.

JKR: I liked the heroine of The Little White Horse because she was quite plain, and I was plain, and most heroines are very beautiful.

SF: Yes

JKR: She was freckly, and had reddish hair, and I identified with her a lot.

SF: Eloise was a bit like that as well.

JKR: Yes, I love Eloise.

SF: I loved Eloise.

JKR: There were so many. I loved E. Nesbit. She is still, probably, the children’s writer with whom I most identify.

SF: Yes.

JKR: She wasn’t very sentimental.

SF: She wasn’t, was she?

JKR: And she loved a quirky detail. [SF laughs] So, um, yes, I thought she was very, very good. I think female writers generally are less sentimental about childhood than male writers, in my opinion.

SF: I think you’re absolutely right. It’s a strange thing, children’s fiction. There’s the boy’s adventure style…

JKR: Yes.

SF: Which, you know, is, I suppose, the greatest example of them is Treasure Island.

JKR: Yes.

SF: Which is just one of the most immaculately written books of any genre.

JKR: Which is, which is a wonderful book and which I also love, yes.

SF: It is a truly great book, isn’t it? Yeah. And that, really, has almost no females in it at all.

JKR: That’s right.

SF: But what you’ve done is you’ve written a boy's adventure book, but…

JKR: But with girls. [laughs]

SF: …it is also a girl’s book. Which is actually extraordinary. And, you know, one perhaps shouldn’t over talk about the idea of gender in it. I remember seeing in a Martin Amis novel - I think it’s The Information - the characters have an enormous row talking about this very subject. You know, he actually leaves the dinner table because of talking about, you know, “Women read certain types of book and men read other types of book.” And that it will ever be thus.

JKR: Yes.

SF: But do you find… I expect you get more letters from women, from girls, simply because girls are better at writing letters you said. [laughs]

JKR: I have a theory. It was roughly fifty percent each, and my theory is that parents were so thrilled their sons were reading that they would prod them into writing to me in the hope that they would keep this enthusiasm going. And I occasionally had extraordinary letters from boys - very, very, very touching letters from boys. Arguably more touching, particularly when it’s a letter that’s written by someone who obviously doesn’t find writing very easy, telling me that it’s the first book they’ve ever read and they really like it.

SF: It’s a wonderful compliment.

JKR: Oh yes, it is.

SF: And an extraordinary thought, and it must make you slightly go all pink and…

JKR: It does make me go pink and wibbly. [Both laugh]

SF: Exactly, yes. “What good is a book,” said Alice, “without pictures and conversations” in Alice in Wonderland, which is always a book I think grown-ups actually like more than children, though.

JKR: I think so, too.

SF: But it’s a splendid comment and a very sophisticated one, which is why adults like Alice so much. I wondered if, simply the expense of the first edition of your first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, whether the issue of illustration had come up? And whether it was just, “Well, this is the biggest children’s novel we’ve ever published in terms of size…”

JKR: Yes.

SF: Length. We’re not going to add to our expense by getting Quentin Blake or whoever.

JKR: No. But you’re absolutely right. That was precisely the argument. They also felt that illustrations might aim it a little bit at a younger audience than they were aiming for.

SF: Yes. I think it turned out to be quite right.

JKR: And they were right. The American edition, which is a very beautifully produced book, I must say, they have very small line drawings at the beginning of every chapter, which I like. It’s just a suggestion of what’s to come.

SF: Yes.

JKR: But it’s not full-blown, full-page.

SF: Color plates.

JKR: Exactly, color plates. Although, I used to love a color plate. I used to flick through to find them before I read the book.

SF: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. There was a smell to them, because the paper was shiny and different.

JKR: There was a very distinctive smell.

SF: Oh, and sometimes they were frightening.

JKR: Yes.

SF: You knew the one was coming that you didn’t quite like for some reason.

JKR: Yeah.

SF: I can still remember them all. It’s weird, isn’t it? While on the subject of America, you’re published there by Scholastic, I believe.

JKR: Scholastic, yep.

SF: I remember you telling me about your first signing queue in America and…

JKR: Oh, that was, yes.

SF: You would expect a few boys to come with a scar penciled clumsily on their foreheads, but you had…

JKR: There was…

SF: You had a woman in gilt.

JKR: That’s right.

SF: Tell us about her!

JKR: I had a woman who dressed up as the Fat Lady, complete with frame hung around her neck. That was extraordinary, and that was the closest I will ever get to being a pop star. [SF laughs] I walked through this door at the back of the store, and there were screams, literally screams and flash bulbs going off and I didn’t know where I was. I was completely disorientated. I think, as a defensive mechanism, when those events are over, I kind of shut down, and I think I have to shut down and think that that was a very odd anomaly. And then I have to return to my office and just convince myself that this is just my world.

SF: Yeah.

JKR: I find this a really difficult question to answer myself, and I wrote the characters, so I don’t see why you should find it any easier, really, but I’m going to ask. Is there any character with whom you identify particularly?

SF: The easy wisdom and slightly kind of twinkling…

JKR: Of Dumbledore.

SF: …quality of Dumbledore. I’ve always had this love of great teachers. With the first fictional character I [unintelligible] created was for a radio program, was an old Cambridge Don, Donald Trefusis.

JKR: I used to listen to Donald Trefusis, yeah.

SF: Do you remember an Archbishop of Canterbury called Ramsay, the last of the really sort of great and monumental primates of the Church of England? Which I don’t mean an ape, of course. [JKR laughs] And I remember seeing him being interviewed by a Malcolm Muggeridge type person who said, “Now, you’re going to be a very wise man.” He said, “Am I, am I, am I wise, I wonder, am I wise, am I?” [Both laugh] And the interviewer said, “Well, Your Grace, perhaps you could explain what you think wisdom is?” “Wisdom, wisdom. Mmm Mmm, wisdom. I think it’s the ability to cope.”

JKR: Oh, is that…

SF: Which is a marvelous definition, you know. It is, and so right, I mean it comes, as you know, is the wisdom is the kingdom of wit, it is wit, witdom, wit-knowing, the German of knowing, wissenschaft and so on, and in wit is a marvelous...

JKR: See, you are Dumbledore, look. [SF laughs] A natural teacher.

SF: And that sense of being able to cope with things.

JKR: Yes.

SF: It’s not how much you know.

JKR: No.

SF: And you sense ...

JKR: Something completely different.

SF: ... that with that rather marvelous, occasionally rather tired, worn quality that Dumbledore has, because he’s experienced so much, and he can cope, but he would almost rather not be able to.

JKR: Absolutely. That’s exactly right. Dumbledore does express the regret that he has always had to be the one who knew, and who had the burden of knowing. And he would rather not know.

SF: But of all, of course, Harry Potter is the one, because he is the point of consciousness in the book. Harry is the one who is ... undergoes all the tests and the ordeals by fire and all kinds of other things. And as with any hero, you measure yourself against him. And there are times when I think I would just run away, or I wouldn’t care. I’d wave my wand even though I’m not supposed to, you know.

JKR: My favorite comment about Harry, at the time of the first book…was it was a schoolboy, who was interviewed on television, and asked why he liked Harry – the character – so much, and he said, “He doesn’t seem to know what’s going on a lot of the time, and nor do I.” [SF laughs.]

SF: Oh, that’s so good! I suppose there are times when you – you know, I think I mentioned this to you when I first read The Order of the Phoenix – was, do you have to be so cruel to him?

JKR: Well, Phoenix, I would say, in self-defense – Harry had to, because of what I’m trying to say about Harry as a hero. Because he’s a very human hero, and this is, obviously, there’s a contrast, between him, as a very human hero, and Voldemort, who has deliberately dehumanized himself.

SF: Yes.

JKR: And Harry, therefore, did have to reach a point where he did almost break down, and say he didn’t want to play anymore, he didn’t want to be the hero anymore – and he’d lost too much. And he didn’t want to lose anything else. So that – Phoenix was the point at which I decided he would have his breakdown.

SF: Right.

JKR: And now he will rise from the ashes strengthened.

SF: It is such a primary energy, particularly with children, and we lose it, I suppose, at our peril, the outrage of injustice, which is one of the primary sort of motor forces in all the books, isn’t it?

JKR: The feeling of the twelve-year-old boy that they’ve been unfairly accused - the burning sense of outrage. You’re right, we shouldn’t lose that.

SF: Yes.

JKR: But we do, often.

SF: Yeah.

JKR: Adults do.

SF: Yeah. No, that’s quite right.

JKR: I think the thing that I find most extraordinary is - I don’t know how many characters I have in play now - how do you find voices for them?

SF: It’s not a simple thing to answer. I mean, so often they’re there and I hope that, generally speaking, I’ve…if not given exactly the voice you imagine, that it’s somewhere in that area. I mean, there are characters like Tonks which, for some reason, I just instinctively felt she had that slightly sort of Burnley, you know, Jane Horrocks sort of accent. [JKR laughs] And it just seemed to fit her exactly.

JKR: It does, yeah.

SF: And I think Celia, the producer, had the same idea in her head, that it should be that.

JKR: Mmhmm.

SF: And yet you did, there’s no kind of “put wood in th’ole…”

JKR: No.

SF: And "baht 'at" kind of Northern writing. It’s just something that’s there. And I’m sure it’s just as unconscious with you sometimes, that you’re writing a smallish character that uses a turn of phrase that makes me think, “Well, that sounds like a Cockney, or that’s an older character, or that’s a younger character.”

JKR: Because you knew that Hagrid was West Country.

SF: Yes.

JKR: And that was the only thing I wanted to warn you before you started reading, and my plane was delayed. It was the first time we ever met. And I got there, and one of the first things you said to me was, “I’ve done Hagrid as a kind of Somerset.”

SF: Yeah.

JKR: And I thought, “Oh, thank goodness for that,” because I’d thought, if you make him Glaswegian [SF laughs] you know, it would’ve had to…that was the only character I felt protective about accent-wise.

SF: Yes, yeah.

JKR: What I really enjoy about your reading is the accents aren’t intrusive. I don’t feel as though you’re in any sense giving a sort of virtuoso performance of “These are as many accents as I can do,” or different voices. You don’t form a big barrier between the listener and the story, I feel. Do you know?

SF: I know exactly…

JKR: Do you know what I mean?

SF: That’s precisely what I aim for is not to get in the way of it.

JKR: Yes.

SF: Is that for people not to hear the voice after a while. And you know how when you’re reading, sometimes you lose it and you’re find you having to go back and…

JKR: Yes.

SF: …because you’re aware of the letters and the words. And then you can read a whole chapter and not be aware of having turned over a page.

JKR: Mmhmm.

SF: I mean, you know, the print and the paper have not been there. And it should be the same with my voice when they’re listening, you know. The first paragraph or so, but then immediately their mind is the world of the Dursleys and of Hogwarts and the Knight Bus and everything else, and they don’t notice me doing it. And Celia, the producer and Helen are very good at making sure that I don’t over project a voice or mimic, you know, overdo something. And the only other problem is the pacing, you know…

JKR: Yeah.

SF: I think it’s so important to refresh a page.

JKR: Yes, yes.

SF: You know? Because otherwise you can get a bit lulled.

JKR: Mmhmm.

SF: And…but you mustn’t overdo that either.

JKR: So, I don’t feel I should almost push you that much further, but are there any scenes that you have particularly, or that you can remember, enjoying reading?

SF: Well, the, um…the whole creepy stuff at the climax of Order of the Phoenix, you know, in the bowels of the Ministry of Magic and so on. I love the fact that it was so frightening and scary and dramatic, and I loved, you know, building up the tension and so on of the strange glass orbs and what, what are they going to mean and then getting stuck behind doors.

JKR: There were a few children who’ve told me that they took it in much better when you read it to them than when they read it on the page, and I think that’s because with Phoenix, because people had had to wait three years for it, they raced through the book.

SF: They read too fast. They leapt ahead and they lost of the geography.

JKR: Really raced it. Exactly. And then I’ve had readers say to me, “I read it again, and there’s a lot more than I thought there was.” And that’s because you read it in about an afternoon, didn’t you? So listening to you, I think, has really, yes, given them a sense of where they are.

SF: Is it really true that you've got it all planned out?

JKR: Yes, it is really true.

SF: That’s astonishing.

JKR: Yes, I do know what's going to happen in the end. And occasionally, I get cold shivers when someone guesses at something that's very close, and then I panic and I think, "Oh, is it very obvious?" and then someone says something that's so off the wall that I think, "No, it's clearly not that obvious!"

SF: Good.

JKR: I always leave myself latitude to go on a little stroll off the path, but the path is what I’m essentially following. So much that happens in six relates to what happens in seven. And you really sort of skid off the end of six straight into seven. You know, it’s not the discreet adventure that the others have all been, even though you have the underlying theme of Harry faces Voldemort, in each case, and – you know better than anyone – there has been an adventure that has resolved itself.

SF: Yes, exactly.

JKR: Whereas in six, although there is an ending that could be seen as definitive in one sense, you very strongly feel the plot is not over this time and it will continue.

SF: Yeah.

JKR: It's an odd feeling. For the first time I'm very aware that I'm finishing.

SF: The tape is in sight.

JKR: The end is in sight, yeah.

SF: It’s extraordinary.

JKR: Yes.

SF: You’ll always write because it’s a need you have. Do you imagine you will write for children next time you write something new?

JKR: Um…there is a…

SF: Would you write for the children who were children who are now adults? Who were your first generation?

JKR: Poor people, never escape me. Um…I don’t know. Truthfully, I don’t know. I am…there is another childrens’ book that is sort of mouldering in the cupboard that I quite like, which is for slightly younger children, I would say. But there are other things I’d like to write, too. But I think I’ll need to find a good pseudonym and do it all secretly.

SF: Yes.

JKR: Because I’m very frightened – you can imagine…

SF: Oh, absolutely

JKR: …of the unbearable hype…

SF: Yeah.

JKR: …that would attend a post-Harry Potter book…

SF: Yeah.

JKR: …and I’m not sure I look forward to that at all.

SF: Well, with that tantalizing glimpse into the future for Jo, and the lingering question as to whether we will recognize her post-Potter work, we parted, and I set off on 600 more pages of Harry. I can’t wait for book seven. Like many a fan, I want to know what happens in the end. But I don’t really want the end to come.

Cite as: Stephen Fry. "Living with Harry Potter," BBC Radio4, December 10, 2005. URL: http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/2005/1205-bbc-fry.html

Source: http://www.veritaserum.com/ with corrections by Roonwit and Lisa Bunker