The success of the Harry Potter books has taken me to places that never, in my most optimistic daydreams, did I visualize myself. If you had told me twenty years ago that I would one day stand in the Oval Office, I would have advised you to change your medication. My disbelief would have been no less extreme had you prophesied a trip to Buckingham Palace, or to 10 Downing Street, or to a fake hillock in the middle of the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. Yet I really did go to those places and each occasion lives in my memory like a cinematic still, as though it happened to somebody else.
In the last eighteen years I have also spoken to thousands of children: at literary festivals, in schools, hospitals and bookshops, outside premieres and while doing my shopping. These encounters have almost always been joyful. However, some such interactions are not preserved as cheerful images in my mental scrapbook. They haunt me. The sensations of powerlessness and unhappiness that I experienced at the time rise again whenever I think about them: they are rising now.
My visit to the foreign orphanage was not supposed to be upsetting, or not as far as the staff was concerned. The woman in charge beamed as the three year olds swarmed around the strange visitor, eager for her attention. Those children neither knew nor cared about Harry Potter; alll they craved was affection. We could not speak each other’s language, but that did not deter the little girl with the shaven head. She crawled into my lap and beamed up at me. If you have ever had a totally unfamiliar toddler cling to you in the evident hope that you might simply take them away with you, you will probably understand what it felt like to detach her fingers and leave. As I pretended to listen to the white-coated carer walking beside me, I remembered the horrifying statistics on the numbers of children who are trafficked from such institutions. That three-year old would have clung to absolutely anybody for a smile and a hug.
Another day, another children’s institution and I was shown into a room full of totally silent babies. They had learned that crying brought no comfort and their lack of interest in eye contact was eerie. The photographer wanted me to smile. I wanted to cry.
My worst memories, though, are of the vast impersonal children’s home in Eastern Europe where I saw three children with severe cerebral palsy sharing a single bed. They were tube fed, washed and otherwise totally ignored. An English-speaking nurse confided in me that another young disabled girl in her care kept asking for her mother. When the little girl’s pleas became too much, the nurse would leave work and telephone the ward, pretending to be the mother who had been convinced that no contact was in the best interests of a child who was begging for her.
The names ‘orphanage’ and ‘care home’ can conjure up benign images. People donate money willingly and generously, believing that the children living in such institutions have been rescued from a life barely worth living. This, I have learned after ten years of reading research and talking to experts in the field, is an idea predicated on lack of knowledge about the reality of what institutionalization does to a child, and about the real reasons that children find themselves in care homes.
80% of the eight million children living in orphanages and institutions worldwide are not orphans. They have at least one living parent, and that parent usually wants to care for them personally. To those of us fortunate enough to grow up in the privileged First World, it might seem inconceivable that a parent would voluntarily give up the care of their child to an institution. We take for granted the medical and welfare systems that support the care of children at home. Institutions spring up where no such systems exist, where there is cultural discrimination against disability, where conflicts and disasters have destroyed livelihoods and – by far the largest driver of institutionalisation – where parents are so poor that they fear the only way to save their child from starvation is to place them in residential care.
Ten years ago, after those first dreadful experiences of visiting orphanages, I made contact with several experts in the field of deinstitutionalization. This led me to found Lumos, an international non-profit organization. Its aim is to help countries reform childcare and protection systems, moving from building orphanages towards systems that help families to stay together.
It has now been proven that loving adult engagement with a young child helps strengthen neural electrical connections in the brain, shaping its development. Brain scans visibly demonstrate the dramatic difference between the brain development of children who have had loving one-to-one care from an adult, and those who have been raised without it. A key failing of orphanages is that shift rosters and low ratios of adults to children cannot ensure the close, sustained adult attention children need to grow and prosper. Institutionalized children are more frequently sick than the wider population and at far greater risk of mental illness and impairment. As adults, they are many times more likely to use drugs, to engage in prostitution and to commit suicide, than people raised in families.
Damaged and stigmatized, such individuals place a never-ending economic burden on societies. How ironic, then, that institutionalization itself is very expensive. It is far more cost-effective to provide foster and adoption services and community-based health and welfare systems. Yet orphanages often assert an economic ‘pull factor,’ attracting funding, frequently from abroad, which increases societal pressure on families to give up their children. There can also be a vested interest in keeping institutions running, as the workers and managers fear the loss of their own livelihoods.
The good news is that this is an entirely solvable problem. Lumos has spent 10 years working in Europe, where institutionalization of children was a major concern, especially in formerly Communist countries. Lumos advocates retraining institutional employees as community-based health and social workers. Institutional buildings can be repurposed to house community services. Encouragingly, a ‘tipping point’ has now been achieved: most countries in that region have plans to end institutionalization. Furthermore, the US government and the European Union are taking a lead in changing the way foreign assistance is delivered, to move the focus onto protecting and supporting families.
However, there is still much work to do. The United Nations is currently creating a set of post-2015 ‘Sustainable Development Goals’, which aim to ensure ‘no-one is left behind’. Lumos is concerned that, while early drafts focus on the importance of early childhood development, they contain no recognition of the essential role that parents play in nurturing and raising children. Meanwhile, the numbers of children in so-called orphanages continues to rise in areas outside Europe. Lumos has now begun work in the Latin American and Caribbean region. We have started in Haiti, where approximately 30,000 children are currently living in almost entirely privately funded orphanages. Once again, we find the familiar ratio of 80% non-orphans, and recognize the driving force of poverty.
Lumos has a single, simple goal: to end the institutionalization of children worldwide by 2050. This is ambitious, but achievable. It is also essential. Eight million voiceless children are currently suffering globally under a system that, according to all credible research, is indefensible. We owe them far, far better. We owe them families.
The 3-part television adaptation of The Casual Vacancy will air on BBC1 on Sunday 15th, 22nd February and 1st March 2015 in the UK, and in the US it will go out on the HBO network on April 29th, with two parts back-to-back, followed by part three on 30th April. The adaptation has been written by Sarah Phelps and the cast includes Michael Gambon, Keeley Hawes and Julia Mackenzie. To watch a trailer for the series click here.
J.K. Rowling today urged some of the world’s largest international aid donors to use their financial might to eradicate institutions and orphanages that harm children. As Founder and President of the international children's charity Lumos, she addressed representatives from organisations including the EU, the US Government and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) at a London conference, and spoke about how all children have a legal and moral right to a family life and that institutions, despite the best intentions, cannot give the love and care they need to grow and reach their potential.
“I recently committed to becoming President of Lumos for Life,” she added, “and it is my dream that by the time my life ends, the very concept of taking a child away from its family and locking it away will seem to belong to a cruel, fictional world.”
The author is also helping to launch Lumos’ online social media campaign, #LetstalkLumos, aimed at raising awareness of the plight of up to eight million children globally who are living in orphanages and institutions, despite over 80% having living parents. The campaign will also raise funds for a special education unit in a mainstream school in Moldova, to demonstrate that children with complex disabilities can be educated alongside their peers without disabilities.
J.K. Rowling will be one of five guest editors in BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour Takeover week, from 28th April to 2nd May 2014. She will guest edit the Woman’s Hour programme on Monday 28th April, followed by Kelly Holmes, Naomi Alderman, Doreen Lawrence, and Lauren Laverne as guest editors on subsequent days. Her programme will look at such topics as the issue of orphanages, and why so many children continue to be cared for in institutions worldwide; the power and myth of the shoe in popular culture; and why Scotland has the highest number of multiple sclerosis sufferers in the world.
J.K. Rowling is pleased to announce that she is collaborating with the award-winning theatre producers Sonia Friedman and Colin Callender on a new stage play to be based on the Harry Potter stories.
What was it like to be the boy in the cupboard under the stairs? This brand new play, which will be developed for the UK theatre, will explore the previously untold story of Harry's early years as an orphan and outcast. Featuring some of our favourite characters from the Harry Potter books, this new work will offer a unique insight into the heart and mind of the now legendary young wizard. A seemingly ordinary boy, but one for whom Destiny has plans...
J.K. Rowling will also be a co-producer on the project, but whilst she will collaborate with a writer on the new play, she will not write the script herself.
J.K. Rowling said:
"Over the years I have received countless approaches about turning Harry Potter into a theatrical production, but Sonia and Colin’s vision was the only one that really made sense to me, and which had the sensitivity, intensity and intimacy I thought appropriate for bringing Harry's story to the stage. After a year in gestation it is exciting to see this project moving on to the next phase. I’d like to thank Warner Bros. for their continuing support in this project."
Writers and directors are now being considered, and the project will move into development in 2014.
Warner Bros. announced on 12th September 2013 that J.K. Rowling would be making her screenwriting debut with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the first in a new film series which is part of their expanded creative partnership with J.K. Rowling. The films will be inspired by Harry Potter’s Hogwarts textbook of the same name, and will feature the book’s fictitious author, Newt Scamander.
“It all started when Warner Bros. came to me with the suggestion of turning Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them into a film. I thought it was a fun idea, but the idea of seeing Newt Scamander, the supposed author of Fantastic Beasts, realized by another writer was difficult. Having lived for so long in my fictional universe, I feel very protective of it and I already knew a lot about Newt. As hard-core Harry Potter fans will know, I liked him so much that I even married his grandson, Rolf, to one of my favourite characters from the Harry Potter series, Luna Lovegood.
As I considered Warners’ proposal, an idea took shape that I couldn’t dislodge. That is how I ended up pitching my own idea for a film to Warner Bros.
Although it will be set in the worldwide community of witches and wizards where I was so happy for seventeen years, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is neither a prequel nor a sequel to the Harry Potter series, but an extension of the wizarding world. The laws and customs of the hidden magical society will be familiar to anyone who has read the Harry Potter books or seen the films, but Newt’s story will start in New York, seventy years before Harry’s gets underway.
I particularly want to thank Kevin Tsujihara of Warner Bros. for his support in this project, which would not have happened without him. I always said that I would only revisit the wizarding world if I had an idea that I was really excited about and this is it.”
To celebrate the paperback release of The Casual Vacancy, reading website Goodreads asked fans of the book to submit any questions that they would like to ask J.K. Rowling- more than 1,500 questions were submitted, and from a poll of finalists the winning question was chosen. You can now read the winning question and find out J.K. Rowling's answer and insights about the book here.
"I hoped to keep this secret a little longer, because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience! It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback from publishers and readers under a different name. The upside of being rumbled is that I can publicly thank my editor David Shelley, who has been a true partner in crime, all those people at Little, Brown who have been working so hard on The Cuckoo’s Calling without realizing that I wrote it, and the writers and reviewers, both in the newspapers and online, who have been so generous to the novel. And to those who have asked for a sequel, Robert fully intends to keep writing the series, although he will probably continue to turn down personal appearances."
J.K. Rowling has contributed a personally annotated first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to be auctioned at Sotheby’s London on 21st May, as part of English PEN’s First Editions, Second Thoughts sale.
Friday 8th March
8pm, The Forum, Bath Literature Festival
J.K. Rowling will be talking to Festival Director, James Runcie.
She will be signing copies of The Casual Vacancy after the event, for ticket holders only. In order to allow as many audience members as possible to have their book signed, it will be limited to one copy per person.
This event is now sold out.
Box office: 01225 463362
This event is nearly sold out, so please book soon to avoid disappointment.
J.K. Rowling's first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy, has been awarded the Best Fiction prize in the Goodreads Choice Awards 2012. The Goodreads Choice Awards is the only major book awards decided by readers in the USA, and originated in 2009. Winners in other categories include Veronica Roth, Stephen King and Terry Pratchett. For further details about the awards, please visit the Goodreads website.
This week The Casual Vacancy has also returned to Number 1 in the UK in the The Bookseller and Sunday Times book lists.
BBC One announces plans to bring J.K. Rowling's best-selling novel The Casual Vacancy to the screen.
BBC Once and BBC Drama have commissioned an exclusive adaptation of The Casual Vacancy from The Blair Partnership who represent J.K. Rowling. The series will be produced through an independent production company operated by Neil Blair and Rick Senat, on behalf of The Blair Partnership, which will engage the executive series producer. The deal was struck following discussions between Neil Blair and BBC One Controller Danny Cohen.
J.K. Rowling will collaborate closely with the project, with the number and length of the episodes to be decided once the creative adaptation process has formally begun.
Please visit the BBC website for more information.
J.K. Rowling will be doing a live global webcast all about Harry Potter from her home town of Edinburgh, on Thursday 11th October at 12pm ET/9am PT (5pm BST).
Produced and directed by her American publisher, Scholastic, it can be viewed live on both Scholastic and Bloomsbury's sites. The webcast takes the form of a virtual classroom visit, during which J.K. Rowling will answer questions about Harry Potter posed by children in schools in America, England and Canada. She will also be talking about Pottermore, and answering the question most requested by Pottermore fans in a poll: ‘Which Pottermore house are you in?’
You can watch the webcast live at Scholastic's website.
J.K. Rowling event announced.
J.K. Rowling will appear live in conversation with bestselling novelist Ann Patchett at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall in NYC on October 16 at 8PM. Tickets will be available on September 10.
This will be J.K. Rowling's only public event in the United States to celebrate her first novel for adults, THE CASUAL VACANCY.
To celebrate the 15th anniversary, Bloomsbury Children’s Books is launching the search for the biggest Harry Potter fan! Entrants are invited to write in no more than 50 words why they love Harry Potter, and post their letters in the special postboxes provided in their local bookshops and libraries.
The Warner Bros. tour of the studios where the Harry Potter movies were made opened on Saturday 31 March 2012. For the first time, fans could go behind-the-scenes to see many things the camera never showed, from breathtakingly detailed sets to stunning costumes, props and animatronics.
On Thursday 7 July 2011, the final movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two, premiered at The Odeon, Leicester Square in central London. There were emotional farewells from the cast and producers in Trafalgar Square, watched by thousands of fans who had made the journey to be there from across the globe.
Pottermore, J.K. Rowling’s exciting new website with Sony, was announced on Thursday 23 June 2011. It’s the place to discover more about the world of Harry Potter and access exclusive new content from Jo about the characters, places and objects in her much-loved stories.
This is the only place to buy Harry Potter eBooks and digital audio downloads, for all reading devices, in partnership with J.K. Rowling’s publishers worldwide.