"Rowling casts a spell that will give charities millions"
by Rory Godson and Maurice Chittenden ("Sunday Times," January 7, 2001)
|London - She is the single parent who has become one of the richest women in Britain with her books about a schoolboy wizard. He is the Old Harrovian who dreamt up the scripts for Mr Bean and the Vicar of Dibley and has written two of the three most successful British films.
Together they have cast a boggarts-and-broomsticks spell for the world's poorest children. Two new books written and illustrated by JK Rowling, the creator of Harry Potter, at the instigation of Richard Curtis, the comedy writer, are poised to make £22m for the charity Comic Relief this spring.
In an unprecedented publishing coup, 11m copies of the books, their titles taken from the library shelves of Hogwarts school for young wizards and witches, will go on sale worldwide on March 12.
Rowling is giving all her royalties to the charity in what amounts to one of the biggest single donations ever made in Britain. Printers, distributors and booksellers are all waiving their profits, fees and payments. It means that For each 42-page book sold for £2.50 at least £2 will go to charity.
The amount raised will be on a scale that dwarfs the success of previous Comic Relief publications. A collection of Delia Smith recipes raised £1.2m four years ago.
Rowling's contribution is likely to make up at least half the proceeds from this year's red nose day. The cunning ploy owes much to the imagination of Curtis, the creator of Blackadder, who suggested that she write a short story.
Curtis, the co-founder of Comic Relief, said: "It's my job to write to everbody and anybody who I think might be able to help us." Little did he know that Rowling had been a donor to Comic Relief since it was launched in 1985 and already had a secret hankering to write the two books.
She said last week: "I didn't want to write a short story be-cause I'm no good at short, as you can see from book four." Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth and most recent in her planned seven-part history of Potter, ran to 636 pages.
Wizard wheeze: Lenny Henry, a Comic Relief regular She added: "So I've written two of the titles that appear within the novels and I have done some illustrations for them. You should buy them because they will save lives." The first 10,000-word book is called Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them, and is written under the pseudonym of Newt Scamander. It is mentioned in the Potter novels as one of the books in the library of Professor Albus Dumbledore's Hogwarts school and features such beasts as hippogriffs and blast-ended skrewts.
Potter fans may already know that a boggart is a creature that can assume different forms to present itself as whatever its victim most fears. But the new book tells where such beasts come from, what they eat and what you should do if you ever meet one face to face.
The second 42-page book, Quidditch Through the Ages, by Kennilworthy Whisp, tells the history of the most important sport in the wizarding world. Potter excels at the game, which is played on broomsticks.
"I had huge fun working out quidditch," said Rowling. "I always wanted to see a sport where there are four balls in play at once."
She made up the name after hours of inventing words begining with the letter q. "It was just a whim. I wanted to have a q-word. And so I've still got this old notebook where you have all these q-words made up. And then finally I hit quidditch," she said.
Two million copies of each book will be printed in Britain by Bloomsbury.
Comic Relief is also publishing a new selection of Smith recipes (Delia's Chocolate Collection) and a book by Helen Fielding (Bridget Jones's Guide to Life), which should raise at least another £2m.
Libby Asher, in charge of the charity's publications, said: "If we hadn't had JK Rowling we would be turning somersaults over Delia and Helen's books. But Harry Potter is huger than anything.
"I have read the books, but I cannot even tell my own children exactly what is in them. It has to be terribly, terribly secret or these awful spells will make us explode."