J.K. Rowling: an ordinary and extraordinary childhood

“I was shy. I was a mixture of insecurities and very bossy.”

J.K. Rowling added that she was “Very bossy to my sister but quite quiet with strangers. Very bookish. Terrible at school.

“That whole thing about Harry being able to fly so well is probably total wish fulfillment.”

Rowling also said she was, “never happier than when reading or writing.”

[From Profile of J.K. Rowling by Linda L. Richards, January Magazine, October 2000.]

What are some of the other elements of her childhood and personality that helped Joanne Kathleen Rowling fuel her imagination and make her stories so rich and appealing?

In her brief autobiography The Not Especially Fascinating Life So Far of J. K. Rowling, she notes, “Certainly the first story I ever wrote down (when I was five or six) was about a rabbit called Rabbit.

“He got the measles and was visited by his friends, including a giant bee called Miss Bee.

“And since that time, I have wanted to be a writer, though I rarely told anyone so. I was afraid they’d tell me I didn’t have a hope.”

She also describes herself as “quiet, freckly, short-sighted and rubbish at sports (I am the only person I know who managed to break their arm playing netball). My favourite subject by far was English, but I quite liked languages too. I used to tell my equally quiet and studious friends long serial stories at lunch-times. They usually involved us all doing heroic and daring deeds we certainly wouldn’t have done in real life; we were all too swotty.”

(According to Dictionary.com, ‘swotty’ means “given to studying hard, esp to the exclusion of other activities.”)

Writing a character with a health problem is one of many ideas she used from her own experience.

A profile in The Scotsman, 16 June 2003 (Part One) points out “A childhood bout of measles, at the age of four, provided the author’s earliest memory of books, when her father raised her spirits by reading aloud to his bed-bound daughter the adventures of Toad of Toad Hall, from The Wind in the Willows. Books were spread around the house, crammed in every room…”

In 1974, the profile continues, “her parents purchased an old stone cottage in Tutshill, on the Welsh border, close to the Forest of Dean, which would become a blueprint for Harry Potter’s Forbidden Forest… The idyllic Church Cottage, which had a flagstone floor and a covered well, was just a goblin’s throw from the local graveyard, and was surrounded by countryside in which the Rowling sisters would enact their adventures.”

But her “first day at Tutshill Church of England school in September 1974 was not a success. She scored only half a mark out of ten in a test that led to her being positioned on the less intellectual side of the class. Her natural ability soon shone through and she was promoted.”

The teacher was “a strict, intimidating woman, who frightened Joanne as a child and whose presence would work its way into the less sympathetic masters of Hogwarts. By the age of ten, Joanne was a keen Brownie, a voracious reader and a serious student who raced to get her hand up first.”

“I was the epitome of a bookish child, short and squat, thick National Health glasses, living in a world of complete daydreams.”

In a Scholastic press interview she said, “I had some wonderful teachers, but I never confided that I wanted to be a writer. Writing for me is a kind of compulsion, so I don’t think anyone could have made me do it, or prevented me from doing it.”

On her own site, she adds, “As soon as I knew what writers were, I wanted to be one. I’ve got the perfect temperament for a writer; perfectly happy alone in a room, making things up.” [jkrowling.com]

Imaginational Overexcitability

In her SENG presentation Understanding Overexcitabilities: The Joys and the Challenges, Susan Daniels, PhD comments about Imaginational Overexcitability: “…if one has an imagination like J. K. Rowling, an entire feast hall with floating candelabras, wizards and dragons can result.”

[See a video excerpt from the presentation in my post Excitabilities and Gifted People – an intro by Susan Daniels.]

A BBC biography: JK Rowling – Author notes “In her final year of school Joanne became Head Girl. One of the characters in the Harry Potter series, Hermione Granger, is extremely keen on and serious about schoolwork and studying. Joanne has admitted that this character was based on herself”

“I wasn’t as clever as I thought I should be. I don’t think I was a know-it-all. I was obsessed with achieving academically, but that masked a huge insecurity,” Rowling said.


Teased about her name, with schoolmates calling her ‘Rowling Pin,’ she says “I know what it is like to be picked on, as it happened to me, too, throughout my adolescence. Being a teenager can be completely horrible…I wouldn’t go back if you paid me.”

[From Cruel school bullies branded me Rowling Pin, says author J.K., By Jonathan Petre, Daily Mail, 17 July 2011]

The book J.K. Rowling: A Biography by Connie Ann Kirk also notes she was attacked at her high school and thrown against her locker by a girl in her class.

[Also see post: Lily Cole and gifted kids being bullied.]

Of course, many children get bullied, many love to read and create, and feel shy or insecure at times, but these experiences may be particularly intense, meaningful and enduring for gifted and creative children.

In her article Under Her Spell: An Analysis of the Creativity Of JK Rowling [PDF] (Gifted Education International September 2004), Ann Loftus McGreevy commented that “gifted children have been particularly dedicated to reading the Harry Potter series.”

One reason is how much of her exceptional inner life Rowling has brought into her powerful stories.

~ ~

Middle photo: JK Rowling as child, from ABC News article: Inside the Magical World of ‘Harry Potter’ Author

Lower photo: Jo (left) and Di Rowling in the early 1970s.

Some of my related posts about the author:

J.K. Rowling on creative imagination

J.K. Rowling on the benefits of failure for personal growth development

Writing from personal experience: J.K. Rowling and celebrating our unique qualities

J.K. Rowling on Writing and Depression


6-12 August 2012 is the International Week of the Gifted

“Leslie Graves, executive member of the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children, writes:

#IWG2012 – Second week, August 2012 – We will celebrate with a blog tour over the week, in honour of the upcoming International Year of Giftedness and Creativity 2013.

This tour invites any who wish to blow a breath of air at our communal kite of giftedness, attach a bow of an idea onto it’s tail, — help it start to get it off the ground, simply by taking part, to contribute a blog post with your stories/ideas, and help others to see what can be…

We are hoping that the #IWG2012 will give our gifted global community’s beautiful kite a good head start with your ideas.

From the site Gifted Online.

Also see the site: World Council for Gifted And Talented Children.


Originally posted 2012-08-06 17:41:52.


  1. Leslie Graves says

    Hey Douglas just wanted to thank you so much for supporting this small initiative, in hopes of gathering together a global gifted communal focus/spirit.. you’ve been kind to contribute, and a wonderful subject you picked too… My thanks.. Les


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