In 1995, Joanne, a thirty-year old mother of one living in Edinburgh, with not much money to support her and her infant daughter, put the finishing touches to a first novel; it was submitted to a dozen publishers – being rejected by all.
Joanne had moved to Scotland to be near her younger sister Dianne when Jo’s marriage foundered: the sisters had always been close and as youngsters in the early 1970s, they could be found playing ‘shops’ – in a real shop, with real stock, here in West Moors – the girls would have been well under 10 years old. The grocery business was run by Jo and Di’s paternal grandparents, Ernie and Kathleen Rowling.
Known for much of its life since the Second World War as Glenwood Stores, the shop and living accommodation was one of the oldest such along the eastern side of Station Road, being built early in the 20th century – though by the time of this image (from a commercial postcard, circa 1970) the premises had been extensively altered.
The shop no longer exists – Tesco Express and the turning for Park Way occupy the spot now . . . as can be seen in the second image taken by me in January 2015 . . .
. . . but the link with the earlier shop and its one-time owners surrounds us like a “wizard’s spell”: when Joanne finally found a publisher prepared to take on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone [June 1997], she was asked to adopt a pen name. Having no middle name herself, she is reported to have chosen ‘K’ after her much-loved (and no doubt very patient) grandmother(*), and as “J. K. Rowling” she produced six more novels in the epic saga which, as a series of award-winning books and films, have made Joanne one of the wealthiest and influential women of our times. [Rowling has of course written several non-Potter related novels since.]
An additional link with the Rowlings of West Moors and Harry Potter is that JKR used the first names of both her grandfathers in the story concerning the ‘Knight Bus’; this is the conveyance that rescues Harry in the “Prisoner of Azkaban”, the third book / film in the series. Her paternal grandfather (and husband of Kathleen), Ernest (Ernie) Rowling gave his name to ‘Ernie Prang’ the driver, and her maternal grandfather, Stanley Volant inspired ‘Stan Shunpike’ the conductor (who has most of the dialogue).
(*) Kathleen Rowling died in 1975 at the early age of 52, when the two girls would have been around 8 and 10 years old: this early passing of someone who was obviously dear to them would have affected the sisters profoundly.
(1): An interview with J.K. Rowling; author Lindsey Fraser: 2002 / Egmont books.
(2): J.K. Rowling: a Biography; author Sean Smith: 2001 / Michael O’Mara Books.
(4): J.K. Rowling: A Biography; author Connie Ann Kirk: 2003 / Greenwood Publishing.