When the first film of her Harry Potter series was released in November 2001, children's author JK Rowling's total earnings topped the £70 million mark. The books have been translated into 42 languages, and have sold more than 325 million copies worldwide, and the success of the franchise has made its creator thus far the only billionaire author in existence. All of which is a far cry from the writer's experiences while penning the original manuscripts. At the time, Joanne was struggling to raise a baby daughter alone on a £70-a-week welfare cheque in a mice-infested flat in Edinburgh. "Until you've actually been there," she said, "you've no idea how soul-destroying it is to have no money. It is a complete loss of self-esteem." The once dreamy girl who liked playing at witches and wizards was forced to draw on all her resources. "I could not afford the luxury of writer's block and so I wrote with intensity," she recalls.
Joanne Kathleen Rowling was born in Chipping Sodbury General Hospital on July 31, 1966, and grew up in a loving family. Her father, Peter, was an engineer, and mother Anne, a half-French half-Scottish homemaker who stayed at home to care for Joanne and her younger sister Di. When Joanne was 14, her mother was diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis. The best-selling author-to-be wrote her first story, Rabbit, when she was just five years old, and both parents were keen to nurture their elder daughter's imagination. Although she later opted to study French at Exeter University - where she arrived clutching a boxful of short stories - at Wyedean Comprehensive School Joanne's favourite subject was English.
After graduating from Exeter, she headed for London where she landed a job as a bilingual secretary and researcher with Amnesty International. Writing remained a passion, and it was during this period that the seed of the magical Harry Potter stories was planted. In 1990, during a train journey between Manchester and London's King Cross, Joanne mapped out the tale of an orphan who discovers he is a wizard. It was the beginning of a project which would bear fruit six years later. The same year that Joanne was laying the groundwork for Harry Potter, her mother succumbed to the illness she had fought since her early 30s.
Nine months later Joanne, then 24, moved to Portugal to try and come to terms with her loss. While there she met and married Portuguese TV journalist Jorge Arantes, but divorced him shortly after the birth of their daughter. Penniless, she returned to Edinburgh to be near her sister Di. A single mum with a child to care for, she was unable to resume full-time work, but desperately needed to support them both. The result was the manuscript for her first novel, written in cafes while her daughter slept because their home was too cold to stay in. Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone was an almost instant success. Numerous awards followed, and Joanne was offered an unprecedented sum for the book's American rights.
Her sudden fame enabled her to raise the profile of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Scotland - in memory of her mother - and led to a role as the ambassador for the National Council For One Parent Families. Joanne remains fiercely protective of her private life, especially since her secret marriage to Dr Neil Murray in December 2001. The couple's first child, a boy, was born in March 2003, just three months before her eagerly awaited fifth book, Harry Potter And The Order of the Phoenix, hit the shelves. Their second child, daughter Mackenzie, was born in early 2005.
In 2007, Joanne hit a milestone in her writing career, when she penned the final chapters of the last installment of the spellbinding boy wizard series, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows. "I was in a hotel room on my own. I was sobbing my heart out," she remembers of the time. "I downed half a bottle of champagne from the mini-bar in one and went home with mascara all over my face. That was really tough." The end of Harry didn't mark Joanne's retirement from the world of writing, though. In March 2008 she revealed she had once again taken to frequenting Edinburgh cafes, with the intention of writing another novel for youngsters. "I will continue writing for children because that's what I enjoy," she said.