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O: You admire Roddy Doyle and Jane Austen—both of whom write about class distinctions. You do in Harry Potter, too. Was that a conscious decision?

JKR: Well, a German journalist said to me, 'There's a lot about money in the Harry Potter books.' And I had never really thought about that before. But kids are acutely aware of money—before they're aware of class. A kid isn't really going to notice how another kid holds his knife and fork. But a kid will be acutely aware that he doesn't have pocket money. Or that he doesn't have as much pocket money. I think back to myself at 11. Kids can be mean, very mean. So it was there in Ron not having the proper length robes, you know? And not being able to buy stuff on the trolley. He's got to have sandwiches his mom made for him, even though he doesn't like the sandwiches. Having enough money to fit in is an important facet of life—and what is more conformist than a school?

O: I think one reason your books are so popular is that they're not sanitized. They're very real.

JKR: I think so. I hope so. The funny thing is, I have people saying to me, 'Oh, so you're an apologist for boarding schools?' No! See, you laugh. In America, people laugh. In Britain, it's a big deal. In Britain, it's, 'Aha! So which boarding school did you go to?' I didn't go to boarding school. Harry Potter has to be set in a boarding school for reasons of plot. How would it be interesting if the characters couldn't get up at night and wander around? You're going to have them go to a day school and trot home, and then break into school every night? And then you have people who think the books are too dark, too scary. After The Chamber of Secrets was published, this grandmother wrote to me and said, 'I was appalled to see you encouraging joyriding.' It was like, 'Okay, hello?!' I read the letter, and for a moment I thought, 'Where did I say joyriding was good?' And then I realized, it's a very, very literal approach to things. Harry steals a car, so it's good to steal cars—no! I didn't say that.

O: Your books create a believable world in that everybody isn't wonderful all the time. The characters aren't examples for how all children should behave.

JKR: What we forget is that kids lead this whole hidden life, however close they are to their parents. I'm aware of this with my 7 year old daughter. I don't find it constantly, but I know it's the reality. It's the slow process of separation—and slightly underground. I have to be aware that my daughter is leading this kid life I cannot share. And that's part of the books. Harry's in a unique position because he has no living parents. So for him, all life is kid life. Ron and Hermione go back to a safe place. Harry hasn't got a safe place. In fact, he finds his safe place in the scary place.

O: With so much on your plate, when do you find time to read?

JKR: I never need to find time to read. When people say to me, 'Oh, yeah, I love reading. I would love to read, but I just don't have time,' I'm thinking, 'How can you not have time?' I read when I'm drying my hair. I read in the bath. I read when I'm sitting in the bathroom. Pretty much anywhere I can do the job one-handed, I read.

See what's on J.K. Rowling's bookshelf!

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