JK Rowling has spoken of her sadness that her mother, who died from complications related to multiple sclerosis at the age of 45, never knew about the success of her Harry Potter novels.
As guest editor of Monday morning's edition of Woman's Hour – the first time in nearly 60 years that the BBC Radio 4 show has had a guest editor – the bestselling author chose MS as one of her topics. Her mother died after suffering an aggressive form of the disease nearly 15 years ago; her death was an "enormous shock", said Rowling, as her mother "always seemed very young".
"She was very fit, she was a non-smoker, non-drinker, and I say all of this because of course then for her to be diagnosed at 35 with an illness that would kill her was just the most enormous shock to us and everyone who knew her," said Rowling, who has helped to fund the Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic, part of the University of Edinburgh, in her mother's memory.
The author was a teenager at the time of her mother's diagnosis, and said the news "had the most enormous impact on our family life".
"My mother, by the time she was diagnosed, she was quite ill. She had been showing symptoms for a few years and didn't know what they were, so by the time she was diagnosed, her health was deteriorating, so it wasn't just the spectre of the unknown, it was dealing with the daily reality of somebody who's starting not to be able to walk as well as they had, and for such an active person that was a real privation," she said.
Rowling said she wished her mother had known about the success of her Harry Potter books. "My mother was a passionate reader, and she would have been excited whatever I did, if I succeeded at anything, but particularly to be a writer, she would have considered to be a very valuable thing," she said. But "she never knew about Harry Potter – I started writing it six months before she died, so that is painful. I wish she'd known."
The author also spoke of her charity work, saying she wanted to "use my power for good not evil", choosing as another topic the millions of children around the world who live in institutions, and the work her charityLumos does to help them.
"I remember being introduced to a group of three-year-olds who swarmed all over me. They just gravitated to anyone who would show them affection. I had one little girl sitting on my lap and just clinging to me and she'd just been introduced to me," said Rowling of her own experience of institutionalised children, getting "quite emotional" as she spoke.
"What's particularly upsetting about that is we know that children are often trafficked out of institutions and I was being given this terrible glaring example of how easy this was to do. Any affection and these children would just eat out of your hands," she said.
The novelist's guest-edited edition of Woman's Hour also featured slots on the power and myth of the shoe – "how often shoes turn up in stories and fairy tales and why is that" – and on rugby, with Rowling explaining that when she married a Scot she was taken to the rugby and "accidentally" ended up enjoying it. "I was staggered the first time I went to the rugby … by the difference in the rugby and football crowds, and as a woman being at the rugby is quite a welcoming place, whereas I can remember going to football matches in London and feeling quite intimidated," she said. Even though in rugby, "what's on the pitch is horrible and violent and dreadful", the crowd is much less intimidating, she said.
Rowling also discussed criticism of her appearance. "I found it very difficult when I first became well-known to read criticism of how I looked: how messy my hair was … you can go one of two ways: you can be the person I probably admire more, and say 'well I don't care, I will continue not to bother to brush my hair,' or you can be a weak-willed person like me and think 'Oh, I'd better get my act together', maybe I do need to tie my hair back and tidy myself up a bit."
"It must be so nice to be a man and think 'which of my three suits will I wear today?'"
You can listen to the full episode HERE
Clip 1 - Children living in institutions
Clip 2 - JK loves rugby!
Clip 3 - Shoes
Clip 4 - the Benefits of failure
Clip 5 - Multiple Sclerosis