The Post About the Time I Met J.K. Rowling (Part 2)
This isn’t going where you think it is. It’s not like I turned up at J.K. Rowling’s house drunk and made a pass at her. Or broke down crying in the middle of our interview. Though the second one crossed my mind.
I did do a fair amount of drinking. Edinburgh: not a city to dry out in. And here’s a fine period detail: you could smoke in bars. I found a punk bar near my hotel and sat in it, wallowing in self-pity and Harry Potter, reading book after book and drinking pint after pint and burning cigarette after cigarette. I missed my daughter. I missed myself — the version of myself that had any idea what was going on.
And then the day came. Two high-ranking Scholastic executives came to my hotel in a limo, scraped me up off the curb, and drove me to Rowling’s house. It wasn’t even a very far drive. The block was nice but not insane. The house was big. It had an electric gate that slid open. We went inside.
I didn’t go up to the house. Instead I was led to a bungalow a few yards away. In the bungalow was a conference room with a big blonde wooden table. At the table was J.K. Rowling.
You know what she looks like. Rowling looks like she looks in pictures. Blonde, long face, warm smile. I particularly remember her shoes — the heels were at least four inches, and shiny. Chrome. We shook hands. We sat down. The Scholastic executives sat down too.
Like I said: this isn’t going where you think it is. Nothing dramatic happened. I didn’t do anything crazy. We chatted. Mercifully I’ve lost the audio, but I do have the transcript. Looking at it now the only thing that surprises me about it is what a great interview it is. We talked about her daughter, who was six months old at that point. We talked about the books. We talked about how she writes, and what she’s proud of, what she regrets, and how her writing has changed from book to book. We talked about smoking, and the press, and religion, and C.S. Lewis, and goblins, and politics, and sex.
It’s an amazing performance on her part. Think about it: a woman in her position, the principal asset of a billion-dollar industry, talking to a nervous, strung-out stranger — who was not only a reporter but a fan — for two hours, warmly and frankly, without a single leak or gaffe or wrong note of any kind. It was the performance not just of a brilliant and self-possessed person, but also of a just plain good person, who knew who she was and what she was doing. Actually I don’t think it was a performance at all. It was just her.
And me? I’d just spent a week pub-crawling through the British isles by myself, smoking and drinking and hating my life and hating myself. I felt loathsome. I felt like the worst buy zithromax overnight delivery person in the world. I hadn’t a sober conversation with anyone who was not a service professional gastrointestinal pills online in a solid week.
And then this warm, beautiful woman spent two hours talking Harry Potter with me, as if I were a friend and an equal. And this was not just a woman, this was Joanne Rowling. I’m crossing all kinds of lines here, but let me for a moment ask you to imagine how that felt. There are no jokes to make here. Suddenly I felt human again. I felt redeemable. The clouds parted for a minute. It felt like I had hit bottom, and when I did there was an angel was waiting for me there to fly me back up. If joy can break your heart, mine broke a little bit.
And then it was over. We stood up. She asked me my daughter’s name, and I told her it was Lily, and she signed a copy of Order of the Phoenix for her — I’d told her it was my favorite. (Trust me when I say that it is in a bank vault inside a bank vault.) We said goodbye. I think I ran after her to shake her hand. Then she disappeared into the house, and I was taken back to my hotel.
And then I went back to fucking up again. I guess that’s the thing about a state of grace: you can’t stay in it forever. Or maybe a stronger person could, but I couldn’t. At any rate I didn’t.
I went back to my hotel, and I got drunk again. I had, I think, two days to turn the interview into a profile, so I started typing and transcribing. (I didn’t write drunk, by the way. I’m dumb, but I’m not stupid.) And as I typed and transcribed I got nervous. I lost my cool. I tried to be clever. I tried to be ironical. I forgot everything I’d learned in that room. I blew it. I wrote a pile of crap.
I’m not going to link to it. I’ve written things about Harry that I’m proud of — I think I did a good job with my Deathly Hallows review (which I filed 17 hours after it hit bookstores, thank you very much) — but that’s not one of them. It’s the biggest regret of my career. I hope I never have a bigger one. I don’t see how I could.
The usual things happened that happen when you fuck up both publicly and privately on an epic scale. Terry Pratchett called me an idiot. Neil Gaiman said the piece was crap. And so it was.
To add insult to injury, Time promptly syndicated the piece to a European paper, destroying a huge exclusivity agreement Scholastic had arranged. If I were them I would have sued us.
Also, three weeks after I got back from Edinburgh, I moved out of my house. I never moved back in.
Epilogue: And V for Vendetta sucked, too.