MILLIONAIRE author JK Rowling has donated £20,000 to help create a centre in Edinburgh which will promote children’s literature.
The writer, who is said to be passionate about encouraging youngsters to read, has given the cash to help get the Scottish Centre for the Children’s Book off the ground.
The centre is planned to open later this year in the Old Town and help promote Scots children’s books to youngsters and their parents.
The work of Edinburgh-based authors such as Aileen Paterson, creator of Maisie the Morningside Cat, are set to feature at the centre, as well as other favourites such as Mhairi Hedderwick’s Katie Morag, and The Gruffalo and Monkey Puzzle by Julia Donaldson.
It is hoped the writers themselves, possibly including JK Rowling, will also get involved in the work of the centre.
Housing a library and a storytelling garden, the centre is to open in Sandeman House, in Edinburgh’s Old Town "literary quarter", where several publishers and the Scottish Poetry Library are situated. The new Netherbow storytelling centre, which will share the garden and a vision to promote storytelling, is being built nearby.
Edinburgh-based Ms Rowling, whose sixth book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is set to be released in July, has spoken of her passion for encouraging children’s love of literature.
She has been keen to support events where she gets the chance to interact with her young readers.
Catherine Lockerbie, director of the Edinburgh Book Festival, said she was not surprised the author had chosen to back the centre.
She said: "She has always been passionate about engaging young minds. That is what the Harry Potter series is about. She did not deliberately set out to sell books."
The children’s book centre will run an extensive programme of children’s literary events and is the brainchild of Edinburgh-born author Joan Lingard, who has written for both children and adults.
Ms Lingard, who was brought up in Belfast and is best known for her Kevin and Sadie books set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, now lives in the New Town.
Many of her other children’s books are set in Stockbridge and in other districts in the Capital.
Ms Lingard approached the Scottish Book Trust with the idea and the plan was set up with the help of Rowling’s donation. The new centre aims to capitalise on the growing popularity of Scottish writers around the world.
Marc Lambert, chief executive of the Scottish Book Trust, said he was excited about the new project. He said: "Scotland has a long history of producing children’s writers of exceptional quality from Robert Louis Stevenson to JM Barrie. Today we have a huge range of wonderful children’s authors including JK Rowling, Joan Lingard and Keith Gray.
"This is about providing an institution that is specifically concerned with bringing more books to children. Writers, who will also have a direct input, will develop workshops and plans for the centre."
He added: "We are very excited about the launch of this new agency later in the year."
As well as being a facility for local families and teachers, the new centre is expected to contribute to tourism in the Capital, helping attract families from all over Scotland and the rest of the UK.
Tours to the literary quarter, which has connections with some of Edinburgh’s longest standing authors, are planned as part of this year’s World City of Literature celebrations.
In October, Edinburgh became the first city to win the accolade, after a 20-strong delegation went to Paris to put the Capital’s case to members of the United Nations’ cultural organisation, Unesco.
The idea is to have a network of Cities of Literature around the world. Edinburgh hopes to have an annual festival of Scottish writing, develop literary trails and improve reading skills among children.