JK Rowling’s perseverance on Harry Potter still inspires 25 years on – Brian Ferguson
If you loiter for long enough amid the hussle and bustle on Edinburgh’s George IV Bridge, there is a pretty good chance you will come across a group of Harry Potter fans before too long.
The cloaks, wands and the marrow and yellow colours of the “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry” are dead giveaways, after all.
My latest encounter with them at the weekend coincided with the 25th anniversary of the publication of JK Rowling’s debut novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.
It was a timely reminder of the enduring phenomenon triggered by the then unknown author, who recalled at the weekend how she had stared disbelievingly at her book on the shelves of Waterstones on Princes Street.
My last memorable encounter with Harry Potter fans had been at the end of the West Highland Railway line last summer, when the Jacobite stream train pulled in after a journey across the Glenfinnan Viaduct, the iconic Scottish landmark undoubtedly best-known now for its appearances in the Harry Potter films.
What I didn’t know until very recently was that the Harry Potter story actually began on a train journey from Manchester to London, when Rowling said the initial inspiration for Harry Potter and Hogwarts “came out of nowhere in the most physical rush of excitement, and ideas came teeming into my head”.
I had wrongly assumed for the best part of 25 years that the entire book had been written in the cafes of Edinburgh’s Old Town, including the Elephant House, on George IV Bridge, which has been sadly closed by fire damage since summer, and Nicolson’s opposite the Festival Theatre.
It was a few months ago that I noticed on Rowling’s own website that she had spent more than three years working on the book before moving to Edinburgh and around five in total before it was finished. It took another two for the book to see the light of day after being rejected by 12 publishers.
Rowling’s perseverance in the face of a marriage break-up and a move back to the UK from Portugal certainly brought her remarkable rewards, given that more than 500 million copies of Harry Potter books have since been sold.
But her unlikely success story is certainly not alone within the Scottish literature world.
It is often forgotten that Irvine Welsh was working in the council housing department in Edinburgh before he found fame with debut novel Trainspotting nearly 30 years ago.
Jenni Fagan, who is writing a new TV series based on his Begbie character, spent 16 years in the Scottish care system before pursuing a career in writing and publishing her debut novel in her 30s.
Graeme Armstrong credits reading Trainspotting with turning around his own life, from being immersed in gang culture in his teenage years to drawing on his experiences for his own debut novel.
Then there is Glasgow-born Booker Prize winner Douglas Stuart, one of the biggest success stories in Scottish literature in recent years, who spent the best part of a decade writing his debut novel, Shuggie Bain, while working as a fashion designer in New York.
While the work of all these writers has rightly won huge acclaim, their own personal stories are equally intriguing and inspiring.