Updated: Jul 31, 2020
31 July. Harry Potter's birthday - and, not so coincidentally, JK Rowling's birthday too. Fans around the world will celebrate, and I will be one of them.
I love those books, mostly for what they and JKR did for authors. Not that I was inspired to write books because of them; Jane Blonde was already in the works by the time they started coming out. In fact, I was so far into my Masters in Creative Writing for Children that I saw the second film with a fellow student (now another best-selling author) as part enjoyment, part study, and quite a lot of raucous singing along to the theme tune.
But JKR's story is very similar to mine. Had to write. No money. Single parent. Nursed one coffee for several hours to write in a cafe. Actually born in the same year. In fact, I've sometimes wondered whether, if the idea for Harry was flitting around the Manchester area looking for a creator as per my earlier blog, then perhaps he could have appeared to me instead! Not that I mind. I love my own Jane Blonde, Jack BC, Stein, Tilly P, Cat and Poppy and all the other characters and stories.
And I know that, at least in some degree, I have J K Rowling to thank for the fact they were picked up and published. She put children's books front and centre of the literary stage. She made long, wordy children's books acceptable, even advisable, which for someone who rarely writes a book in less than 60k words was and is very good news. She played with age ranges. No. She obliterated age ranges.
And best of all, she made us all believe, at least a little, in magic.
I've been incredibly lucky to have a little of that magic sprinkled across moments of my life. I reflected on these in January this year as I sat in the Edinburgh cafe where JKR created the world's most famour boy, staring out at the Castle, the streets, the graveyards that inspired so much of the books' settings in the way that authors are inspired all the time - to borrow a scene, person, snippet of conversation and stir them into a cauldron of something both new and familiar.
And those moments of magic for me?
When kids would ask me at book events if I knew JK Rowling. When one of my daughter's friends was so convinced I was as famous as JKR that she addressed me by my full name for the whole visit. 'Do you want a cookie?' 'Oh, yes please, Jill Marshall,' and 'Jill Marshall, please may I use the toilet?'
Or the moment when, at a dinner party, a fully-grown woman discovered I'd written the Jane Blonde books and turned into a flustered, squeaky fangirl. 'But they're... I mean, you... I ... There's Harry Potter for boys, and Jane Blonde for girls, right? And you wrote those!' (Which was very sweet of her, although it's not quite true, and obviously both series are for all and any genders and other reader variables.)
My favourite magical moment of all was when I visited the Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden. Then I was the one who turned into a flustered, squeaky fangirl. I ooohed and aaahed my way around the entire place; caused queues behind me as I noted down his favourite words lists; hoofed small children out of the way so that I could sit in Dahl's own actual armchair with his own actual cardboard tray on which he used to balance his yellow notepads. Ahhhh, the joy.
Last of all, as usually happens in museums, I found myself in the gift shop, surrounded by all things Roald Dahl - giant peaches and Chocolate Factory scrumminess and stuffed BFGs. The books themselves were all lined up along the back wall, so I saved it for my very last pleasure in an utterly delightful place.
And then my jaw fell open. I may have screamed. Okay, I screamed.
Because, to a very great extent, there were only three sets of books on those shelves. All of Roald Dahl's, naturally. A gorgeous, gleaming row of Harry Potters. Again, kudos and absolutely to be expected. And beaming out from beside these two giants of children's literature - my own books.
Charlie Bucket. Harry Potter. And Jane Blonde.
I've been privileged to have many fabulous moments as an author, and I know absolutely how lucky I've been. Yet still, to this day, that's probably the proudest, most magical, most heart-turning second of my life in author terms. Just ... wow.
I thanked Roald Dahl (and the museum staff) over and over that day, racing back to turf out some more small children and sit in his chair in case I could channel him directly. I hope and believe he got my message.
And today, on their birthdays, I thank two people who've created magical moments for children and young adults (and their authors) for the last twenty years.
Happy birthday, Joanne Rowling. Happy birthday, Harry. You're magic.