Biography claims 'Harry Potter' creator added fictional touches to the story of her own life

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The Independent Culture

J K Rowling, the creator of Harry Potter, added the odd fictional touch to her own life story, the first published biography of the author claims.

The few interviews that Rowling has given have stated that she was born in Chipping Sodbury, south Gloucestershire, an unusual name said to have inspired her love of idiosyncratic wordplay.

In reality, she was born in the neighbouring town of Yate, the rather less whimsical new town near Bristol where she spent her early years.

The book by the journalist and author Sean Smith is the first full-length biography of the multimillionaire author. Although his work is far from a hatchet job, Smith said yesterday: "There are a few myths about J K Rowling."

The vivid imagination that spawned the worldwide Harry Potter phenomenon was active at an early age, says Smith. Childhood friends of Rowling recall in the biography that she began making up stories for them when she was a little girl, and they would dress up as witches and wizards from items they found in her mother's dressing up box.

He also puts a different gloss on the sentimental and oft-repeated tale that Rowling wrote the original Harry Potter book as a "penniless single mother" in Nicolson's café in Edinburgh. The venue, it turns out, was part-owned by her brother-in-law, so she may at least have been given the occasional free coffee.

The book, to be published next week, also reveals that Rowling, who went to Exeter University, was rejected by Oxford University. Her chemistry teacher at Wyedean Comprehensive near Chepstow, John Nettleship, who is said to be the blueprint for Professor Snape in the Potter books, says that Rowling and another girl who transferred to a nearby independent school were on the reserve list for Oxford.

Mr Nettleship says: "I believe [the other girl] was favoured because of where her parents had been able to afford to send her. It gave her an unfair advantage. We were all following the situation very keenly because we would get a blow-by-blow account of it every morning from her mum when she came into work. It did seem very unfair at the time."

Whether this experience coloured her depiction of Harry Potter's boarding school life is unclear.

What is evident is that Rowling, who was head girl at the comprehensive, did not enjoy her time there. She does not mention Wyedean at all in her Who's Who entry and she has refused invitations to go back and speak at the school.

Her brief marriage to Jorge Arantes, a Portuguese student, during her teaching job in Porto was a tempestuous one. The book speaks to witnesses of a fight in the street between Rowling and her husband in front of a crowd of more than 100 people.

The book adds that she was distraught when her grandmother Kathleen died after a heart attack at the age of 52. She would later take her name as a tribute and thus became J K Rowling.

The book says Rowling's literary agent, Christopher Little, is £10m richer thanks to his most celebrated client. J K Rowling, A Biography by Sean Smith is published by Michael O'Mara Books Ltd.