Extract from JK Rowling's new book Very Good Lives

Rowling's 2008 Harvard commencement speech has been turned into a book

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The Independent Culture

Very Good Lives, published on 14th April, is the closest thing to a self-help manual written by JK Rowling.

It includes details of her own experience as “the biggest failure I knew” and how “rock bottom became the foundation upon which [she] built [her] life.”

Proceeds from the sale of Very Good Lives will benefit Lumos, a non-profit international children’s charity founded by Rowling with the aim of ending institutionalisation of children around the world.

“Lumos is a spell I created in Harry Potter that brings light into a desperately dark and frightening place,” Rowling said. “At Lumos this is just what we do: we reveal the hidden children locked away behind closed doors in institutions and forgotten by the world.”

The 70-page book is drawn from Rowling’s commencement speech at Harvard University in 2008. A video of her talk has since become the most-viewed on the American university’s website and Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust called it “the most moving and memorable” speech she’s heard.

Extract from Very Good Lives:
Very Good Lives by JK Rowling

Ultimately we have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria, if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a  mere seven years after my graduation day I had failed on an epic scale.

An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded and I was jobless, a lone parent and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain without being homeless.

The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard I was the biggest failure I knew.

Now, I’m not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life is a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy-tale resolution.

I had no idea then how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because it is a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began directing all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.

Had I really succeeded at anything else I may never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I truly belonged.

I was set free because my greatest fear had been realised and I was still alive and I still had a daughter whom I adored. And I had an old typewriter and a big idea.

And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.