When the literary agent Christopher Little signed up an unknown writer, Joanne Rowling, in 1995, she was newly divorced, living in a one-bedroom Edinburgh flat, and had a six-month-old daughter to take care of. He secured the Harry Potter scribe a six-figure book deal and transformed her into a literary superstar. Both made a fortune. Now their fairytale partnership has come to a crashing conclusion.
Mr Little, 69, is considering legal action against Ms Rowling, whose books have sold almost half a billion copies, after it emerged that the author has defected to a new literary agency, The Blair Partnership, set up by Mr Little's former business partner Neil Blair.
Because Mr Blair is a lawyer, and not a conventional literary agent, industry sources have speculated that Ms Rowling, 45, is to take greater control of her publishing interests. Last month it was announced that Ms Rowling's new website, Pottermore, will take control of the distribution of her Potter e-book range when it launches in November.
Mr Little's spokesman said: "It came out of the blue. He was surprised to say the least. He has contracts in place with [Ms Rowling], and he has contracts in place with Neil. He is still considering his options."
Mr Little was the second agent to whom Ms Rowling wrote when trying to get the first Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, published. "I didn't know anything about agents but I went to the library and looked up some addresses," said Ms Rowling in a 1997 interview. "I remember getting a letter back. I assumed it was a rejection note, but inside the envelope was a letter saying: 'Thank you. We would be pleased to receive the balance of your manuscript on an exclusive basis.' It was the best letter of my life. " Mr Little sold the manuscript to New York-based Scholastic Press at auction for £100,000.
Mr Little, who launched his agency from small offices in Fulham, west London, reportedly earned 15 per cent of Ms Rowling's gross earnings from the British book market and 20 per cent of her merchandising revenue, though the status of their current legal relationship is unclear. What is known is that they dealt mainly in printed books and films, whereas Mr Blair reportedly worked closely with Rowling over the creation of Pottermore.com. The website is an online "game" allowing children to explore the Harry Potter universe.
Mr Little's spokesman added: "He greatly admires her and her extraordinary talent and is proud to have played his role throughout this journey. However, he is disappointed and surprised to have heard the premature news about the proposed new arrangements which were made public yesterday."
A spokesman for Ms Rowling said last night: "We can confirm that JK Rowling has terminated her association with the Christopher Little Literary Agency. This was a painful decision, especially as Ms Rowling had actively sought a different outcome for some weeks. However, it was not taken without good reason and it finally became unavoidable."