Allan Massie: Harry Potter was magic, but can JK Rowling pull it off with adults? She's brave to try ...
IF you have written seven children’s novels which have sold some 450 million copies and been translated into at least sixty-seven languages, you might feel you need do nothing else, or you might look for a new challenge. JK Rowling has opted for the challenge, and her first novel for adults will be published later this year - published by Little, Brown, rather than Bloomsbury, which brought out all the Harry Potter books.
She is taking a risk, of course – rather like a star footballer moving to a new club in another country. Sometimes that works very well; sometimes it doesn’t. Of course JK Rowling has a ready-made readership, all these people in their twenties who grew up loving Harry Potter. And then the Potter books appealed to many adults also. At the height of the boom, it seemed that at least every second book being read in a train was a Potter, and there were many families where all generations queued up for the latest episode in the saga. This made Rowling different from, say, Enid Blyton, whose books were adored by children but often disdained by adults. As far as I know Blyton was never tempted to break out and write for grown-ups. She was on to a good thing and stuck to it.
Writing some books for children and others for adults is not so uncommon. Treasure Island was first published in a magazine for boys. Some of Kipling’s most enchanting work – The Just So Stories, The Jungle Books, and Puck of Pook’s Hill – was written for children. Like much of the best children’s fiction, these books had an equal, if different, appeal to adults. The same may be said of writers like Rosemary Sutcliffe, Leon Garfield and David Almond, as well, very evidently, as JK Rowling herself.