JK Rowling under fire for portrayal of 'snobby' villagers in her home town
WHEN JK Rowling needed a setting for The Casual Vacancy, her first novel for adults, she didn’t have to stretch her imagination too far.
The author has claimed she drew on her own upbringing near the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, south-west England, for her tale of a “snobby” middle-class community riven by provincial politics.
However, residents of the area where Rowling grew up say they do not recognise the fictional West Country village of Pagford, where the professional classes can barely hide their loathing for the inhabitants of a neighbouring sink estate.
Locals in Tutshill, Gloucestershire, say that any resemblance between their community and Pagford is as much a fantasy as the Harry Potter franchise that earned Rowling an €800m fortune.
The author’s years as a struggling single mother, living on benefits and writing the first Potter book in an Edinburgh café are common knowledge. Less well known is the fact that from the age of nine until she left for Exeter University, Rowling lived a middle-class existence in Grade II-listed Church Cottage in Tutshill, a small community on the English side of Chepstow, the Wye Valley market town which straddles the Welsh border.
The house was put up for sale last year for almost £400,000, and came with a unique selling point: the words “Joanne Rowling slept here circa 1982” inscribed on a bedroom window frame.
Rowling, 47, has said that her childhood was unhappy and that she couldn’t wait to get out of Tutshill.
Her mother, Anne, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when Rowling was 15, and she had a difficult relationship with her father Peter.
Local people said Rowling’s childhood could have coloured her memory of village life.
Victoria Carter, 50, said: “I think she has a bit of a chip on her shoulder because she didn’t have a very good time in her teenage years. Tutshill is neither snobby nor pretentious. If it were, we wouldn’t have lived here for 22 years.” Her husband, William, 51, a business analyst, added: “She is a fantasy writer, after all. This sounds like another of her fantasies.”
Will Hodge, 48, a marketing manager and former schoolmate of Rowling, is the son of a former parish councillor.
“I don’t remember my father being in wrangles like this,” he said. “She has a very negative attitude about the place.”
Rowling is a Labour supporter, and donated £1?million to the party in 2008. Armand Watts, a local Labour councillor, said: “She would have been brought up in an era when the council was Conservative-controlled. It would have been more old school with pompous, red-faced councillors in tweed jackets. That has changed. You can see that she has picked a theme, but it’s unfair to stigmatise this village.”
The village provided the inspiration for several elements of the Potter books, including a quidditch team named the Tutshill Tornados. However, Tutshill has not been allowed to make the most of its Potter connections. Attempts to set up a tourist trail were greeted with a stern letter from the author’s agent stating that “use of JK Rowling’s name is strictly controlled”.
The Casual Vacancy is published on Thursday. Rowling said of her characters: “The middle class is so funny. It’s the class I know best, and it’s the class where you find the most pretension.”
At her old local, the Live and Let Live, the landlord Chris Luxton said the pub’s name summed up the community spirit.
“We have businessmen and the unemployed rubbing shoulders and getting on with each other,” he said. “The owner is trying to turn the place into a wine bar but everybody wants to keep it as a pub. I don’t think that’s very pretentious.”
Richard Alleyne and Anita Singh Telegraph.co.uk