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'Something really special'

25 July 2005

J K Rowling has done it again. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince or HP 6 as it is known in the book trade, has once again enthralled millions of children, continuing the trend which has seen sales rocket with every single book. The sales have made the author the 36th richest person in Britain. Harry Potter has become, as Robert McCrum of the Observer commented: ‘an international literary brand of almost unprecedented power that stretches from China to Peru, taking in some 90 countries’.

After all the book trade sniping about pricing and discount (see News Review 11 July, Here comes Harry Potter!), publication night itself was pure magic for many children, with great inventiveness at many bookshops, especially the independents. In the UK Bookscan estimated that 2.01 million copies were sold on the first day. W H Smith said that in the first 24 hours it was selling at 13 copies every second, as opposed to 8 copies a second for the previous book. The American publisher Scholastic reckoned that 6.9 million copies were sold in the first 24 hours and immediately ordered a reprint of 2.7 million copies.

Even though the translated editions of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will not be available till October, there were queues to buy the book in non-English speaking cities as far apart as Beijing and Mexico.

Although there have been criticisms in the past about J K Rowling’s lack of originality, the new book won high praise from many. Rosie Jenkins, the 10-year-old who won a competition to review it in the Observer, said it was 'a much darker, more frightening and unsettling book than the previous ones... and I love it.'

It’s interesting to look back and contrast the Harry Potter phenomenon of today with its starting-point - an unpublished ms produced by a single mother writing in cafes to keep warm. This was not so very long ago. The book is rumoured to have been rejected by eight publishers before being taken on by Barry Cunningham, a highly inventive children’s publisher who had left Bloomsbury by the time it was published. Christopher Little, J K Rowling’s agent, described how the first sale had gone:

'I wrote back to J K Rowling within four days of receiving the manuscript. I thought that there was something really special there, although we could never have guessed what would happen to it. It took a long time from there to get to the stage where we signed with the publisher.'

Rowling has had many critics and many imitators, but none have managed to surpass the sheer page-turning quality of her books. This is the magic which keeps children coming back for more.