By Tim Saunders on
JK Rowling's new book, The Casual Vacancy, was released in September, and shows a grittier side of the author who brought us Harry Potter. But the book does more than just provide us with a window into the private and dysfunctional lives of the fictional village of Pagford – it shows a side of Rowling that cares about people in the community.
The characters in Rowling’s book are essentially at low points in their lives – something Rowling knows from experience. The publication of the Harry Potter books is one of the most inspiring rags-to-riches stories of modern times – Rowling went almost over night from a benefit-dependent single mother suffering from depression to the first living author to earn a billion dollars from her books. And it was while she was at rock bottom that she witnessed the sorts of characters who populate The Casual Vacancy.
But throughout the low years, Rowling always managed to give back where she could. After studying French and Classics at University, she worked as a researcher for Amnesty International. And since finding success, Rowling has supported a number of causes, including Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres, Medecins Sans Frontieres and Comic Relief – her books Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through The Ages were both published in aid of Comic Relief. She was also the Patron of the Multiple Sclerosis Society in Scotland for nine years, and she now funds MS research through the VOLANT Charitable Trust, which she founded in memory of her mother.
But it was an article in the Sunday Times in 2005 that led Rowling to establish one of the most important charities currently operating on a global scale to help the 8 million children living in institutions.
“I looked at that photograph of the boy in his cage bed and felt he has absolutely no voice,” said Rowling. “This touched me as nothing else has because I can think of nobody more powerless than a child, perhaps with a mental or a physical disability, locked away from their family. It was a very shocking realization to me and that’s where the whole thing started.”
Rowling’s High Level Children’s Group is now known as Lumos, which works at a political and practical level to ensure that UN minimum standards for the care of children are implemented across the whole of Europe and beyond. Rowling is still active at raising money for the cause – in 2007, she auctioned one of seven special copies of her Harry Potter tie-in, The Tales Of Beedle The Bard, for the charity. The result was a US$ 4 million boost for Lumos’ work. The general release publication of the book continues to raise money for the charity, and it was recently released as an eBook for Lumos.
Rowling’s new book, The Casual Vacancy, is a step away from anything she’s published before. Definitely not a children’s book, it is a challenging read – both in terms of literature and content. Set in the small village of Pagford, it follows a large set of characters as they fight among themselves to fill a recently vacated position on the parish council.
Dark and compelling, The Casual Vacancy is a book that makes you think about the people who make up communities and inspires us to think about those who may “fall through the cracks”. The last 100 pages include some of the best storytelling I have read in a long time.
“The Casual Vacancy is set in a small community, which involved writing characters who are adolescents way up to people in their sixties,” said Rowling. “I love nineteenth century novels that centre on a town or village. This is my attempt to do a modern version. As a writer you have to write what you want to write; or rather what you need to write. I needed to write this book.”
Copyright © 2012 Look to the Stars