As an author of fiction, J.K. Rowling has become a billionaire beloved across the globe. But that does not mean she’s happy to appear in fiction. The creator of Harry Potter has begun a libel action against British newspaper The Daily Mail, who recently questioned the “sob story” about her time as a single parent.
Rowling’s time as a poverty-stricken mother Edinburgh, Scotland, is legendary. During that time, she found herself huddled in a city cafe, unable to afford heating in her own apartment, and it was there that she began work on the book that would go on to become the first in the wildly successful Harry Potter series. Also during that time, she worked as an administrative assistant in a local church that allowed her to take her daughter to work with her each day.
It is this latter detail that is at the heart of The Daily Mail‘s story. In an interview with website Gingerbread, dedicated to single parents, Rowling talked about her time working at the church and how she felt uncomfortable being a single mother on benefits in that environment.
This formed the basis for an article on The Daily Mail‘s website, later repeated in print, which claimed that the people she met at the church were “upset and bewildered” by J.K. Rowling’s “sob story” describing her time there. The story has now been removed from the paper’s website, but the libel action claims say that the story gave the impression that she had willfully lied about her time at the church. The paper also implied that Rowling had called her colleagues “bigoted and unchristian,” which she denies.
It’s not the first time that the right-wing Daily Mail has found itself in conflict with the avowedly left-wing author. In 2011, Rowling gave evidence to the Levenson Inquiry into press ethics where she accused the paper of repeatedly breaching her privacy. Since then, the Mail have printed a number of attack articles about her. She was accused of hypocrisy for discussing her private life in a feature with The Guardian, and is routinely accused of excessively flaunting her wealth.
Last year, her first adult novel, The Casual Vacancy, was given to opinion columnist Jan Moir to review. She savaged the book and called it “500 pages of relentless socialist manifesto masquerading as literature” and accused Rowling of ramming her political beliefs down the throats of readers. Rowling said later that she loved Moir’s review and was hoping to put the “socialist manifesto” quote on the cover of the paperback edition.
The Mail are no strangers to this type of controversy but appear to have been caught on the back foot by Rowling’s swift and robust legal response. They have removed the offending article but have not yet apologized or issued a statement. Rowling is seeking damages for injury to her reputation and it remains to be seen whether an apology will be sufficient to drop her case. Given Britain’s notoriously harsh libel laws, The Daily Mail may end up walking away from this affair with a sob story of their own.
By Bernard O’Leary