EDINBURGH/NEW YORK (Reuters) - J.K. Rowling’s first editor, who championed Harry Potter after several publishers had turned the boy wizard down, described the author as “fierce” but fair to work with.
Barry Cunningham, 55, was at British publisher Bloomsbury in the mid-1990s when he received a manuscript of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.”
“When I first got the book I didn’t know everyone else in the universe had turned it down, so I read it as a book and I loved it,” Cunningham told Reuters in Edinburgh on Wednesday.
“What I really loved about it was the friendship of the children, the support they gave to each other and the fact that they were able to overcome so many difficulties ... the adult world was against them and they got together to overcome that.”
Cunningham was speaking at the National Library of Scotland, which is exhibiting his copy of “The Tales of Beedle the Bard,” one of seven hand-written and illustrated books Rowling made of her new collection of wizard fairy tales.
She gave six away as gifts, and the seventh copy was bought at auction a year ago by online retailer Amazon for $4 million.
At a similar event in the United States, another copy given to Harry Potter co-editor Arthur Levine of publishers Scholastic went on display at the New York Public Library.
“Will people ever get tired of Harry Potter? No. I really don’t think so,” Levine said.
The library’s president, Paul LeClerc, added: “She (Rowling) has reminded us in a very dramatic way of how books are still important to readers, in an age when some question the future of the book.”
Beedle the Bard, mentioned in the final Harry Potter installment, will be published on Thursday and profits go to The Children’s High Level Group (CHLG) (www.chlg.org) charity for vulnerable children in Eastern Europe co-founded by Rowling.
Cunningham, often quoted as saying he warned Rowling to get another job given how hard it was to succeed as a children’s author, said on Wednesday he was always confident Harry Potter would do well.
“I always thought that children would love it,” he said. “But to be honest I was very surprised that so many adults loved it too. When it became that famous word — a ‘cross-over’ sensation — that I never would have predicted.”
The seven Harry Potter books sold more than 400 million copies worldwide, and a film franchise has earned $4.5 billion at the box office so far. There are three more films to come.
Asked to describe what it was like editing Rowling, Cunningham replied: “She’s fierce, she fights back. Obviously my role as an editor is a bit like a first boyfriend — you have to trust me and we have to have a to-and-fro.
“She’s very determined but willing to listen and to give way when the argument is against her. So I’d say she’s an editor’s dream in that she really worked out the back story.”
He saw Rowling’s charity work as her way to “spread the wealth.” Her personal fortune has been estimated at $1 billion.
And Cunningham added that he believed there was more to come from Rowling, despite the completion of the Harry Potter tales.
“I don’t really know ... I can’t imagine that such a lifelong writer could stop writing.”
Beedle the Bard was displayed at the library next door to a room showcasing Scotland’s most famous bard, Robert Burns, ahead of the 250th anniversary of his birth next year.
Writing by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato