When JK Rowling threw a 50th birthday with the theme ‘come as your own private nightmare’, she wore a dress covered in text and explained that she was “a lost manuscript”.
Now she has not only dug out that manuscript but announced that she is publishing it as a gift to young readers during lockdown, in her first children’s book outside the Harry Potter universe.
The Ickabog is a fairytale “about truth and the abuse of power”. The author first wrote it for her own children and planned to release it after the final Potter instalment in 2007, but abandoned the project and chose to write for adults instead.
It gathered dust in the attic until Rowling brought it down and decided to release it online in daily instalments. The story will be published in physical form in November, with royalties going to help groups affected by the Covid-19 crisis.
As an added bonus, children aged 7-12 are invited to create illustrations for the fairytale, the best of which will be included in the printed book.
Making the surprise announcement, Rowling was at pains to point out to Potter fans that this was a very different proposition. “It isn’t Harry Potter and it doesn’t include magic. This is an entirely different story,” she said.
Over 10 years ago, I wrote a stand-alone fairy tale called— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) May 26, 2020
The Ickabog. You can read more about how, why and
when The Ickabog was written at https://t.co/MgH9NZnSAS
Explaining the genesis of The Ickabog, Rowling, 54, said she had produced a first draft “in fits and starts” between Potter books.
“I always meant to publish it, but after the last Potter was released I wrote two novels for adults and, after some dithering, decided to put those out next.
"Until very recently, the only people who'd heard the story of The Ickabog were my two younger children,” she said.
Rowling published The Casual Vacancy for adult readers and her Robert Galbraith detective series.
“Over time I came to think of it as a story that belonged to my two younger children, because I’d read it to them in the evenings when they were little, which has always been a happy family memory.”
She went on: “A few weeks ago at dinner, I tentatively mooted the idea of getting The Ickabog down from the attic and publishing it for free, for children in lockdown. My now teenagers were touchingly enthusiastic, so downstairs came the very dusty box, and for the last few weeks I’ve been immersed in a fictional world I thought I’d never enter again.”
Rowling said she had re-read the chapters nightly to her family again, which was “one of the most extraordinary experiences of my writing life, as The Ickabog’s first two readers told me what they remember from when they were tiny, and demanded the reinstatement of bits they’d particularly liked”.
On social media, fans immediately drew a link to an interview Rowling gave about a birthday dress.
In a 2017 interview with CNN, the author was asked about rumours she had written a “political book” for children. “The theme of my 50th birthday, which I held at Halloween even though that’s not really my birthday, was ‘come as your own private nightmare’. And I went as a lost manuscript.
“And I wrote over a dress most of that book. So that book, I don’t know whether it will ever be published, but it’s actually hanging in a wardrobe currently.” Rowling confirmed yesterday that the book in question was The Ickabog.
On her website, the author said: “The Ickabog is a story about truth and the abuse of power. To forestall one obvious question: the idea came to me well over a decade ago, so it isn’t intended to be read as a response to anything that’s happening in the world right now. The themes are timeless and could apply to any era or any country.”