JK Rowling Based Her Casual Vacancy Character On Me, Says

June 2, 2014 by staff 

JK Rowling Based Her Casual Vacancy Character On Me, Says, Opening her new novel with the death of a pivotal character is a fine way for JK Rowling to grab the reader’s attention.

For one man, it is also strangely personal. Barry Cunningham, the editor who published the first Harry Potter book, believes that the character of Barry Fairbrother is based on him and is Rowling’s joky way of “killing off” links to her past as a children’s author.

“I can’t believe it’s a coincidence,” he said of Rowling’s choice of name for Barry, a parish councillor whose death triggers a bitter local election.

“To have your early editor disposed of in your first adult book can hardly be an accident.”

Cunningham said he believed the death symbolises “leaving your editor behind as you move to adult books”.

Not that he is offended – Cunningham said he felt “honoured” and amused to be acknowledged by the author he discovered when she was a struggling single mother.

Rowling had been turned down by a dozen publishers when Cunningham, then an editor at Bloomsbury, read the ma**script of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1996 and decided to take a chance.

She was paid a £1,500 advance. The seven-book series went on to sell 450 million copies and earn Rowling an estimated £620 million fortune.

Rowling has said: “If it wasn’t for Barry Cunningham, Harry Potter might still be languishing in his cupboard under the stairs. I doubt any of the writers with whom he has worked could be more grateful to him.”

Cunningham left Bloomsbury in 2000 and now runs his own company, Chicken House, which publishes children’s books. He was awarded an OBE in 2010.

The Casual Vacancy, published today, is set in the fictional West Country village of Pagford. Barry Fairbrother was raised on the council estate that borders the village; when he dies, well-heeled locals attempt to fill the council seat with a candidate who shares their distaste for the estate’s residents.

Rowling’s publisher, Little, Brown, has gone to extraordinary lengths to keep the book’s contents secret, requiring booksellers and reviewers to sign stringent embargo agreements.

However, early reviews leaked out yesterday and were decidedly mixed, with the Associated Press saying the tale of class conflict, drug addiction, prostitution and child abuse was “not a book that’s easy to fall in love with”.

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