The Harry Potter author said she wrote a manuscript for the story 10 years ago and would read it to her kids at bedtime before stowing it away in her attic

By Benjamin VanHoose
May 26, 2020 10:25 AM
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J.K. Rowling
ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty

J.K. Rowling is dusting off a standalone fantasy tale that fosters a special connection to her own children — and fans will soon be able to devour it for free!

On Tuesday, the bestselling author, 54, announced that she will release The Ickabog, which she described as a "story about truth and the abuse of power." Rowling clarified that the new release is not a Harry Potter spin-off, but explained that she began writing it more than a decade ago while penning her iconic wizard books.

"The idea for The Ickabog came to me while I was still writing Harry Potter. I wrote most of a first draft in fits and starts between Potter books, intending to publish it after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," said Rowling, who took five years off before publishing the adult novel The Casual Vacancy in 2012.

"After some dithering (and also after my long-suffering agent had trademarked The Ickabog – sorry, Neil) I decided I wanted to step away from children’s books for a while," she continued. "At that point, the first draft of The Ickabog went up into the attic, where it’s remained for nearly a decade."

Added Rowling: "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."

Rowling said that she recently floated the idea of releasing The Ickabog for free to entertain children during the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown. Her own kids approved of the concept.

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"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," said Rowling.

Rowling — who is also at work writing the Fantastic Beasts movie series — said while she polished the set-aside manuscript, she began re-reading The Ickabog to her family.

"This 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 (I obeyed)," she said.

The Ickabog is targeted at readers ages 7 to 9, and was designed to be read-aloud in installments. Rowling said she'll be releasing the story online starting Tuesday, chapter by chapter every weekday until July 10. Readers will be able to access the story via a website the author said will launch with the story in a few hours.

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"The Ickabog is a story about truth and the abuse of power," said Rowling. "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."

She added: "The themes are timeless and could apply to any era or any country."

Rowling also announced that in November, the story will be officially published, with the author pledging her royalties from the story to "help groups who’ve been particularly impacted by the pandemic."

"The first two chapters of The Ickabog will be going live in a couple of hours time. Whether you read it yourself, or have it read to you, I hope you enjoy it," she wrote on Twitter.