It was only a matter of time til famous author J.K. Rowling returned to children’s literature. I mean sure, she’s been having a good bit of success with the Cormoran Strike series (writing under the pen name Robert Galbraith), but it would have been a shock for the writer to never return to the genre that made her famous. Plus, Stephenie Meyer is back, so we’re going back to the mid-2000s anyways.
Rowling will be posting chapters of her new book, a fairytale entitled The Ickabog. She started writing the book while she was working on the Harry Potter series but ended up shelving the project. She decided to bring it out and post it online for free chapter by chapter at TheIckabog.com. The full story will be published in November and available for purchase. She also announced that all author royalties from The Ickabog will be going to groups who’ve been impacted by COVID-19.
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.
However, after the last Potter book I wanted to take a break from publishing, which ended up lasting five years. In that time I wrote The Casual Vacancy and Robert Galbraith wrote TheCuckoo’s Calling. 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. At that point, the first draft of The Ickabog went up into the attic, where it’s remained for nearly a decade. 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.
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. As I worked to finish the book, I started reading chapters nightly to the family again. This was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my writing life, as The Ickabog’sfirst two readers told me what they remember from when they were tiny, and demanded the reinstatement of bits they’d particularly liked (I obeyed).
I think The Ickabog lends itself well to serialisation because it was written as a read-aloud book (unconsciously shaped, I think, by the way I read it to my own children), but it’s suitable for 7-9 year olds to read to themselves.
I’ll be posting a chapter (or two, or three) every weekday between 26th May and 10th July on The Ickabog website. We plan to publish some translations soon and will post further details on that website when they’re available.
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.