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HARRY POTTY; On day of the biggest book launch ever, JK mobbed by fans.

THE fourth Harry Potter book, released yesterday in the biggest frenzy of publicity the publishing world has ever seen, was so difficult to write it almost drove the author to quit.

Halfway through, Joanne Rowling realised she had a serious fault with the plot and, at one point, doubted she would finish it.

"I've had some of my blackest moments with this book," she admitted. 'Can I do this?' I asked myself. In the end it was just sheer persistence.

"It took months. I had to unpick lots of what I'd written. One chapter I rewrote 13 times."

Which chapter, she's not saying - and she defies anyone to spot it.

As five million copies of The Goblet of Fire were unleashed in bookshops across the world, and another 500,000 were ordered over the internet, it was clear the real wizardry yesterday was in turning a kids' book into a global money machine.

The 34-year-old found herself mobbed when she turned up at King's Cross station, in London, to launch her latest smash-hit story.

But fear also comes with the fame for J.K. Rowling.

She has now been given round-the-clock protection because _ a Scots teacher is said to be stalking her. He is in his 30s and has been seen standing outside her home. He has also showered her with numerous love letters.

Two female bodyguards have been assigned to the author wherever she goes. Yesterday, one stayed by her side at all times while the other scanned the crowd for trouble.

In the crush at King's Cross, one man was led away by police as tempers flared. For grown-ups, it was hard to believe that, however good The Goblet of Fire was, the magic was not somehow tarnished by all the publisher's hype. For kids, there were no such worries.

After all, how would you feel if you were eight and had just got your grubby paws on the most secretive product the world has ever known?

I did the red-eye shift at a Glasgow bookstore, waiting with a couple of hundred kids and a few sheepish adults - hoping no one would notice they were buying it for themselves. I finally opened my fat, crisp copy of The Goblet of Fire in the early hours.

That J.K. Rowling knows her craft is undeniable. She grabs your attention from paragraph one, mercilessly hooking the reader with a scene involving bad wizard Lord Voldemort.

This sets the undercurrent of evil which runs through the book, threatening adolescent wizard Harry Potter. Fans will not be disappointed.

Here are all the old friends, the funny creatures, the magic, the thrills and the laughs that are the ingredients of Rowling's fabulous success.

Perhaps the book is too long. At 640 pages, it is twice the length of previous books.

There are times when the plot - the main thread of which is Harry's involvement in the Triwizarding Cup, a sort of magic Olympics - is stretched and you can see why Rowling struggled.

Not that kids, her sternest critics, will mind. Things start to go seriously wrong for Harry the night after the Quidditch World Cup, when a crowd of bad wizards appear like the Ku Klux Klan in the night, persecuting non- Muggles. Then a Dark Mark appears in the sky, a portent of doom. The arrival of Professor Mad-Eye Moody heralds dark things.

Mad-Eye is there to teach the young wizards curses that can kill. His work, naturally, will turn out to play a vital part in Harry's survival.

As Harry chases the riddles and takes on foes, he meets, among others, the scary Merpeople. To say any more would be to spoil the story.

Perhaps reflecting the difficulties in writing, The Goblet of Fire is a darker than its predecessors. The weather is constantly gloomy. There is fear and - for the first time - mistrust between Harry and his best friends. They learn that cheating can be a way of succeeding and that adults betray you.

Rowling definitely seems to want to push Harry into adolescence quickly.

If the plot tested her this time, she will surely set herself an even harder task for the next three she intends to write about Harry.

It will be increasingly difficult to knit a tale of teenage loss of innocence into a magic world which relies on innocence and the suspension of disbelief. In a sense, Rowling has to be a victim of her own success. The literary merits of Harry Potter become irrelevant in the face of a cash cow the like of which the publishing industry has never seen before.How could literature compete with such a melodramatic launch? Copies of the book were sent out in sealed boxes in armoured vans to special warehouses around the country.

In the weeks leading up to the event, staff at publishers Bloomsbury, in London, were told to shred any waste material and even senior staff had to get written permission to look at the book.

Rowling goes along with it, though. Yesterday, the train taking her to Edinburgh, and the platform, were decked out to resemble the railway setting from the books.

Shops up and down the country were crammed with youngsters, some of whom - like Archie Watson, 10, pictured above left - even look like their hero.

Across the Atlantic, the US arm of internet booksellers sold 250,000 in the first 24 hours.

After all the fuss ... is it a classic?



AMY, 12, of Lenzie, said: "I've been a fan of Harry Potter since the first book came out, but my favourite was the third one.

"The Goblet of Fire gets right into the story at the start. It's like a mystery, you just don't know what's happening.

"The characters are a bit older, but they are still the same. I feel I know them and I have a picture in my head of what they look like.

"The plot is even more thrilling than the last one and it all comes together in the end - there's a twist in the tail. The funny bits are really good, too, and this book is more exciting than the last one.

"She is my favourite author and I just can't wait until the other books come out."



LAURIE MAUN, 12, from Lenzie, said: "I'm a big Harry Potter fan. I started reading the books last summer and I've been looking forward to this one.

"This one is exciting from the minute you start reading. You can't put it down.

"It's a more scary book. There's a bit at the start where Lord Voldemort and his servant Wormtail are plotting to kill Harry.

"It's frightening. Voldemort is not hidden away like in the other books and he's quite open about how he wants to kill Harry.

"I thought The Goblet of Fire was better than all the other three books because of the length and because the start is different.

"It's one of the best books I've ever known. These books are classics and they will last for years and years."



MAUREEN FARRELL, senior lecturer at Glasgow University, said: "This is not a great book, but neither would I like to trash it.

"The books have taken off dramatically due to clever marketing. I don't think it deserves this kind of hype and JK Rowling is probably aware of that.

"I have quite a lot of worries psychologically with this one. It's the first time she's killed off one of the main characters. Children identify strongly with a character and they can be upset.

"The image of women in the book also needs to be looked at. Why, out of four champions, is it the girl, Fleur, who fails the test? And why do we have Moaning Myrtle? I also found the love interest heavy-handed and a bit over-simplified."
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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 9, 2000
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