J.K. Rowling announced a new children’s book, The Ickabog, which she plans to serialize and release for free online over the next few months. The first set of chapters arrives Tuesday, May 26th, and Rowling plans to post at least one chapter every weekday through July 10th.
In a note, Rowling said that she wrote most of The Ickabog while still working on the Harry Potter books, although as she pointed out in all-caps on Twitter, “THIS IS NOT A HARRY POTTER SPIN-OFF.” She described the book as “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.”
Back when she wrote The Ickabog, Rowling said she planned to publish it after the final Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. But she ultimately chose to step away from writing for a bit, and when she returned it was with two “adult” books, The Casual Vacancy and The Cuckoo’s Calling (the latter released under the pen name, Robert Galbraith). Rowling stashed away her draft of The Ickabog and said she “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.”
But, a few weeks ago, Rowling broached the idea of finally publishing The Ickabog, and after an enthusiastic response from her kids, she put a final version together. “As I worked to finish the book, I started reading chapters nightly to the family again,” Rowling said. “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).”
After its serialized run, Rowling will publish an official version of The Ickabog in November 2020. And to illustrate the book, she’s enlisting the help of its readers. “I thought how wonderful it would be if children in lockdown, or otherwise needing distraction during the strange and difficult time we’re passing through, illustrated the story for me,” she said. “There will be suggestions about the illustrations we might need for each chapter on The Ickabog website, but nobody should feel constrained by these ideas. I want to see imaginations run wild! Creativity, inventiveness and effort are the most important things: we aren’t necessarily looking for the most technical skill!”
Rowling added that when The Ickabog is published, she will donate all her author royalties to groups that have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.