Fans of J.K. Rowling, especially those with small ones at home, will be excited to learn that the author is publishing a serialized children’s book for free online, in an effort to keep young readers entertained as the lockdown continues. The Ickabog is set in a new imaginary world, unconnected to any of Rowling’s previous novels, including the Harry Potter series, and is a fairytale about “about truth and the abuse of power”.
The Ickabog was initially conceived by Rowling over a decade ago, but has remained unpublished until now. The first part of the novel was published on The Ickabog‘s official website, and the rest will follow in a total of 34 daily instalments. Once the story has been uploaded in its entirety, a physical copy, an ebook and an audiobook will be released later this year in November, with Rowling’s earnings being donated to groups that will help those affected by the current pandemic.
Rowling described the novel as “a story about truth and the abuse of power”. It began to develop “well over a decade ago”, so she was keen to stress 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,” said Rowling, who has recently been critical of the UK government’s response to the Dominic Cummings crisis. Writing of Cummings’ logic for his controversial trip to Durham, she said: “Your wife was ill, you thought you were infectious and you’ve got a kid. Those circumstances are not exceptional. They’re commonplace.”
Rowling has said she wrote The Ickabog “in fits and starts” between the Harry Potter books, and that she initially thought to publish it after the final book in the Harry Potter series. Instead, she opted to write adult fiction and “step away from children’s books for a while”, though she kept the first draft of The Ickabog in her attic.
Rowling said “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”. Over the past few weeks, she mulled over the idea of publishing the story for free during the lockdown, and said her now teenage children “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’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). 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 seven to nine-year-olds to read to themselves.”
A competition is also being hosted, and asks that children send in illustrations for each chapter, the best of which will be selected for the print editions later this year. “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,” wrote Rowling.