JK Rowling has surprised fans with the announcement of a brand new children’s book, which she is publishing in daily instalments on her website for free.
The Ickabog is a fairytale, and is Rowling’s first children’s story not to be connected to Harry Potter.
She wrote it more than a decade ago for her own children, and has decided to dust it off during the pandemic.
It’s for “children on lockdown, or even those back at school during these strange, unsettling times”, she said.
Chapters of The Ickabog will be published daily between 15:00 BST on Tuesday and 10 July on The Ickabog website.
The author said she originally intended to release it after the seventh and final Harry Potter novel came out in 2007.
But she decided to take a break from publishing, and put the manuscript in her attic.
“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,” she wrote on her website.
A few weeks ago, she suggested to her children that she might retrieve it from her loft.
“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’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).”
Snippets of pages she posted on Twitter revealed the names of characters called Bertram and King Fred.
It was written to be read aloud, but is suitable to be read alone by children between seven and nine, she said.
The story is about truth and the abuse of power, she explained.
“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.”
Some fans will remember that she told Time magazine in 2007 she was writing a “political fairytale”. She later revealed she wrote the text on her fancy dress outfit for her 50th birthday in 2015 – when she went as a lost manuscript.
She has now confirmed she was referring to The Ickabog.
It will be published as an actual book in English in November, with all author royalties going “to help groups who’ve been particularly impacted by the pandemic”.
She has also asked young readers to draw their own illustrations, with the best pictures to be included in the published books.
“I want to see imaginations run wild!” she wrote. “Creativity, inventiveness and effort are the most important things: we aren’t necessarily looking for the most technical skill!”