Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling worked her magic on an enthusiastic group of fans yesterday, turning the youngsters into journalists trying to extract her deepest secrets and hold her accountable for her work.
At times, the group of 10 young teenagers and preteens appeared to have backed her into a corner.
Asked if there would be a war in the books she has yet to write, Ms. Rowling sounded more like U.S. President Bill Clinton -- who avoided a question during the Monica Lewinsky affair by quibbling about the meaning of 'is' -- than a children's author.
"It depends on how you define 'war,'" Ms. Rowling said. "That's all I'm going to say. That's it."
But at other times, she was not so tough. She was asked about what would happen to Harry at the end of the series. The youngsters were aghast when she suggested she might kill him off.
Anxious to calm the questioner's jitters, she quickly backtracked. "No, no, not that," she said. "Now I feel, 'Oops, I upset the girl.' "
She also appeared to be touched by the depth of enthusiasm displayed by the young journalists. "That's the nicest thing a writer could hear, that the characters are as real to you as they are to me," she said.
In an unprecedented feat in the world of books, Ms. Rowling, a former French teacher, has gained rock-star status, and become one of Britain's highest paid women with an income of $47-million in the past year.
Her Harry Potter series has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide and more than 1.5 million in Canada, where 5,000 copies are enough to rank as a best seller. More than 20,000 fans turned out out for a reading in Toronto's SkyDome earlier this week.
While in Vancouver, hometown of her Canadian publisher Raincoast Books, Ms. Rowling held a press conference with the youngsters, conducted media interviews and gave two readings for more than 10,000 fans at the Pacific Coliseum, former home of the Canucks, Vancouver's hockey team.
At the press conference, the 30-minute-journalists were thrilled just to be in the same room as Ms. Rowling.
"It was the best, so cool, so great to be here," said 12-year old Ashley Badyal from Hamilton Elementary School in Richmond, B.C. "It was so interesting, so terrific. She talks to us, not just to adults."
Yet the youngsters, with strong opinions about their favourite characters and the twists in the plot line, were exacting critics. "They're excellent books, with interesting plots and unexpected character development," said Grade 7 student Alexander Biron of Vancouver's Lord Kitchener School.
But the third and four books in the series were better than her earlier works, he added.
Emma Crandall, 10, from Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary School in New Westminster pressed the author on her choice of a male central character. Ms. Rowling acknowledged she did not think much about gender when she began to write.
"I did not have to stop and think too hard about my hero. He just came to me, almost fully formed," she said.
"By the time I stopped and wondered why is it a boy, it really was too late."