The Artist

Julie Massam

This is a true story. People who read this may not believe me, but that is not important. What is important is that I tell the truth.

I was born in 1964 and raised in a small village 7 miles outside Bristol called Winterbourne. I chased butterflies in the meadows, made dens in the hedgerows with my big brother and sat astride the lightning tree dreaming of horses and adventures to come. Every Sunday my parents would take us out. Sometimes a walk in the woods, beachcombing on the coast or a picnic of jam sandwiches up on Dursley Hill.

In 1984 I moved to London to train as a nurse at Guy’s Hospital. I was terrified to be leaving home but soon found the city fascinating. I later worked at Selfridges on Oxford Street where I served pop stars and Saudi Royalty before finally meeting my future husband Kevin. He had been born in Switzerland, his father being an experimental particle physicist at CERN. I then trained as secretary – working in lymphoma research at the Middlesex Hospital, London for Dr Vaughan-Hudson. In 1987 Kevin and I planned a trip to Los Angeles to visit my brother. I had never flown before and was a ‘bag of nerves’. I bought a small notebook as a distraction – I wanted to write down my idea for a children’s book I had been ‘harbouring’ for some time. As we flew over the icebergs of Greenland, I took out my notebook and began to write.

I had always loved the Disney film Fantasia. I thought that a story about an apprentice wizard would be a great idea, but my character needed a name. What should I call him? Princess Diana had given birth to a second son by this time and I liked the name ‘Harry’ so I wrote it down on the page. Now all I needed was a surname. I knew the name had to be right. I wanted an ordinary sounding name but something with a bit of ‘sparkle’. I ran through all the surnames of the kids I had known at school. Ashton, Meredith, Stone, Spilman, Hares, Weaver, Shortman, Evans, Potter … Yes, that sounded good, Potter. I had studied for my science ‘A’ levels in Winterbourne with Mark Potter, the cleverest boy in the school, what better name for my new boy hero. So, I wrote the name ‘Harry Potter alongside the words ‘Apprentice Magician’. I felt excited and inspired. Then, before I could write anymore, the air hostess arrived with my lunch. I popped the notepad into my bag and never looked at it again.

In 1988 I left London and moved north to Preston in Lancashire. I was getting married and Kevin and I were buying our first home. After a working as an admin secretary for a couple of years, I decided to train as a teacher at Edge Hill College. During my first year of study, my mum died of cancer. It was March 1991 and I struggled with my loss. An ‘ink blot test’ and two years of psychotherapy put me back on the right track.

In 1997, now a professional artist and art teacher, I happened upon a book by J. K. Rowling entitled ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’.

I purchased a copy as I was interested in her idea of an apprentice wizard. I vaguely remembered that I had had a similar idea ten years before and was obviously curious to read it. I loved it and thought it a wonderful book. At this stage I thought no more about it. It wasn’t for another year or two, when further Harry Potter books were published, that I remembered my notebook from the flight to Los Angeles. Although I searched for it high and low, I could not find it, but I clearly remembered the name I had chosen for my character and how it had come about – Harry (Lady Diana’s second son) and Potter (the cleverest boy I had known at school in Winterbourne).

As time slipped by and life’s events took hold, I remained fascinated by the connection with J K Rowling. When I began to read about her, I realised that our lives had ‘crossed’ in many other ways and the coincidences began to build. She had lived in Winterbourne at the same time as me and we were the same age. She had also known of a Potter family – perhaps the same one? I also remembered the head teacher of her primary school, Mr Alfred Dunn (upon whom she based the character Dumbledore) and had attended her school at St. Michaels several years later when it was turned into a Sixth Form Annexe for the Ridings High School. I realised she had been working in London as a secretary at the same time as me in the 80’s, then had moved north to Manchester not long after I had moved to Preston. We had both trained as teachers and had lost our mothers within a few weeks of each other when she was 25 and I was 26. We even both celebrated our 50th birthdays by visiting Rome. Something I’d had no idea about at the time. The more I discovered, the more intrigued I became.

In 2014 I wrote her a letter telling her my story. I explained that I could never have written a book as wonderful as hers, but that I found it extraordinary that I’d had the same idea and character name and that our paths had crossed in so many ways. I had recently written a children’s adventure book myself and was keen to share my new found enthusiasm for writing. I quickly received a reply from her PA, explaining that J K Rowling was very busy and could not respond personally. The PA wished me luck with my first children’s book but made no mention of the other coincidences I had mentioned. Although disappointed by this, I wasn’t surprised realising that my claims, although true, might sound ‘outlandish’.

Then, on a visit to Chartres in France in 2014, a sequence of strange and peculiar events took place. As a result, I began to develop a new perspective on my life and work: I started to ‘see’ things very differently from before. From this point onwards, I felt compelled to follow a new artistic path and from this I created the concept of Mysta’s Mirror.



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