Harry Potter creator J K Rowling has paid tribute to the childhood friend who encouraged her to write the phenomenally successful novels and inspired the character of Ron Weasley.

The British novelist has spoken glowingly of school friend SEAN HARRIS - who she drove around the countryside with when they were teenagers and well as discuss her plans to become a writer.

Rowling says, "Some of my happiest memories of my teenage years are zooming off into the darkness in Sean's car.

"That turquoise and white car meant freedom and no more having to ask my father to give me lifts, which is the worst thing about living in the countryside when you are a teenager. "

The two friends would frequent concerts and wine bars in England's Bristol area - and discuss their future where Harris would spur Rowling on with her dream to be a novelist.

Rowling admits Weasley owes "a fair bit" of his character to Harris - and has "a Sean-ish turn of phrase".

The strength of their friendship was highlighted in 1994 when Harris forced the writer to accept a $1,080 (GBP600) loan for a deposit on an apartment in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she finished writing HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE.

Rowling had just fled a turbulent relationship in Portugal with the father of her daughter JESSICA.

28/05/2004 18:00