The Many Lives of Mr Galbraith–Scooped!

What a week it’s been for the Potterverse. No sooner do we get back from donating our copies of The Casual Vacancy to the used bookstore, than we discover that the entire Harry Potter series was written under a pseudonym, and that the real author is a retired bank manager named Robert Q. Galbraith, O.B.E.

No—wait. That didn’t happen.

What did happen, though, is no less extraordinary. Well, not much less extraordinary, any rate. In case you’re just coming to the story now, here’s a NECESSARY SPOILER: J.K. Rowling published a murder mystery called The Cuckoo’s Calling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. And apparently absolutely no one knew—just Rowling, her agent, and her lawyer. Oh, and her lawyer’s wife. Oh, and her lawyer’s wife’s best friend. And Twitter. And the world in general. The lead started with a tweet, turned into investigative journalism, then became a veritable two-ring circus of press releases and recriminations and official statements all round.

The OTHER Robert Galbraith

Still, it’s no real surprise that Rowling wrote a detective novel, given her outspoken love for the genre. The surprise is the creation of Mr Galbraith. Although that’s not too surprising either, given the venerable history of the nom de plume—remember Richard Bachman?

And believe me, no matter how thrilled the media is about all this now, it’s nothing to how grateful Rowling’s future biographers will be. The facts of the event are, of course, obscured by spin and publicity and simple temporal proximity, but I’ll be curious to read various biographers’ interpretations of the past few weeks and months, in thirty or forty years or so.

I’d intended to write my own op-ed about all this (can you believe). I wanted to discuss the merits and demerits of pseudonymity, and Rowling’s use thereof. And I wanted to raise a number of questions that have been puzzling me.

But when I sat down to write, I found I’d been scooped. My article had already been written, with eloquence and sensitivity, by Allan Massie over at The Scotsman. (That’s especially worth reading if you don’t already know about the audacious nom de plume wars Walter Scott waged against himself.) And most of my questions are answered (satisfactorily, if not definitively) in the FAQ at www.robert-galbraith.com–written, of course, with Rowling’s usual good-humour and grace. So check out both those links.

There are still two questions I’m not seeing answered anywhere. For one thing, why did Rowling publish The Cuckoo’s Calling under a pseudonym, but not The Casual Vacancy? When CV released there was, I remember, a big to-do about how Rowling wanted to stand behind her own work. Was CC simply a bridge too far afield from the Potterverse? (The Casual Vacancy could perhaps be let in as a year in the life of the Dursleys.)

And for another—remember what Ian Rankin tweeted during the run up to CV?

Wouldn’t it be funny if J K Rowling’s first novel for adults turned out to be a crime story set in Edinburgh? My word yes.

…Did he know all along?

8 thoughts on “The Many Lives of Mr Galbraith–Scooped!

  1. Thanks for the links, Mr. Pond — I think this whole thing is a kick, and I am looking forward to reading the book!

  2. This all is so cool…. Thanks for the great post, Mr. Pond! You ask a very intriguing question: “For one thing, why did Rowling publish The Cuckoo’s Calling under a pseudonym, but not The Casual Vacancy? When CV released there was, I remember, a big to-do about how Rowling wanted to stand behind her own work.”

    My best speculation is that the TCV to-do was perhaps a diversion, so that no one would imagine that she would have another book out so near in time and different in genre. That would enable her to attain as best she could the liberation of getting feedback on her work not-as-J.-K.-Rowling.

    1. I also think she wanted to see what the critics would say about her writing if the book didn’t have her name on it. She received a lot of undeserved harsh criticism for The Casual Vacancy in my opinion.

  3. I know nothing about book publishing, so I’m wondering: Did they print enough books to handle the sudden demand for thousands more, once the true author was leaked? Or are they printing them now? I have Amazon Prime, which means I usually receive a book by second day mail, but The Cuckoo’s Calling is taking longer.

    1. Now, that’s interesting. When I looked last Sunday how long it would take Amazon.de to send me the hardcover, it said “up to 5 weeks”. As I didn’t want to wait that long, I bought the Kindle edition. Now the Amazon page for the British edition says that it is in stock but will ship within “two additional days”, which means about 4 days after placing the order. That’s usually the case for books that ship directly from Amazon UK to Amazon.de. Which means that it should be in stock in GB.

      How long does it take to print a second edition for it being in stock if the first print run was presumably only 5000 copies?

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