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The story so far: JK Rowling, celebrated author of magical tales for children, has released a book under a different name. It is called The Cuckoo’s Calling and she is called Robert Galbraith. She also invented a history for him, one that would plausibly allow her not to be forced into making public appearances dressed as a man, because he’s ex-army, ex-security forces, and therefore not allowed to be seen in public.
He does have a signature though.
Now, JK – whose name isn’t actually JK, that’s another nom de plume – has taken to the Robert Galbraith website to explain more fully how this state of affairs came into being, in a lengthy FAQ.
Here are some of the highlights, starting with an explanation of why she chose to write a crime novel, and why under a pseudonym:
“I’ve always loved reading detective fiction. Most of the Harry Potter stories are whodunits at heart (Order of the Phoenix is more of a why-did-he), but I’ve wanted to try the real thing for a long time. As for the pseudonym, I was yearning to go back to the beginning of a writing career in this new genre, to work without hype or expectation and to receive totally unvarnished feedback. It was a fantastic experience and I only wish it could have gone on a little longer.”
When asked how it was different to write as a man, she said “I am proud to say that when I ‘unmasked’ myself to my editor David Shelley who had read and enjoyed The Cuckoo’s Calling without realizing I wrote it, one of the first things he said was ‘I never would have thought a woman wrote that.’ Apparently I had successfully channeled my inner bloke!”
And it seems her choice of name was partly influenced by a love of American presidents:
“I chose Robert because it is one of my favourite men’s names, because Robert F Kennedy is my hero and because, mercifully, I hadn’t used it for any of the characters in the Potter series or The Casual Vacancy. Galbraith came about for a slightly odd reason. When I was a child, I really wanted to be called Ella Galbraith, and I’ve no idea why. I don’t even know how I knew that the surname existed, because I can’t remember ever meeting anyone with it.”
And about that signature, and whether signed copies are the real deal:
“I was asked by the publisher to sign a few copies of The Cuckoo’s Calling as Robert Galbraith that were made available for sale around publication. While we can’t verify whether any particular book currently on eBay etc is genuine, any future books I sign in this way will be authenticated. My Robert Galbraith signature is distinctive and consistent; I spent a whole weekend practicing it to make sure.
And finally, addressing the charge that this is all just a big publicity stunt:
“If anyone had seen the labyrinthine plans I laid to conceal my identity (or indeed my expression when I realised that the game was up!) they would realise how little I wanted to be discovered. I hoped to keep the secret as long as possible. I’m grateful for all the feedback from publishers and readers, and for some great reviews.
“Being Robert Galbraith has been all about the work, which is my favourite part of being a writer. This was not a leak or marketing ploy by me, my publisher or agent, both of whom have been completely supportive of my desire to fly under the radar. If sales were what mattered to me most, I would have written under my own name from the start, and with the greatest fanfare.
“At the point I was ‘outed’, Robert had sold 8500 English language copies across all formats (hardback, eBook, library and audiobook) and received two offers from television production companies. The situation was becoming increasingly complicated, largely because Robert was doing rather better than we had expected him to, but we all still hoped to keep the secret a little longer.
“Yet Robert’s success during his first three months as a published writer (discounting sales made after I was found out) actually compares favourably with JK Rowling’s success over the equivalent period of her career!”
And just for once, we’ll allow a celebrity to use the third person when talking about themselves. How else could she possibly keep track?
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic