How long JK Rowling wanted to keep her crime writer pseudonym a secret, we will never know. The Harry Potter author released her first Robert Galbraith novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, in April 2013 under the guise of a very British sounding man who was said to have previously served in the army. But her nom-de-plume was uncovered three months later after an indiscreet tweet divulging the true identity of Galbraith was sent by “@JudeCallegari”, a family friend of Christopher Gossage, a partner at Rowling’s solicitors.
Within days Galbraith’s one-legged protagonist Detective Cormoran Stike became one of the best known characters in contemporary crime writing. The book by the “debut novelist” shot from 4,709th position in the Amazon sales chart to number one. Public demand was so high that Rowling’s publisher Little, Brown was forced to order 140,000 extra copies of The Cuckoo’s Calling, which had shifted just 1,500 in its first three months. To date, the novel has sold 1 million copies, with Galbraith’s 2014 follow-up The Silkworm catching up on 500,000.
Despite the surge in sales – which Rowling donated to The Soldier’s Charity – the author was “disappointed” by her leaked identity, later taking Gossage and Callegari to court. “A tiny number of people knew my pseudonym and it has not been pleasant to wonder for days how a woman whom I had never heard of prior to Sunday night could have found out something that many of my oldest friends did not know,” she said in a statement at the time.
But what motivated one of Britain’s best-selling authors to write under a pseudonym? Speculation suggested it was due to the mixed reviews she received for The Casual Vacancy, the first adult novel she had written since the Harry Potter series, which was released seven months before The Cuckoo’s Calling. The author later explained she 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”.
Rowling was so keen to keep up the appearance of Robert Galbraith that she sent a manuscript of The Cuckoo’s Calling to every major publisher, despite having already agreed a deal with Little, Brown. Orion was one of the few publishing houses honest enough to admit it had turned it down. “It was certainly well written – but it didn’t stand out,” said Kate Mills, the company’s publishing director.
Like The Casual Vacancy, the Robert Galbraith novels have distinguished Rowling as a master of plot, pacing and characterisation. She will not be remembered among the literary greats, but as the most addictively compelling writer of a generation. Fans hoping for more in the Cormoran Strike series should not be disappointed. Rowling has said she would like to write more Galbraith novels, but for now she has the forthcoming Harry Potter West End show and the film release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to contend with. For those desperate for their next fix of the crime saga, Cormoran Strike will at least live on in a BBC adaptation of Galbraith’s novels, which is likely to air next year.
Source: Independent Culture