“[The Cuckoo’s Calling] is so well written that I suspect that some years down the road we will hear the author’s name is a pseudonym of some famous writer. You could feel the weather, the tension, the pain, the atmosphere in the gatherings. It is a wonderful mystery with a surprise ending, and I look forward to more by the same author.” – Amazon.com reviewer
“After several years with the Royal Military Police, Robert Galbraith was attached to the SIB (Special Investigative Branch), the plain-clothes branch of the RMP. He left the military in 2003 and has been working since then in the civilian security industry. The idea for Cormoran Strike grew directly out of his own experiences and those of his military friends who returned to the civilian world.” – Author bio on the jacket flap of The Cuckoo’s Calling
“J.K. Rowling, creator of the bestselling Harry Potter fantasy novels for children, reportedly has been unmasked for writing a detective novel for adults under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. The Cuckoo’s Calling had been released in April to warm reviews, prompting speculation about the author’s true identity. ‘In a rare feat, the pseudonymous Galbraith combines a complex and compelling sleuth and an equally well-formed and unlikely assistant with a baffling crime in his stellar debut,’ Publishers Weekly wrote in its review. In a story out this weekend, Rowling told the Sunday Times of London ‘I had hoped to keep this secret a little longer because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience. It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.'” – The Wall Street Journal
The news took the Muggle world by storm. The Cuckoo’s Calling by “Robert Galbraith” was doing modestly well for a novel by a (supposedly) first-time author, having sold several thousand copies and received two offers from television production companies, when it was leaked this July that J.K. Rowling had written the novel under a pseudonym. Surprise! Reactions were mixed. Some people were gleeful; others, outraged, because they viewed this as a marketing ploy.
I wholly support Rowling’s decision to disguise her identity. Stephen King did the same thing with his Richard Bachman books. Although I prefer to approach books more objectively, some people buy their favorite author’s books simply because of a name on the cover. Rowling wanted to try her hand at detective fiction, explaining that “most of the Harry Potter stories are whodunits at heart.” She says, “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.” Her experiment proved that readers were truly judging her book based on the merits of its writing. They weren’t distracted by a big name; they just thought the book was good. I can understand her decision and her interviews prove that she was genuinely curious, not trying cause a ruckus.
But what does her use of a male pseudonym mean? She became famous under a pen name, after all. When Rowling was trying to publish Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone nearly two decades ago, her publisher said that J.K. was better than Joanne because boys wouldn’t read books written by a woman. (Fun fact: She has no middle name and only used Kathleen as a tribute to her grandmother because it made her nom de plume longer.) That’s an incredibly shallow reason not to read something and besides, this was proven false by the huge number of boys who read her series knowing full well that a girl wrote it.
If Rowling wanted to remain anonymous, why didn’t she publish under the name Roberta Galbraith? Many articles about the leak claim that the big names in detective fiction are male. But I have always thought (and was happy to hear that she did too) that Harry Potter is a mystery even more than it is a fantasy: Where is the Department of Mysteries? Who were Voldemort’s parents? Where do Snape’s true allegiances lie? Rowling has already proven that she can write mysteries. And to anyone who insists that only men write successful mysteries, I give them one name: Agatha Christie. “Queen of crime.” Want more? Dorothy L. Sayers, Margaret Truman, and P.D. James.
I used to put authors on metaphorical pedestals, idolizing my favorites, believing they were perfect writers as well as perfect people. I don’t do this anymore because I have seen how those favorites disappoint me. Rowling did not attempt to make the publishing world an equal playing field for men and women. She didn’t challenge any assumptions about who writes which genres; all she did was perpetuate them.
I dream of publishing my own stories someday and as that is no easy feat, you can bet that I want to see my name or at least my gender represented on the front cover, saying to the world, “Hey, I wrote a thing!” Should I write in a male-dominated genre, I don’t want to use another name or even be rejected simply because I am a woman. As a fan of J.K. Rowling, I am thrilled to learn that I can read more of her writing – I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of The Cuckoo’s Calling – but I am disappointed that with this recent novel she did nothing to make the world of writing a better place for women.