A rose by any other name...

When my sister sent me a text to inform me that JK Rowling had published her second post-Potter adult book, I was surprised that I had heard nothing of it and that there had been no advertising campaign to speak of. Perhaps I had become buried so deep in Bristolian life and culture that I couldn't see beyond the street art and smokey drum and bass dens. Or maybe it was that trip away to the far reaches of South West Cornwall… But after a little research I realised that tere had been an advertising campaign, but I could not be blamed for missing it. For it was actually promoting a novel by one Robert Galbraith entitled The Cuckoo Calling. It turns out that Galbraith is Rowling’s pseudonym. 

Now that I know that the novel is by Rowling I shall certainly pick a copy up – her prose style never fails to host brilliant colour and sharp wit, and, for me, she weaves a story as well as any author writing today. Because of my own desire to discover a book now that I know it to be by one of my favourite – and one the nation's favourite – authors, I started thinking about why the power of an established name (in JK Rowling's case, an inescapably famous one) and why authors would decide to use a pseudonym at all. 

A pseudonym that protects an author in artistic or professional terms makes sense. For example an established author of a beat poet-inspired genre novel may not want their name simultaneously associated with the gay erotica they write on the side to pay the bills. A money spinning, formulaic franchise is not to be sniffed at, just perhaps not directly owned up to. Similarly a 'chick lit' pioneer may not feel comfortable with their name making a sudden transition to graphically-portrayed horror. But this doesn’t quite explain Rowling's decision. When A Casual Vacancy was released in September 2012 it was defined by the fact that Rowling had made a huge change of direction and, if you like, 'come of age' since the Harry Potter series (however right or wrong those judgements were). A Casual Vacancy carried the tension and mystery that is characteristic of a crime thriller – indeed The Cuckoo Calling is an extension of Rowling's application of her talent to more adult themes, I think

Another reason an author may choose to write under a pseudonym is to have their work taken more seriously than it otherwise may be. For example, the female writer Mary Ann Evans wrote as George Elliot to reflect gender prejudice from Silas Marner and Middlemarch. Rowling herself has claimed to have enjoyed pulling the wool over many a critics' eyes with her inner male.

In her statement about why she chose to write under a pseudonym for The Cuckoo Calling JK described her desire to go back to the status of a new writer starting out and that if the book was to have a sequel, Robert Galbraith would of course be writing it. Rowling commented, "It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback from publishers and readers under a different name." She did say she was disappointed at not keeping her secret guarded for longer, but added that, "The upside of being rumbled is that I can publicly thank my editor David Shelley, who has been a true partner in crime, all those people at Little, Brown who have been working so hard on The Cuckoo’s Calling without realising that I wrote it, and the writers and reviewers, both in the newspapers and online, who have been so generous to the novel."

Perhaps compared to Evans's desire to overcome gender prejudice, or indeed the author of A talented My Ripley Patricia Highsmith's desire to keep her lesbian romance under the radar (the level of prejudice towards homosexuality is still absurdly high and dogmatically unforgiving), Rowling's reasons for a pseudonym are a little frivolous. There is many a writer who would give anything to be as well known and 'hyped up' as Rowling is worldwide.  But the sentiment is understandable from somebody who will never escape the legacy of writing the best-loved childrens' books of our time. And it is nice that she has had a chance to publicly thank her partners in crime for keeping her secret. Now, where is the nearest Waterstones?

JK Rowling | Photo: Andrew Montgomery


  1. Hmmmm... I find it strange she published her second adult novel under a pseudoym, I would have thought the first post-Potter novel more worthy of anonymity. Also I really don't enjoy her writing style Rosie, I find her clunky and cumbersome! But that's just me! :) XX

    1. I agree – you would have thought some of the (inevitable) hype around The Casual Vacancy was a hindrance. And fair enough about her writing style – anyone who knows me, knows that I am a Kerouac and Marquez girl at heart – but the she is a top-rate story teller I think. Thanks for reading darling! Tapeparade is the blog I visit most nowadays... xx


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