Each July, crime fiction readers and 80 of the genre's most recognizable authors descend on Harrogate in North Yorkshire for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. This year's featured guests included part-time Sarasota resident Mark Billingham, creator of Prime Suspect Lynda LaPlante, Laura Lippman — and Robert Galbraith, better known to some as J.K. Rowling.
Rowling's Harrogate appearance on July 18 was her first since the publication of the second Galbraith novel, The Silkworm. She was interviewed by author Val McDermid in Harrogate's spectacular Royal Hall, where she shared her appreciation of crime fiction, and her plans for a series of novels about the former military police detective turned private investigator Cormoran Strike, with an audience of almost 1,000 people, many of whom had traversed continents to see her.
"I have always loved crime fiction, and I read quite a lot of it. I've always seen the Harry Potter books as whodunits in disguise," Rowling said. Her love of crime novels started young, when she was taken with Golden Age authors Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie; her contemporary favorites include Ruth Rendell, P.D. James, McDermid and Billingham.
“The Tiger in the Smoke (by Allingham) is a phenomenal novel," she said. "And Christie could always shuffle the cards and fool you."
Rowling published The Cuckoo's Calling as Robert (for Robert Kennedy, her "all-time political hero") Galbraith (a name she has liked since childhood) because she "wanted to prove to myself that I could get the book published on the merits of the book." The first novel, she said, uses some of her own experiences that she never expected to use in a novel, and she was quick to mention that the publishing world in The Silkworm is not based on real people or circumstances.
"I wanted to write a classical whodunit, with a single character who didn't have a forensic team backing him up. And private investigators can be invited places cops can't go."
Talking about the "phenomenal amount of research" she does for her books, Rowling said that it is important to her to illustrate the reality of living with a disability and what life is like for military veterans. The third Galbraith novel will be "quite different," and will "focus on what happens to people after they leave the military."
About Robin Ellacott, Strike's assistant and partner, she said, "We all love Robin. I think she's the most lovable character I've ever written. It felt right to give (Strike) a female sidekick he didn't sleep with. They have a genuine friendship, and Robin is very useful to him because she can be charming when he isn't."
To rapturous applause, Rowling said that she has "no end point in mind" for the Strike series, and it will "definitely be more than seven books. I'm currently halfway through the third and have started plotting the fourth."
She also revealed that the original kernel of the idea for The Silkworm's plot, which she had been "kicking around" for six years, is in Chapter 48, and that she had the idea for The Silkworm before that for The Cuckoo's Calling, but felt it important to introduce Strike with a less complex plot.
After her interview, Rowling signed hundreds of books, each with a smile from Mr. Galbraith herself.
Erin Mitchell is a reader and book marketing consultant in St. Petersburg.