Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling, bestselling author of the Harry Potter series and The Casual Vacancy.
Why a pseudonym? J.K. Rowling wanted to begin a new writing career in a new genre and to release her crime novels to a neutral audience, free of expectation or hype.
The first Robert Galbraith novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, was published in 2013 to critical acclaim from reviewers and fellow crime writers alike.
Although the author’s true identity was unexpectedly revealed, J.K. Rowling continues to write the Cormoran Strike series under the name of Robert Galbraith to maintain the distinction from her other writing.
Two more books have been equally well received: The Silkworm (2014) and Career of Evil (2015).
The books have been adapted as a major new television series for BBC One, produced by Brontë Film and Television.
The fourth novel, Lethal White, is in the works.
Why have you chosen to write crime fiction?
I’ve always loved detective fiction, Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell, Margery Allingham and PD James, I love them all. Most of the Harry Potter stories are whodunits at heart (Order of the Phoenix is more of a why-did-he), but I wanted to try the real thing for a long time. I wanted to have a go at writing a contemporary whodunit, with a credible back story.
Was it always your idea to write under a pseudonym for these books?
Yes, I really wanted 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. I wanted it to be just about the writing. It was a fantastic experience and I only wish it could have gone on a little longer than it did. I was grateful at the time for all the feedback from publishers and readers, and for some great reviews. Being Robert Galbraith was all about the work, which is my favourite part of being a writer. Since my cover has been blown, I continue to write as Robert to keep the distinction from other writing and because I rather enjoy having another persona.
Why have you chosen to write these books as a man? Does it influence your writing in any way?
I certainly wanted to take my writing persona as far away as possible from me, so a male pseudonym seemed a good idea. It doesn’t consciously change the way I write. I think I write differently, because it’s a very different genre.
Why the name Robert Galbraith? Do you have anything to say to all those Robert Galbraiths out there?
I can only hope all the real Robert Galbraiths out there will be as forgiving as the real Harry Potters have been. I must say, I don’t think their plight is quite as embarrassing.
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. Be that as it may, the name had a fascination for me. I actually considered calling myself L A Galbraith for the Strike series, but for fairly obvious reasons decided that initials were a bad idea.
Odder still, there was a well-known economist called J K Galbraith, something I only remembered by the time it was far too late. I was completely paranoid that people might take this as a clue and land at my real identity, but thankfully nobody was looking that deeply at the author’s name.
Why did you decide for the author to have a military background?
It was the easiest and most plausible reason for Robert to know how the Special Investigation Branch operates and investigates. Another reason for making him a military man working in the civilian security industry was to give him a solid excuse not to appear in public or provide a photograph.
Why have you chosen a private investigator as the lead character and why a war veteran and amputee?
As I said, I want to write classical whodunits with a modern twist. A Private Investigator is invited in to different worlds. It gives me a way of using life experiences and exploring those worlds in depth. I know a lot of people who have served in the armed forces and who have been kind enough to help with my research. I interviewed serving and ex-military people for as long as they would let me bother them. In fact, all my factual information came from military sources. One of these is from the SIB. So while Strike himself is entirely fictional, his career and the experiences he’s had are based on factual accounts of real soldiers. Making Strike a war veteran is both very plausible and exciting novelistically. One of the reviews I treasured most (before Robert was unmasked) said that my hero faced his situation ‘with resolve, instead of clichéd self-destruction.’ I gave Strike many of the qualities of the military people to whom I am closest: strength of character, black humour, resilience and ingenuity. Making him an amputee added another dimension, allowing me to show the day to day reality of living with a disability, which many war veterans are having to face these days. It’s something I personally witnessed with my mother, who had MS.
Why are the Strike novels set in London? Why not Edinburgh, where you live?
I love Edinburgh and the city makes a stunning and tempting backdrop for crime fiction, but I felt that there were enough compelling literary detectives pounding its streets already. Both my parents were Londoners and I spent a lot of time there during my childhood and teens, visiting relatives. I lived there in my twenties and still love the place. You could write about London all your life and not exhaust the plots, settings or history.
Can you tell us a bit more about Strike. Why did you choose to make him the
character he is?
Strike was a very vivid character who came to me, in the best way, he just walked into my head. His surname came from a real (but deceased) man mentioned in a slim book about Cornwall.
Apart from being an ex-military policeman, my hero is the illegitimate son of a very famous man whom he has only met twice. He’s damaged in certain ways, due to an upbringing that’s quite unusual. Strike gives me a way to talk in an objective, de-personalised way about the oddities that come with fame. While in the army, Strike had the anonymity he craved; now that he has left, he runs into people who make a lot of assumptions about him based purely on his parentage. He’s a complex character because he’s rooted in the military and partly in the louche world that a lot of people would like to enter without really understanding how damaging that world can be. He is unique as I think every detective should be, but he’s rightly conforming to the rules of detective fiction that make detective fiction fair for the reader.
And then there is Robin, Strike’s assistant. Their relationship is intriguing. Can you tell us a bit more about her?
I think Robin is the most purely loveable character I’ve ever written. She is in deliberate contrast to Strike. She questions what they do a little more than he does and has a more emotional response to the cases. You need that foil for Strike, because he does keep things in his head much more. Unwillingly, really, he’s being broken open by this friendship. Robin initially finds Strike rather unattractive and unsympathetic, but soon starts to admire his work ethic and intelligence. Meanwhile Strike, aware of his susceptibility as a newly single and isolated man, is determined not to become over-fond or reliant on this helpful and undeniably sexy girl.
They are both carrying a lot of secrets when they meet, which weigh them down and they’re both close-lipped about what the central traumas of their lives have been. Over the course of the books they start to open up to each other. It’s a relationship for Strike, with Robin, unlike any he’s had before.
The dynamic between them is I think the thing that keeps people reading and it’s certainly the thing that keeps me writing.
What is your process of writing these novels and is it different to how you write your
I often start with a kernel of an idea then work out how to get there. I plan and research a lot and know far more about the characters than actually ends up ever appearing in the books. It is how I have always worked. The last Strike novel, Career of Evil, involved an insane amount of planning, the most I have done for any book I have written so far. I have colour-coded spreadsheets so I can keep a track of where I am going. It was the same for the Harry Potter novels. Generally I am quite disciplined in my writing and do try to have a set working day, but I don’t set myself targets of number of words to achieve. Sometimes I consider I have had a good day if I have deleted a lot of words or have simply done plenty of thinking. And I never write the title page until the book is finished.
With three books now published in the series, do you have a favourite?
I have loved writing all the books so far, but I think the latest, Career of Evil, has to be my favourite. It was an incredible amount of work, but I thoroughly enjoyed developing the plot, whilst giving the reader a little more about Strike and Robin. It was fun too weaving in the great lyrics of Blue Oyster Cult.
Why have the books been adapted for TV instead of film? How involved have you been
The storylines just seem to suit TV more than film. There’s something about detectives on TV, they just work so well. I had input on the storyline, casting and adaptation, because of what I have planned in the future for the characters, but other than that I left it to the great team of experts who have made it all happen. .
It has been reported that you have seven Cormoran Strike novels planned. Is this correct? And when is the next one?
It’s not, there are actually more than that. The beauty of writing these types of novels is that they each have their own discrete story, so the series is pretty open ended. It will run for as long as I have stories to tell. I am currently writing the fourth, Lethal White, but there is no fixed date for it to be published yet.