Nick Jeffery: Beginning at the Beginning A History of ‘Ickabog’ and Christmas Pig

Rowling’s interview comments through the years about her work on a new children’s story just did not add up. She was working on it, finished it, wore it as a dress, had it hidden in the attic, working on it “the last six years,” and then the Covid Cinderella story about bringing it down from the attic… Cynical me, my response was a Cormoranian “Bullocks.” The Ickabog and it’s “all for charity” rollout were the perfect cure, from my view, of Rowling, Inc.’s nightmare of negative publicity consequent to her feminist resistance to transgender over reach.

Nick Jeffery, though, in private correspondence last year suggested to me that the seeming contradictions in Rowling’s Ickabog comments through the years all made sense if there was another children’s story in the works. I dismissed that possibility as stretching charity to fantasy. It turns out, of course, that ‘The Christmas Pig’ may be the story that Nick thought the evidence of Rowling’s testimony suggested had to be out there. In my post Tuesday about ‘The Christmas Pig’ I asked if he would write up his notes on the subject as a Guest Post and he has obliged me with this Guest Post review of the evidence. Enjoy!

Beginning at the Beginning

Origin stories are important. Hardly a newspaper article appeared about Harry Potter in the early years without mention of the penniless single mother writing in cafes. Once adopted, this hook so beloved of copywriters evolved beyond the reality and into writing on napkins and penniless morphed into homelessness.

The genesis of Harry, or at least proto-Harry has also passed into folklore with the boy wizard popping ‘fully formed’ into her head on a train between Manchester and London.

Casual Vacancy didn’t have a wonderful tale behind it. The idea for a vacancy on a parish council happened on an aircraft during a Harry Potter tour, but although the idea of rural local government gives the stories inside shape and purpose it can hardly be called the defining theme of the book. To my mind the vivid characters and charged situations point to personal experience long before Potter.

Robert Galbraith’s origin wrote itself, with anonymous submissions and secret meetings with editors and lawyers sworn to (unsuccessful) secrecy. The unmasking of Rowling by journalistic sleuthing, linguistic analysis and indiscreet lawyers only added to the drama.

In May 2020 J.K Rowling posted on her website an introduction to her new work “The Ickabog”. We don’t know when this introduction was written but it was posted on 26th May 2020. It gave a timeline of when the Ickabog was conceived, and when and how she finally decided to publish. This is the JKR official Ickabog origin story:

  • Read to own children when they were little.
  • Most of first draft completed between Potter Books, intending to publish after Deathly Hallows.
  • Break from publishing after Deathly Hallows.
  • Wrote Casual Vacancy and Cuckoo’s Calling. (5 years 2007 – 2012)
  • Dithering and Ickabog Trademarked, decided not to publish.
  • First Draft moved to attic for nearly a decade.
  • A few weeks ago (March – April 2020?) tentative idea to publish mooted to family.

The earliest mention I could find of the “Political Fairy Tale” is at 44:48 in the “A Year in the Life ” documentary filmed 2006-07 where it is described as currently being written and probably the next thing to publish.

But Beatrice Groves (see ‘The Names of the Ickabog’) and Patricio Tarantino at The Rowling Library both found this earlier reference in the January 2006 issue of the Tattler:

A new children’s book is also complete. It is about a monster and is what Rowling calls a ‘political fairy story’. It is aimed at children younger than those who read Harry Potter: ‘I haven’t even told my publisher about this.’”

Not long after this, during the US Deathly Hallows tour she said she had the first idea for Casual Vacancy.

What is known, then, or be safely assumed about The Ickabog’s origins?

  • If she read the Ickabog to her own children (and it is suitable to 7-9 year olds) then she read it to them from 2010 to 2014.
  • The story appeared on the “Lost Manuscript Dress” at her 50th birthday party in 2015.
  • 19th March 2016 Tweets “I didn’t like it enough to publish it. It’s in a drawer!” 
  • 10th July 2017 CNN interview, the Political Fairy-tale is now on a dress, she doesn’t know if she will publish.
  • 26th January 2020 Troubled Blood completed.
  • 13th May 2020 Tweets she is editing two things with two different editors. 
  • 22nd May 2020 first posts the “Dusty Box” as her twitter header.
  • 26th May 2020 announces Ickabog.

So far this (more or less) fits a coherent narrative.

  • 2007 Story narrative and structure complete
  • 2007 – 2012 first draft completed and committed to paper (perhaps minus the ending) read to own children.
  • 2012 in wake of Vacancy, Strike and Lumos pushed to back burner (the attic).
  • 2015 Pulled down from attic to make design for party dress.
  • 2017 Interviewer finally asks about the Fairy-tale, admits to dress.
  • 2020 COVID!

It was then, only last year, that we were presented with another wonderful story origin for the Ickabog – A tale told to her own children as they were growing up. A decision not to publish, but keep it only for her family, made into a dress and then stored in the attic. After suffering herself from COVID, and seeing families struggle with lockdown and home schooling, she decides to finish the tale, and serialise on-line for free.

The pages are retrieved from the attic, and lovingly illustrated by children from around the world. Another beautiful story to fit with the others.

The one piece that doesn’t fit this is a Q&A post from 30th May 2018 on her website:

I’ve just finished the fourth Galbraith novel, Lethal White, and I’m now writing the screenplay for Fantastic Beasts 3. After that I’ll be writing another book for children. I’ve been playing with the (non-Harry Potter/wizarding world) story for about six years, so it’s about time I get it down on paper.”

This story has been in development from 2012 – 2018, the very period when Rowling was abandoning the Ickabog. She has not (as of 2018) got this story on to paper, but we know in 2015 there was at least enough of the Ickabog to create a dress.

The Q&A post is still live on her website, and if wrong is an unforced error i.e. not in answer to an interviewer. 

If the above refers to the Ickabog then it calls into question, not just the timeline, but also calls into question her motives for releasing it when she did. 

My tentative conclusion last year was that this referred to another story, since delayed or abandoned due to difficulties in the Fantastic Beasts 3 script and Troubled Blood taking creative priority.

On the 13th April 2021 she finally announced ‘The Christmas Pig.’ We don’t know (yet) if this was the book she was developing between 2012-2018, but if it was then the origin story of ‘The Ickabog’ stands a little more secure.

 

The Christmas Pig: New Rowling Story

A change to the Rowling Twitter header, followed by a joking retweet that was erased (and then reposted), ended this morning with the announcement of the 12 October publication of a new children’s story by J. K. Rowling, The Christmas Pig. From the Rowling.com website page:

The Christmas Pig is a heartwarming, page-turning adventure about one child’s love for his most treasured toy, and how far he will go to find it.  It’s a standalone story, unrelated to any of J.K. Rowling’s previous work, and is suitable for children 8+: a tale for the whole family to fall in love with.

Jack loves his childhood toy, Dur Pig.  DP has always been there for him, through good and bad.  Until one Christmas Eve something terrible happens – DP is lost.  But Christmas Eve is a night for miracles and lost causes, a night when all things can come to life – even toys…  And Jack’s newest toy – the Christmas Pig (DP’s annoying replacement) – has a daring plan:  Together they’ll embark on a magical journey to seek something lost, and to save the best friend Jack has ever known…

The Presence returned to Twitter after five months of silence with a change to her header and a retweet, that according to friends in the UK and Argentina was posted then taken down only to appear again. Here are the new header and that tweet:

Three Quick Notes:

(1) Perhaps the most encouraging news is that the first fifty comments made by twitter followers to Rowling’s return to posting included only two references to the transgender kerfuffle vis a vis Maya Forstater’s appeal this month and both were supportive of Rowling’s position. The ‘Welcome Back!’ and ‘We Missed You!’ memes were the rule without exception. I expect that will change as word spreads about The Christmas Pig but this opening salvo sans nastiness is a very positive change for the better.

(2) I don’t think this means Rowling has returned to regular tweeting, in fact, I would be astonished and very disappointed if it did mean this. That her response to Mhairi W went out, came down, and was reposted suggests some real hesitance to re-enter the social media game. I’m hopeful that this tweet to her more than 14 million followers was the exception made to serve the obvious marketing expectation from her publishers rather than a joyful reentry into the nether world of the Twitterati and the Ideological Twits. I think all of her fans prefer new stories, screenplays, and novels, the fruit of her focus on her vocation as author, to her endless and unedifying engagement with social media trolls and tweeters.

(3) I have been sitting on a post about the confusing comments Rowling has made about the genesis of The Ickabog through the years, from its being her next project in 2007 and all but done a few years later to an item in the attic she dusted off for the Covid lockdown pande-mania. I hope that Nick Jeffery will explain in a Guest Post or in the comment thread below how the announcement of this new story creates a reasonable alternative to my pet theory, based on Rowling’s contradictory statements about a children’s story for close to fifteen years, that The Ickabog publication was only rowled out (sic) last summer as a fire break to all the negative transgender controversy publicity, a necessary sop to public opinion to smooth the way for Troubled Blood’s publication in September.

A new story by year’s end! Hurrah!

 

Career of Evil and Strike Speculation 100: Untangling the Timeline of Donald Laing

The errors associated with Donald Laing’s history have already been mentioned on this site (see John’s ‘The Trouble with JKR/Galbraith Dates’). So, how are readers to make sense of it all, especially when we are looking to Cormoran Strike’s own past as the key to the “big mystery” of the series: who killed Leda? Since Laing’s army career intersected with Strike’s twice, figuring out his history informs us on Strike’s.

For convenience, I list below 25 passages from Career of Evil that make some sort of actual or implied claim on the timeline of Laing’s life. Remember that Career is set in April-July 2011. Strike is 36, going on 37 in November. 

  1.  “I got him life…Out in ten. He’s been on the loose since 2007.”
  2. “I’m pretty sure he was at an address in Corby in 2008, but he’s moved on.”
  3. “He had not seen Brockbank for eight years, Laing for nine.
  4. “He was before I knew you. King’s Own Royal Borderers. Knew him in Cyprus.”
  5. “He’s the Scot I landed in jail for ten years.
  6. “…who had been only twenty when they had first met.
  7. “…whom he had first met eleven years previously in a boxing ring.
  8. “the younger man perhaps faster on his feet, Strike superior in technique.”
  9. His senior officer had accepted Laing’s plea of mitigating circumstances…he had entered the ring deeply distressed by news of his fiancée’s miscarriage.
  10. Three years later, Strike had arrived in Cyprus to investigate an alleged rape.”
  11. “Donald Laing had been sentenced to sixteen years’ imprisonment for what he had done to his wife.”
  12. “He came back to see his mother a few years back.”
  13. “Och, four or five years ago, that would’ve been.”
  14. “He turned up on her doorstep, forced his way into the bungalow.”
  15. “When Rhona first took up with him—she was fifteen and he was seventeen—
  16. “He wanted tae join the army. Good riddance, I thought. I hoped she’d forget him if he left. Then he came back. He got her pregnant but she lost it… she went and married him on his next leave…Off to Cyprus together.
  17. Six months she lived in fear of him turning up and then one day he did.”
  18. “She and Laing had a baby, didn’t they? The kid must be, what, ten by now?
  19. “Have you got any idea where Laing went after turning up at Rhona’s?” “Yes.  Apparently he went to Gateshead, but I don’t know whether he’s still there.”
  20. “He spent a decade inside and I doubt they managed to rehabilitate him. He’s been out over four years: plenty of time to commit murder.”
  21. “It’s only twelve miles from Corby. We could swing by and see whether the Laing who was shacked up with a woman there in 2008 is our Laing.”
  22. “How long were you together?” “Ten months.
  23. “Unsolved murder in Leeds, 2009. Prostitute, originally from Cardiff. Then, last year, a girl was killed and mutilated in Milton Keynes. Sadie Roach, her name was.
  24. “He thought about Laing, living alone in his grim Wollaston Close flat, claiming his disability benefit, overweight and infirm, looking far older than his real age of thirty-four.”
  25. “Police have charged thirty-four-year-old Donald Laing with the murders of Kelsey Platt, Heather Smart, Martina Rossi and Sadie Roach.”

It is already obvious that not all 25 time references can be accurate.

  • Laing could not be sentenced to both 16 years (11) and life (1).
  • If Laing is 34 at the time of Career (24, 25), and 20 (6) at the time of the boxing match, the match did not happen 11 years ago (7), but 14.
  • If Laing was released in 2007 after serving 10 years (1, 5, 20), he would have been jailed in 1997. This presents multiple problems:
    • It puts Strike 3-4 years off in his estimate of the age of the baby he rescued (18).
    • For the boxing match to occur three years before the arrest (10), it would have happened in 1994, when Strike was 19 (for most of the calendar year, anyway), and therefore not older than 20-year-old Laing (6, 8).
    • This would also have Strike first meeting Laing in the ring a full 17 years ago, not 11 (7). In 1994, Strike would likely not even be in the Army yet, much less promoted to Corporal and boxing in a tournament. 

So, unless Donnie is a time-traveler as well as a sociopath, or the Red Caps boxing team illegally imported some Oxford students, some of the above must be in error. The question is, is there a way to make sense of most of it, given what else we know about Strike’s history?  See my efforts on that front after the jump.

[Read more…]

Stanford Review: JKR Not a Transphobe – And It’s Not a ThoughtCrime to Say So

Maxwell Meyer has written an opinion piece for The Stanford Review, ‘Stanford’s Independent Newspaper,’ under the headline: ‘A Harry Potter-themed Stanford dorm panics over “transphobic, anti-semitic, and racist” J.K. Rowling.’ His Stanford University dormitory, it seems, has a Harry Potter theme with its students being sorted into the famous four Houses at Hogwarts. This year that meant special comment had to be made during orientation to distance this theme from the radioactive opinions of J. K. Rowling. Meyer reports that

student staff read the following statement during our first virtual house meeting:

“We want to acknowledge that J.K. Rowling has made many transphobic, anti-semitic, and racist statements over the past year. Her beliefs do not reflect our values as a house, and we want to make it clear that we do not tolerate comments like hers in this dorm. Our theme… is intended to make this space safe and fun for you this quarter.”

His editorial first makes the straightforward points of showing the absurdity of the claims that Rowling has ever made “transphobic, anti-semitic, and racist statements.” He then puts these claims into the context of the “moral panic” of our times and challenges the Stanford University community to stand up to the know-better bullies on campus who are policing thought and restricting the open exchange of ideas: [Read more…]

Troubled Blood and Strike Speculation 102: More Trouble with JKR/Galbraith Dates

Troubled Blood certainly filled in some of the gaps in Cormoran Strike’s history; perhaps most notably telling us, at last, about the two times he met Jonny Rokeby (at age 7 and age 18, as it turns out).  It also cleared up one difficulty with Cormoran Strike’s timeline: namely the fact that Strike believed his conception and birth broke up Rokeby’s marriage, when both happened in a year when Rokeby was unmarried. For once, my guess was right; it was Rokeby’s second marriage (to Carla Astolfi) that broke up, not when baby Corm was born, but in 1979 when the paternity test (an HLA, or blood typing test, *not* a DNA test) showed Rokeby to be his father. We should assume that Carla was dating or engaged to Rokeby at the time of the indiscretion in the New York party, and that she was not able to forgive this infidelity 5 years later. Indeed, it is entirely possible that Rokeby left his first wife, Shirley Mullens, for Carla; we also learned in Troubled Blood that it can take a while for a divorce to be final. Robin initially left Matthew for cheating with Sarah 7 years previously, before their marriage; Carla left Jonny for the same reason.  And unlike Robin, Carla had the good sense not to change her mind.

But Troubled Blood did not fix all the problems with the Strike series timeline, and may have given us a few others to ponder. I’ve spent the last week or so working on pre-series timelines for both Robin and Strike. Almost none of the basics changed from the dates listed in John’s 2018 post, Lethal White and Strike Speculation 101: The Trouble with JKR/Galbraith Dates:  

  • Strike was still born in  November 1974. 
  • Leda still died in late 1994 or, more likely, early 1995. (Most likely the latter. More on that later!). Troubled Blood clarified that this was “mid-way through”  Strike’s second year at Oxford. 
  • The IED explosion still happened mid-year of 2007, probably between May and September.

I hope to soon make both my full timelines available here on Hogpro, so that other serious Strikers can offer additions and corrections. But for now, after the jump. I’ll share some dates that don’t add up, and still are giving us headaches, post- Troubled Blood. In particular, the odds of the 2008 date of the Digger Malley investigation being correct have just fallen precipitously.

[Read more…]