Rowling-Galbraith: On Denmark Street

“Denmark Street fits Strike like a glove, because, obviously, his parentage. He comes from in some ways from Rock n Roll Royalty but he’s never lived that life, and yet he’s gravitated to Denmark Street. And Robin might be calling him on that at some point in the future.

“It is an iconic street. And it is a place clearly that he feels at home, though I’m not sure he’s ever thought that through. Because he grew up being dragged around concerts by a passionate Rock fan and a groupie.  So to operate out of a place where the buskers are constantly playing is, so this is home to him, yeah.

“But I love Denmark Street. I know it of old and used to live quite near there and it’s just one of those iconic places that I hope is not about to disappear though I fear for its future.”

Beatrice Groves, in her exegesis of Rowling’s choice of Charing Cross Road, has pointed out the importance of Denmark Street to Robin rather than Strike, that is to her what the Leaky Cauldron was to Harry Potter, and to The Presence herself as well:

More recently Rowling has spoken of how setting Strike’s offices on Denmark St was not a random choice, any more than was the placing of the Leaky Cauldron in Charing Cross Road. For Rowling, like Robin, once temped in Denmark Street: ‘I was sent to an office in Denmark Street years ago, and I was only there a week, and I loosely based Strike’s offices on that place where I temped.’ This was the first time that Rowling has mentioned her personal connection with this area of London and it makes sense that this might have been the time in her life when she got to know, via perusal in her lunch breaks, the bookshops of Charing Cross Road….

In sending Robin to temp in the office where she herself once temped, Rowling is doing something more than simply using a location which is familiar to her. For Strike’s office is to Robin what the Leaky Cauldron was to Harry: it is her portal of transformation. It will take her from the loveless, conventional life by which she feels stifled, and into her dream career. Matthew shares with the Dursleys both his obsession with the gaze of others, and in the desire to quash anything unconventional, anything of which those others might disapprove, out of the person whose behaviour might reflect badly on him. Matthew’s attempt to keep Robin away from the job for which she longs precisely echoes the Dursleys’ attempt to crush the magic out of Harry. It seems likely that it is no mere coincidence that the place that transports Harry from the Muggle to the magical world should be next-door to the place that transports Robin into the life she has always wanted. 

Wordsworth writes that ‘there are in our existence spots of time,/ That with distinct pre-eminence retain/ A renovating virtue.’ I can’t help wondering whether Rowling has placed the gateways into her heroes’ dreams at precisely this location because she connects that particular ‘spot of time’ in her life, that time when she was temping in London the late 1980s, with the fulfilment of her own dreams. My hunch is that Rowling connects that time, and place, in her life with the crystallising of her own transformative dream to become a writer. 

Rowling in today’s short comment talks about the Strike connection to Denmark Street, a side street to Charing Cross famous for its guitar stores and past clubs, the latter all closed (Strike’s address was in the not so distant past a notable one; see my post about dropping by Strike’s premises and favorite pub in 2016). The most exciting part of her asides here, I think, for Serious Strikers is the near confirmation in them that our prediction that the Agency will be forced to move from Denmark Street in Strike6 (and that Joe North’s home would be a perfect fit).

The eviction and search for new digs would be the perfect occasion for Robin to explore with Strike why he chose Denmark Street in the first place — and to suggest, when he neglects the obvious connection, that it was because an avenue that was Rock n Roll heaven at the time of his parents’ meeting felt like home to the recently demobbed soldier. My choice for the place for them to have this conversation is one closer than even Charing Cross Road or the Tottenham pub, namely the Church of St Giles in the Fields, the remarkable and beautiful building and grounds of which, though never mentioned in the books, are only a few steps and just across the street from the Agency’s entrance.

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Happy 24th Birthday, Harry Potter!

Hat tip to Patricio Tarantino at TheRowlingLibrary.com and to Beatrice Groves for sending me a reminder that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published on this date in 1997. Much more than Harry’s fictional birthday of 31 July, one he shares with The Presence, the date of his first adventure’s publication marks his true entry into the real world.

Many thanks to the midwives at Bloomsbury that made the birth and the subsequent births so eventful — and congratulations to Harry’s real mum, the author, for all she overcame to carry the Boy Who Lived to term and to his final victory over the Dark Lord!

Troubled Blood: Steel Dagger Interview

Troubled Blood is up for another prestigious award, the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger. This annual prize is for the ‘Best Thriller’ and is given out by the British Crime Writers Association as one their Dagger prizes, the most prestigious of which is the Cartier Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement. The Steel Dagger differs from the Diamond Dagger in focus and in being a relative newcomer to the Crime Writers Association.

Its focus is the thriller, which is an inclusive genre, no doubt about it:

[The Steel Dagger] award is for the best thriller novel first published in the UK. The broadest definition of the thriller novel is used for eligible books; these can be set in any period and include, but are not limited to, spy fiction, action/adventure stories and psychological thrillers. Ian Fleming said there was one essential criterion for a good thriller – that ‘one simply has to turn the page’; this is one of the main characteristics that the judges look for. Sponsored by Ian Fleming Publications Ltd.

Unlike the Diamond Dagger, which has been an annual event since 1986, the Steel Dagger has only been awarded since 1982. The names on the Diamond list, as you’d expect for a lifetime achievement award, are relatively well-known; Eric Amber, P. D. James, and John Le Carre, for example, won the first three, and authors we have discussed here at HogwartsProfessor — Val McDermid, Ian Rankin, and Martin Edwards, for starters — are past winners. In contrast, I have read only one Steel Dagger recipient, though I have read everything that winner has written.

It’s a big enough deal that Rowling-Galbraith submitted answers to interview questions sent to all the nominees in hopes that she can add a Steel Dagger to Troubled Blood‘s trophy case, next to her Nibbie Crime and Thriller statuette. The interview is short but relatively revealing.

Join me after the jump for a walk through The Presence’s answers and two other thoughts about this award — [Read more…]

J. J. Marsh’s ‘Behind Closed Doors:’ Did Cormoran Strike Begin as a Bet that Rowling Made with Two Old Friends?

Rowling tweeted last month that “one of my best friends, who lives in Spain,” had sent her a video of an accomplished guitarist.

I asked Nick Jeffery who this “best friend” of Rowling might be and he, as always, had a good guess:

My guess (and it is a guess) is Aine Kiely, one of the Godmothers of Swing from the Prisoner of Azkaban dedication. She fits the bill as ‘one of her oldest friends’ and is currently working and living in Spain. The other Godmother of Swing, Jill Prewett, writes detective fiction under the name J J Marsh and lives in Switzerland. Both have holidayed with JKR in recent years.

I was struck by Nick’s aside that one of Rowling’s oldest and dearest friends writes detective fiction. I had read Prewett-Marsh’s 2013 interview with Rowling, one of the best, but hadn’t known the journalist here was a writer, too. I see now that Rowling mentions Ngaio Marsh twice in that very bookish discussion, the most frequently cited interview, I think, in our list of Rowling references to books and authors she likes.

I ordered, consequently, an omnibus or Box Set edition of J. J. Marsh’s first three Beatrice Stubbs novels: Behind Closed Doors, Raw Material, and Tread Softly. My thought was to check if these books, written by Jill Prewett and published at the same time as Rowling-Galbraith was planning and writing the Strike series, had any obvious over-laps with the more famous Cuckoo’s Calling and subsequent four books.

I read the first Stubbs book, Behind Closed Doors, last weekend and think there may indeed be a connection, a fun one.

Three notes before I connect those dots, all after the jump: [Read more…]

Beatrice Groves: John Donne, The Beast Within, and Who Killed Leda Strike

Beatrice Groves, Research Lecturer and tutor at Trinity College, Oxford, and author of  Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, has written a HogwartsProfessor Guest Post to mark the publication of Rowling-Galbraith’s Troubled Blood as a paperback. In it she discusses what Nick Jeffery’s discovery of a possible future Strike novel title and ‘The Beast Within’ theme of Rowling’s recent work tells us about who is the most likely suspect in the “Who Killed Leda Strike?” sweepstakes. Enjoy!

When thou hast done, thou hast not done:’ Rowling and John Donne?

I first entered the Harry Potter on-line fan world in 2017 (invited here by the generous welcome of the Hogwarts Professor, John Granger, upon the publication of my Literary Allusion in Harry Potter). That meant that I was a decade late to the party of predicting how Harry Potter might end. So, for me, Strike and Fantastic Beasts have been the first time I’ve experienced the pleasure of sleuthing together. And it has been an absolute ball. By following Rowling’s tempting line of breadcrumbs, and building on the insights of many Potter fans and pundits, we’ve hit the odd bullseye – my favourites being guessing the murder location in Lethal White and the Spenserian epigraphs in Troubled Blood.

While following the clues Rowling leaves about future Strike novels may be a rather minority sport compared to following her Harry Potter breadcrumbs, in some ways these clues are likely to tell us more. For Rowling has taken a new turn in the Strike novels. In these novels the titles, and the epigraphs, have a much more complex relation to the plots of the novels than they did in Harry Potter (which did not, of course, have epigraphs at all until the final novel). This means that with Strike such guesswork might not just tell us what the title is but also something about the novel. When Rowling laid on a game of Twitter hangman to guess the title Lethal White, for example, the equine hint of the title (first pointed out by Louise Freeman) – just like the other clues that pointed towards the White Horse at Uffington – turned out to play a central role in the plot.

This blogpost is written to mark the paperback publication of Troubled Blood (coming out 22nd /24th June) – a novel which demonstrated Hogwarts Professor’s most successful title-sleuthing to date. When the title Troubled Blood was released on 20 February 2020, Nick Jeffery accurately guessed that Rowling had drawn the phrase from Edmund Spenser’s epic sixteenth-century poem The Faerie Queene.

 Now, to be honest, when Nick first suggested this, I was sceptical. Not because Rowling choosing an early modern text was inherently unlikely – it was of a piece with the epigraphs to Silkworm – but because The Faerie Queene is one of my favourite poems. So, it simply seemed too good to be true. But this does mean that now that Nick has once again suggested another early modern writer as the source for the title of Strike 6, and I am once again thinking this seems too good to be true, the déjà vu makes me feel hopeful….

The combined sleuthing of Patricio Tarantino of The Rowling Library and Nick Jeffery have turned up what sounds like a highly plausible title for Strike 6: The Last Cries of Men. John Granger has written up Nick’s suggestion that this title points us towards Donne’s Devotion Upon Emergent Occasions – the source of Donne’s most famous quotation, as well as the phrase ‘the last cries of men.’ 

There are lots of caveats here – The Last Cries of Men may be something else entirely, after all – but if it is a Rowling novel, it certainly sounds like a Strike novel. The phrase (found in Meditation VI from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions [1624]) is Donne’s evocation of the most heart-rending noise of the battlefield: ‘the sound of drums and trumpets and shot and those which they seek to drown, the last cries of men.’ Donne makes a bitter observation about the pragmatic reason that armies make such a clamour with the noisy pomp of drums and trumpets. It is in order obscure their real business: the business of killing.

There are a number of reasons that this sounds like a Strike title. [Read more…]