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…]

November 1999: When Harry Met Sally

Yesterday an old friend sent me a copy of the Peanuts comic strip from 8 November 1999 (above). I confess to having been astonished and skeptical. “No way,” I thought, “was Charles Schulz still drawing dailies in late 1999.”

Turns out, of course, that he was. This must have been one of his last comic strips; he suffered a series of strokes in early December of that year and retired.

I remember as a high school student not only being surprised but being thrilled when I learned that Mohandas K. Gandhi had corresponded with Leo Tolstoy. I was interested in both writers, especially Gandhi, and had mentally filed each in a water-tight compartment that shared no space with the other, that is, ’19th Century writer’ and ’20th Century writer.’ Discovering that their lives over-lapped and that they had actually exchanged ideas was a delightfully defamiliarizing and exciting moment, something akin to studying Coleridge and Blake and then finding out that the two actually met one afternoon and had a long conversation over tea (alas, no record of that exchange survives, but Malcolm Guite does a wonderful job at recreating what might have been said).

Charles ‘Sparky’ Schulz was a great favorite of mine growing up; I spent a great deal of time as a young boy reading comic strip anthologies, huge books that collected daily and Sunday strips, and Peanuts with Dick Tracy and Buck Rogers was an especial favorite. Charlie Brown, of course, had the virtue of also being still published on a daily basis. There is no record of his having corresponded with Rowling before he died in 2000, but it cheers me no end to know that it is possible that he had read a Harry Potter book and felt inspired to share his approval of them in having Sally, Charlie’s younger sister, write him a note.

Please share your unlikely meeting discoveries in the comment boxes, especially if they involve celebrity encounters with J. K. Rowling before she became The Presence. I know that Ian Rankin and the Cursed Child playwright met Jo back in the day; any others?

The Tweet Heard Round the World, Part 2

As you may recall, Rowling’s cancellation for her supposed “transphobia” by the elite of Harry Potter fandom came as a consequence to her full throated support of Maya Forstater in a tweet on 19 December 2019. My longest publicly shared view of this controversy is, in brief, that it was a deliberate act of self-destruction and recreation, her intentional solve et coagula reinvention of her public persona. That remains very much a minority position, which, of course, you’d expect if I am right. Rowling is the master of media manipulation and even features it in her novels. Can you say “narrative misdirection”? We’re not supposed to see it.

Yesterday Rowling returned to the scene of her self-demolition with a re-tweet (see above) of Maya Forstater’s twitter note claiming victory in her appeal of the 2019 Tribunal’s finding that she was not the victim of unlawful dismissal. The Summary of ‘Maya Forstater vs CGD Europe and Others‘ from the court (posted after the jump) makes me wonder if the celebrations are in order for such a Pyrrhic Victory, but I think Rowling is correct in noting in her re-tweet to a social media platform exponentially larger than Forstater’s – with something of a thumbing of the nose at her detractors? — that free speech has not yet been entirely cancelled in the UK.

Again, though, as ardently as The Presence holds her convictions about feminism and transgender issues, I think the major take-away from the controversy is less about those beliefs than about Rowling’s changed status because of the uproar. She is no longer the media go-to diva for progressive causes or the sock-puppet quoted by adolescent fans of all ages in support of their political Fascination Du Jour. She is under no obligation to share her thoughts on every news item via Twitter. I think it more than credible, arguing backwards from effect to cause, that this transformation suits her fine, so well that it may have been her aim in the first place.

If you doubt that Rowling may be delighted to be free of the mad-house PC/CRT factions of Harry Potter fandom — can you say ‘Fandom Forward,’ the former ‘Harry Potter Alliance’ that jettisoned their name less they be tainted by association with Rowling? — please re-read Gloria Conti’s recall at the end of Troubled Blood of her youthful dream-world fantasy life within her obsession about The Godfather. If that isn’t Rowling-Galbraith’s portrait of the Potter Crazies whose lives turn in large part on their Walter Mitty imagined existence and how she hopes they will come to understand themselves in years to come, i.e., growing up and being ashamed of their selfish nuttery, I’m totally misreading it.

Not enough? Read the conversations at the Valentine’s Day Party from Hell with special attention to the arguments of Kyle and Courtney vis a vis ‘changing the world by reclaiming language’ and by exhibitionist demonstrations (‘Slut Walk’). Rowling-Galbraith gives us a word picture of her fandom detractors, young and old, in that back-and-forth. That she inserts a very sympathetic character named ‘Maya,’ one of the Bayliss sisters, in Strike5 is a pointer to her not being above inserting caricatures of and name-checks to real people or a type of person.

I doubt that the Forstater Saga is over but I’m pretty sure Rowling’s reinvention and rubedo, a public metamorphosis achieved through it, are complete. Your thoughts?

[Read more…]