JKR Live Barmy Army Q&A: A Review

Yesterday’s ‘Barmy Book Army’ live Q&A with Rowling-Galbraith about The Ink Black Heart was a landmark event in the history of the author’s interviews and engagement with fans. Her previous live events were either recorded in advance with questions of her choosing or with children interviewers back in the days of Potter Mania. This really was live, unrehearsed, and, though The Presence got to pick and choose from the avalanche of tweets, Serious Strikers were on hand to ask challenging questions.

Understandably in light of her being hounded by Gender Theory Extremists wherever she appears online, this open door to her twitter feed was restricted to just the 8,600 followers of ‘JKR’s Barmy Book Army.’ The format was simple: 

 

Barmy Book Army then asked her seven questions to get things rolling, if you will, and the conversation really took off. Rowling began with a long thread of tweets about ‘Sickness in Ink Black Heart,’ which string I have to suspect she had prepared in advance, and then went into ‘reply’ mode. The moderator, true to her word, re-tweeted or flagged comments for her guest’s special attention. The first three and the fifth questions were actually for Barmy Book Army readers rather than Rowling specifically while the fourth, sixth, and the ‘Bonus’ question were for her alone.

After the jump, a review of the questions, Rowling’s most involved statement, the hits and misses among reader questions and Rowling responses, and an explanation of our debt to Nick Jeffery for deploying his skills and savvy to get Barmy Army’s attention and Rowling’s responses to HogwartsProfessor questions.

The Questions

Rowling-Galbraith’s One Long Answer

The fourth question is unique in being one of the ‘WE ASK JKR’ questions, i.e., not for reader response at least at first, and in featuring a newspaper reviewer’s comments about Strike6 rather than a passage from the novel itself. Rowling seemed more than prepared to answer it; her response was her longest statement by far in the live interaction with readers with most of her other comments being brief replies and ‘likes.’

Here is that complete thread without interruption:

 

Rowling either closes the thread here or becomes distracted by interruptions. She does, though, drop a disparaging bon mot about Victorian women poets before sharing that two of her favorites are from that group of writers.

 

One of the funnier interruptions was from StrikeFans:

 

Rowling wrote more sickness and anomie thoughts in her reply tweets about death on different threads:

 

The Hits and Misses

Quite a few Serious Strikers were in the room and they were asking Big Questions. More often than not, Rowling ignored them. StrikeFans raised the Parallel Series Idea, not for the first time, and was ghosted.

He was not alone in this effort:

No answer from Rowling to that self-deprecating PSI query or about the Norfolk commune. The Rowling Library asked a question that seemed more likely to get a response because there was little chance of her thinking it would be tipping her hand on future events:

 

Nope. No answer. Note here, though, that Barmy Army “retweeted” the question to flag it for Rowling’s attention. It didn’t work — I’m guessing the query required too long a response for this rapid-fire session or the answer would have caused problems for the author — but the moderator was acting as a mediator as she pledged in the event’s introduction.

I mention this because Nick Jeffery had extraordinary success in getting Rowling’s attention. She ‘liked’ two of his posts, one an hour before the conversation began, and answered three of the questions he posted at fitting moments on the right threads. This required significant deftness and sense of timing; as I said, no one else came close to his success rate, to include Strike fandom leaders.

In addition to his remarkable skill in knowing the right moment to ask, he had laid the groundwork before hand by communicating with Barmy Army the morning of the live Q&A.

 

 

She didn’t retweet every question that Nick asked; there was no flagging or Rowling answer to his questions about Goblin Market, mythology, Jungian psychology, fandom, and, yes, PSI. But she did retweet the three Jeffery posts to which Rowling responded, three remarkable ‘hits.’

First, she denied ever thinking of Ink Black Heart as the fifth book in the series, which is to say, “before Troubled Blood,’ rather the sixth.

I confess to being astonished at this point-blank denial. If you’ve read Louise Freeman’s collections of evidence for the 5-6 Flip Idea as closely as I have, it seems pretty obvious that early or late in the planning stages Rowling flipped the sequence of Strike5 and Strike6. Call me ‘Drek,’ the fandom maven who thinks he knows better than the creator (and has noted the several times she has been much less than honest), but I’m filing this rejection of an idea with her statements in the past about not writing detective fiction and Snape not being a vampire.

No, the Potions Master is no Sanguini or Bela Legosi caricature, but there’s no way of reading this character seriously without noting all the vampire tropes and tags Rowling layered into his behaviors. The denial does not displace the text (I have it on good authority that a Potter Pundit of note is writing a post on the vampires of the Hogwarts Saga and Ink Black Heart for this Halloween; remember Rowling’s repeated denial of Snape’s being a vampire). 

So, yes, Rowling is now on record as denying the 5-6 Flip Idea, so inevitably discussion of it will fade significantly. Here’s hoping that future scholars studying the original plans and text-sketches in Rowling’s archives will look for confirmation of Louise Freeman’s detective work or for proof of Rowling’s contention.

Nick Jeffery’s second ‘hit’ was about the connection between Silkworm and The Ink Black Heart, a question he told me Beatrice Groves had written. He posted it in the thread following Question 2, the one about death:

 

Rowling only answered the first of the two posted questions, preferring just to address the one about the “parallels” and “links” relationship of Silkworm and Ink Black Heart. She confirmed that Strike6 is an “image,” in fact a “reverse image” of Strike2 “in some ways.” This is no small thing, I think.

She didn’t answer StrikeFans, or one of the S&E podcasters, or Nick Jeffery with their respective direct, self-deprecating, and subtle requests for confirmation or denial of the Parallel Series Idea. Nada, not going there, period. But she confirms a point cited as evidence of the Strike series being structured as a seven-book ring, even going so far as to specify that the parallel is a mirror or “reverse image” across the axis, as a turtle-back story-scaffolding prefers.

Check out the parallels that Serious Strikers have already caught between Silkworm and Ink Black Heart. If Rowling is not going to discuss PSI, the Strike series’ parallels with the Potter books, fine, that’s her choice (Aside: how does confirming PSI cause her anything but headaches and grief? If she says, “Yes, I am writing a parallel series,” the next questions are “Why?” and “How do you make that work with your repeated denials that the Strike novels are not a seven book series?” and that’s not going to be anything but distraction to her work). That she is acknowledging a key point of evidence for a seven book ring, though, is something, if we’re left with those claims of a ten book series in the end…

Nick’s third hit was with a question about Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem, Aurora Leigh. In my post about the Ink Black Heart‘s epigraphs I wrote:

For all the diversity of poets whose work is used for the epigraphs of Strike6, there is one poem, the epic of Victorian women’s poetry, that stands apart. Very few individual poems are used more than once; see Webster’s ‘Medea in Athens’ (chs 44 and 51), Coleridge’s ‘Other Side of the Moon’ (chs 49 and 91), and Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’ (chs 56 and 98) for examples of that. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘Aurora Leigh,’ however, is used fourteen (14) times, 13% of the poetic epigraphs in Ink Black Heart. If there is a Rosmersholm or Faerie Queene text inside Strike6, it is ‘Aurora Leigh.’… If you can only read one book or poem to buttress your understanding of Strike6, it has to be Durkheim’s Suicide, Evola’s Ride the Tiger, or Browning’s ‘Aurora Leigh,’ and I think the epic poem is your best bet.

Since posting that, I have been collecting critical editions of the Barrett Browning poem and putting together a seven point argument that Aurora Leigh is indeed to Ink Black Heart what Faerie Queene is to Troubled Blood. In my post about the Barmy Army Live Q&A, the first question I hoped someone would ask Rowling-Galbraith was “Is Barret Browning’s Aurora Leigh the backdrop story to Ink Black Heart the way Rosmersholm and Faerie Queen were to the fourth and fifth Strike mysteries?” 

Incredibly, Nick Jeffery asked the question — on the ‘shipping thread after Question 6 — and received an answer:

 

If I get “all credit” for the spotting, I must take the blame as well for misspelling Browning’s name and for Nick’s saying there were thirteen rather than fourteen Leigh epigraphs. All credit to @gbjeffen for succeeding in getting Rowling to answer a question, something I have not succeeding in doing in more than two decades of reading her work and writing about its artistry and meaning. Look for the seven point Ink Black Heart: Aurora Leigh post in the coming week.

In summary, Nick posted eight questions and received three home run answers for a .375 batting average. The last American League baseball player to hit better than that was George Brett in 1980. One for Louise Freeman, one for Bea Groves, and one for me… extraordinary. Even the other participants were impressed by the quality of his tweets and his success rate. Here’s hoping Rowling will make stops at Barmy Book Army a regular feature of her book publicity and promotional efforts — and that Nick Jeffery continues in his skilful success in asking her the right question at the right time!

Other Highlights

There’s a ton more material, alas, in the Q&A. What an hour it must have been live. To search it, I recommend (as Kurt Schreyer recommended I do) scrolling through Rowling’s ‘Tweets with Replies.’ Here are seven more exchange topics I thought were interesting, out there, or just funny.

  • Strike as an Army Veteran

 

 

  • Art Vandalism in 2015?

 

  • Rowling Cameo Part in teevee Series
  • P. D. James!
  • ‘Shipping Robin and Cormoran, Love Birds

 

‘Shipping tweets that Rowling ‘liked:’

 

  • Strike Gets a Therapist!

 

 

  • Twitter/Tumblr

 

 

 

Conclusions

My seven take-aways from this live Q&A?

  • I want to write a piece about the Fisher King and Handless Maiden, the archetypal folk tales that Jungian psychologists read as cathartic stories about wounded male and female psychology; Rowling’s long thread about illness, disconnection, and anomie encourages my suspicion that this is key to the Strike series psychomachian allegory;
  • I’m going to finish the Aurora Leigh post I’ve been working on to explain why I wanted to ask Rowling about it — and, now that she’s been asked, to explain what my question and what I think her answer was about (and, yes, Charlotte Mew goes on the Urgent Reading List!);
  • Rowling is pleased that fans are engaged by the Strike-Ellacott romance but a little put off that they don’t see she has “a plan” transcending ‘Boy-Meets-Girl, Sex-Ensues’ (I’m with her!);
  • I would love to learn about the art vandalism stories from 2015 (“Paging Nick Jeffery!” Did a terrorist attack the Rokeby Venus — again?);
  • It’s perfectly understandable that Rowling ducked the repeated attempts to get her to admit she is writing the Strike series in parallel to Harry Potter — and a delight that PSI has moved from being a crazy idea at HogwartsProfessor to a fandom sure-thing that Rowling needs to acknowledge (not happening, of course);
  • The 5-6 Flip Full Stop made me remember why it is a good thing when Rowling stays out of discussion of her work, because everything she says, “Snape is not a vampire,” “I always thought of the novels in the current sequence,” is immediately taken as a definitive truth that ends the conversation; and
  • How about the head nod to the turtle-back line connecting Strike2 and Strike6? Re-start that seven novel ring conversation, ten books planned or not.

I hope that Rowling’s take-away was that she could engage with Serious Strikers, answer challenging questions (or duck them), enjoy the love and admiration of her adult fandom, and walk away unharmed and without regrets. That’s my hope because I think, if that is what happened, that she will do it again soon.

Thanks to JKR’s Barmy Book Army for hosting this event, for the Strike fandom that represented itself so well, to The Presence for showing up and being as generous as she was, and to Nick Jeffery for working some Twitter magic.

Your thoughts?

 

Comments

  1. Thanks v. much for this John – a really helpful resource! And thank you to Nick – a brilliant feat.
    And of course, particular thanks to the bookish incarnation of Dumbledore’s Army – it is wonderful that they managed to create such an unAnomied Twitter space that Rowling was happy to come and interact with Strike fans – and here’s very much hoping this becomes an event repeated for each novel. Brilliant work Barmy Book Army!

  2. Three morning after thoughts about the Snape-as-Vampire idea, Rowling’s denial of the 5-6 Flip Idea, and ‘Ink Black Heart:’

    (1) Rowling flags the ‘Dracula’ content in ‘Ink Black Heart,’ not with a character who looks like the Transylvanian a la Severus (though we get our share of Renfield-Pettigrews) but with one named ‘Bram,’ the peculiar first name of the author, Bram Stoker.

    (2) Like ‘Dracula,’ ‘Ink Black Heart’ features cutting edge-technology, just as the gothic piece had typewriters, short-hand, telegraph, trains, blood transfusions, and phonograph recordings for journal entries. To defeat the dark evil of foreign supernaturalism, Stoker has his heroes adopt modern tools as well as sacramental ones; Strike and Ellacott join the internet age to defeat a Drek/Dracula that is a psychological vampire — and, simultaneously, in a thematic flip, make those characters resisting the UK invasion by foreigners into the alt-right bad guys rather than the DDore Army of heroes they are in Stoker.

    (3) The Jung markers in the first and last chapters of ‘Heart’ are there to point us to those psychological vampires that are in every Rowling work; think vampire less as a novel or gothic horror movie monster than as an archetype or personality you meet everywhere. Snape is ‘definitely’ this kind of vampire and Rowling playfully gives him the traits of the fictional Dracula to highlight this (the bat like appearance, not eating with others, etc.). ‘Ink Black Heart’ is filled with the male and female representatives of the archetypal vampire, male and female, most especially Drek, Anomie, Gus, and Morehouse (check out Zoe and Tim for another vampiric relationship reminiscent of Mina Harker).

    All that to say, again, that Rowling’s repeated statements that “Severus Snape is not a vampire,” while true on one level, totally levels discussion of Snape — and all other Rowling vampire archetype characters, alas — as an archetypal vampire as well as discussion of this theme of male-female relations in Rowling’s work, a fundamental trope and aim of her novels.

    Her sitting on the 5-6 Flip Idea, I fear, will have the same chilling effect on discussion of structural elements in her writing. Watch this space for more on that.

  3. Just fyi, Bram isn’t terribly peculiar (I’ve known a couple,) though I suppose it’s not a common name these days. It comes from Hebrew and derives from the name Abraham. So plenty of biblical reference there – if that’s relevant, I have no idea.

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