Rowling Ink Black Heart Q&A Bonanza: Twenty Four New Strike6 Comments

Patricio Tarantino has posted the twenty seven questions and answers about Rowling-Galbraith’s Ink Black Heart as one continuous film on The Rowling Library YouTube channel (see above). The page for this conversation includes a full transcript, albeit one that is broken up in drop down sections beneath each question.

How are we to mine this rich vein of commentary from The Presence? Beatrice Groves on the moderator channel suggested I post an open thread of sorts for Serious Strikers to share their thoughts about favorite parts of Rowling-Galbraith’s discussion. I will share two or three of my reflections after the jump and then give the open microphone to our readers here in the hope that they, to include our adjunct faculty and full professors, will jump in with their observations, corrections, disappointments, and delights.

First Thoughts: My Predictions Were Spot On — and Way Off

Yesterday I posted five predictions that all turned out to be true, perhaps a first in my experience. The interactive nature of the posting had nothing to do with taking questions from the Peanut Gallery, epigraphs merited a significant mention if she didn’t explain anything about them (they are such child’s play that it it “doesn’t take a genius” to get the relationship of Gray’s Anatomy and Victorian era women poets…), Strike’s “issues” were explored, and Robin’s leap to super-heroine status was celebrated. I’m scoring that five for five.

The predictions I made were also, alas, completely wrong-headed. I imagined that we’d be getting at most ten or twelve new questions and answers, something akin to previous Rowling self-interviews. I thought, too, that she wouldn’t go into any depth beyond what she’d already shared about anomie as a theme. With these as my thinking premises, my predictions were all small beer in relation to the stiff drinks Rowling served up with the inevitable teevee and obligatory romance fluff. I have to give myself a ‘T’ for ‘Troll’ in this regard, making my guesses, once again, entertaining perhaps but something best forgotten. Except for the epigraph ideas, about which, more on Sunday.

Second Thoughts: My First Notes

On the HogwartsProfessor moderator channel, I wrote notes as I read through the nine question categories with three questions each. Here are the highlights from those first impressions:

Louise will enjoy Rowling’s linking books five and six — and feeling the need to add “this is the sixth book.” She adds later that she has been planning Strike6 “since three books ago,” by which I suppose she means Career of Evil? More evidence for the 5-6 Flip?

I also think my predictions about what she would say about Strike and about Robin were close to spot on. Love that she hints that Robin’s snogging with Pez and her ability to do that without attachment issues or guilt came as an important revelation to her…

I like that she sighs more than once about the sexual tension fans among her readers, while acknowledging she has stoked that fire deliberately. There’s a hint of Shakespearean allegory in her saying that she’s planned their relationship to be a lot more meaningful than “jumping into bed four books back.” But only a hint.

Was anyone else surprised by her BTW observation that “sickness” “of course is one of the overarching themes of the book”? “Probably the overarching theme of the whole book”? Mental illness everywhere, certainly, anomie, and spiritual heart disease, but Strike’s physical collapse and Michael Ellacott’s heart attack didn’t add up to an “overarching theme” to me. I’m guessing that “sickness” in the UK is not as suggestive or restricted as it is in the US to bodily ills.

It’s a “nillness,” right?

Fun that she admits, insists that her bird symbolism is intentional, that she talks about the sacrificial “piety” of the Pelican, a Christ symbol, and that she leaves out Robin and Cormoran(t), the little and Big Birds of the series… Messengers, indeed.

“We the reader,” what a hoot… Hard to think of her as being on our side of the author-reader divide.

Great bit about Highgate and anomie, her exposition of the “it doesn’t take a genius” line with respect to the epigraphs. Score one, I think, for my Estecean reading of the anatomy text and poetry epigraphs.

Conclusions: much more substantive than I thought and predicted, but with as high a percentage of fluff as I dreaded. 

She only balked at answering one or two questions in order not to spoil the story (the presence of which suggests she didn’t choose the questions? a deliberate plant?), which is a little bizarre as a concern; who is reading this Q&A who has not already read the book?

She only repeated herself once, when talking about YouTube being a relatively ‘Wild West’ in 2015, and neglected to explain the seeming gaffe discussed on our thread about the app for programmed tweeting that existed seven years ago.

She spoke about anomie, about sickness, about bird symbolism, about the epigraphs every reader should understand immediately (yo, Beatrice!), about the Strike-Ellacott story arcs, and she teases books five and six with notes about their relation and when she started plotting Ink Black Heart.

All the stuff about the teevee show, the romance, and a question about Strike’s “private life putting the agency at risk” (how can his being blackmailed by Jago Ross be thought of as his fault?), I could have done without. De gustibus.

Best Ever? Not as important as the Lake and Shed interview, as challenging as the Grossman Basement Tapes, or as revealing as the Amini exchange, so, no, not best ever. I think, though, it has to be included on any Top Twenty list of Rowling interviews, staged as it was. I look forward to the discussion at HogwartsProfessor.

Third Thoughts: Over to you!

Serious Strikers have already tried to start the discussion of this interview over at my two posts about the Q&A pre-publication, but I blocked them lest we have discussions going on in different virtual locations. My apologies for that and my thanks for your patience. Please do jump right in now and share your thoughts here about Rowling-Galbraith’s most generous Strike interview to date!


  1. Something I really liked about the interview was that we got two themes mentioned – ‘the central theme of the book is anomie… I think anonymity is something of a theme in this book too.’ For those who (like Rowling) are Blackadder fans (!) we’ve got a new shorthand title for Ink Black Heart – ‘Anomie and Anonymity’ – which recalls her shorthand for Harry Potter: ‘Morality and Mortality’. It isn’t a surprise that Ink Black Heart feels like a somewhat bleaker read!

    Great to hear, of course, about how things are progressing: ‘So, I am currently quite deep into book seven, which again is a very different plot. And I have plotted books eight and nine. So, I know – I do know exactly where we are going. It’s – and the reason I have done that actually is not so much for the investigations – although I have plotted the investigations – but it is for the relationship. I need to know certain key things happen. And that just gives it that nice sort of emotional rhythm’ – I like that phrase ’emotional rhythm’ – but there was something odd about the emotional heart of this book too, a waiting game that felt like the anomie was infecting its principals as well as its suspects. Rowling said in the interview ‘so, there is emotional baggage for Robin because she deeply regrets turning the client down in the first place’ – but actually, I suspect this is interview amelioration (or a sign of some cutting?) for in fact there is almost no deep regret witnessed by the reader at all. Indeed, Robin had a much closer relationship to a woman who died before she was born (the wonderfully realised Margot) than to the one who was murdered shortly after she sent her away. This was a shame, I thought – the reader was not really encouraged to invest in Edie, which seemed unfair on her – and the interview suggests the way in which we are meant to understand Robin’s dogged pursuit of Anomie (and perhaps her astonishing physical bravery in this book) as sublimated regret rather than simply her passion for her job.

    Also – how long has she been planning? ‘And watching it [the internet] evolve has been fascinating because I have been planning this book for quite a long time. So, I actually – I was watching these spaces a lot earlier than, you know, a couple of years.’ I think there was the tiniest allusion to the fact that it was more difficult to schedule posts on Twitter in 2015 here – remember that things were different then! There is a nice piece of supporting evidence for the length of time she’s been planning: evidence to be gleaned (in the book’s acknowledgements) of when she went on her Highgate Cemetery tour. She says it was in the pouring rain on her birthday – and Nick informs me (thank you Nick!) that this must have been 2018 as other years have ‘drizzle’ but only 2018 proper downpours. So I think we can be confident she was planning this one since at least before then.

  2. Ed Shardlow wrote on another thread yesterday:

    She is asked about birds and says there are lots of bird references… She also says that birds often represent messengers – like Hermes, messenger of the gods? Also Twitter is very much ornithological.

    So, what birds are referenced?

    There are real birds – swans, cockatoos
    And images or names of birds – pelican, Robin, Cormoran(t), Kea, Penny Peacock…

  3. I can absolutely see what she means about sickness – Kea and Inigo’s chronic conditions, Vikas’s severe cerebral palsy, Gus’s hives, sick mothers, even dogs and cats requiring frequent trips to the vet… Perhaps this is symptomatic of a book written during a pandemic?

    I thought it was notable when reading that Robin barely mentioned having met Edie and didn’t seem to be thinking much in terms of avenging her death. So interesting to consider the framing that, in fact, her subconscious guilt was a big factor.

    Regarding the emotional rhythm and the 5-6 flip, I feel like the dynamic shift of Strike and Robin’s relationship in 6 is very similar to that in 5. This one felt like an echo or mirror the previous one, which as well as the flip perhaps points to a 10 book series with the turn being the missed kiss at the Ritz, on the hinge between 5 & 6, under the gaze of Leda…

    I wondered about the cartoon with the “most toxic fandom”. I had a google and one of the candidates was Rick & Morty, which I thought might also fit as something of an inspiration for the Ink Black Heart cartoon. Rick & Morty is full of black humour, visceral imagery and funny voices saying disconcerting catchphrases. I’m also surprised to read that they have a toxic fandom, which fits with JKR saying likewise.

  4. Yes, I would have said that sickness was a major theme -or rather I would have said disability. I even groused about it in a comment under one of the early Ink Black Heart posts. I thought that Rowling had a little bit of a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps, rip out your own IV, and jog six blocks from the hospital and get back out there” attitude towards illness.

    But I went back and read the part that bothered me, after Strike and Robin visit Inigo and Gus at their second home, and Strike is kind of like your life is what you make it, despite illness, and that Inigo has quite a good life.

    When I re-read it, I considered that 1) Rowling really seems to hate people who inherit wealth 2) Inigo seems pretty awful at this point of the books let alone when we find out “who-dun-it” and 3) Strike himself needs to make some major, but quite possible, life changes in order to keep functioning and live the life he wants. And if he doesn’t, his disability could overtake his life goals or possibly his life.

    I’ll add to the concept of one’s sickness becoming one’s identity to where Rowling was going with all of this.

    But more to the point “sickness” being a theme in this book: Anomie possibly having some kind of disability is a clue given in the moderator channel chats. And of the possible suspects, and other characters, so many seemed to be dealing with a disability or illness including, of course, Inigo, Gus, Morehouse, Kea, Rachel Ledwell’s mother, and, of course Strike. Then there’s Josh and Vile, who are permanently disabled in the course of the book. Andy has to retire due to illness/disability in this book. And I would have forgotten Robin’s dad and I’m probably forgetting others. And that’s not including mental illness, necessarily.

  5. I really appreciated what she said about the formatting of IBH, that “ it’s been the most complex formatting job I think of any of our lives.” With no experience of the dynamics of online chat within a video game, I was initially a bit at sea trying to figure out how to read 3 different private conversations at the same time. I’m rereading it and realizing I inadvertently skipped some parts. It was very realistic to have someone doing the best they can at spelling and punctuation and the cringeworthy ridicule they endured over their mistakes. That open display of schadenfreude only exacerbated the anomie, especially when someone “left the channel” because of it.

    I was intrigued by what she said about Strike and Robin changing since the first book, “I hoped to show people changing and growing and learning. That is what is interesting about human beings – that they do that.” It put me in mind of the fascinating things you all have said about alchemy and Jungian psychology, particularly dissolution and congealing, over and over, until the person admits to their darkness and blindness and hypocrisy and is subsequently transformed into the best version of themselves.

    Finally I loved her bringing into the light at least one good thing about the Victorian age, their attitude toward death. “It was accepted as something that was likely to happen, likely to come, and there were quite ornate rituals around grief. You know, you were going to wear black for quite a long time…acknowledging loss and even being able to show that you are grieving, I think – which remains in many cultures – but it’s really disappeared from our particular culture – I think there can be value in that. You know, you are signalling to someone that you have lost – have lost someone important to you. And that is not necessarily an unhealthy thing.” I couldn’t agree more. When I lost both parents within a month 5 years ago, a signal (black band for instance) that everyone understood might’ve been helpful to encourage me to quietly be with people, as long as they understood they also needed to be a quiet presence. All I know is I knew what I didn’t want- a lot of questions or any comments suggesting I needed fixing. I craved the familiar somewhere since the experience is like being cast into outer space where there’s no air and no familiar bodies. Thankfully a grieving group kept after me and I finally joined it only to discover it was exactly what I needed. Why did I wait?? Because my culture values the DIY idea. God help us.

  6. Thinking about the cartoon a bit more, I’m wondering if “Drek & Harty” could be analogous to “Rick & Morty”. The callous cynic corrupting the naive protagonist.

  7. Ieneke van Houten says

    Warning to fellow Strike lovers who like audio books: make this one print. The endless tweets and in game dialogues slow down the pace of the book already. I imagine that in a visual version one’s eye can quickly slide over the names in a dialogue. In audio, the format slows the already slow pace down to an unbearable crawl.

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