Rowling Interview Transcript and Notes

Rowling-Galbraith has given one interview about Troubled Blood in the first month of its publication history, a softball session (Tee-ball?) I complained about the day after its release. “So many more important questions she could have been asked!” et cetera.

I asked my wife to type up a transcript of the interview for ease in reference, and, Serious Striker that she is, it can be found below the jump. Reading through it, I confess my first response to the interview was both understandable in its disappointment — think of the work posted here on the Spenser epigraphs and Tarot card spreads alone, neither of which gets more than a head nod — and lamentable. The interview is much better and more revealing than I thought.

I have numbered the fourteen questions, provided a comment for each, and hope that you will use those numbers and add your own thoughts in the comment thread below. Corrections of the transcript are welcome, of course, as are alternative questions you would have asked The Presence, even if she was only virtually Present. Enjoy!

  1. What made you decide to tackle a cold case in this novel?

So, in the Galbraith books I try to do a very different kind of plot each time and I’ve been planning a cold case for awhile. The themes in the book of loss and distance and separation just felt … it felt right. A female doctor left her practice at the end of a working day and was never seen again. So what happened on this short walk… what should have been a 5 minute walk to a pub to meet a friend.

John’s thoughts are beneath each Rowling-Galbraith response and are in Red: The first thing to note is that the Lula Landry murder had been ruled a suicide and the case closed. Cuckoo’s Calling was obviously Strike’s first ‘cold case’ albeit one relatively contemporary and ‘alive’ in the minds of every suspect and witness interviewed.

Much more important is Rowling’s claim to be trying “to do a very different kind of plot” in each of the Galbraith books. This has been done before, most successfully I think in the Erast Fandorin mystery-thrillers by Boris Akunin which sixteen book series, incredibly, includes a different sub-genre in each brilliant historical novel (I’ve read and own the fifteen that have been translated; if there were more readers of that series, believe me, it is what I’d be writing about). Genre Diversity in the Strike series has not been something we have discussed here at HogwartsProfessor, however, beyond noting how much Career of Evil resembled the John Rebis procedurals of Ian Rankin. Anyone care to list the sub-genre of each of the five Strike novels?

And then we have the embedded Rowling-Galbraith assertion as a throw-away that the book’s “themes,” what it is about, are “loss and distance and separation.” I can see that, certainly, but even after three (four?) readings I would not and have not used those words to describe Troubled Blood.  John Updike’s first rule for book reviews was that the author should be critiqued primarily on a pass-fail evaluation of whether he or she achieved what the writer set out to do. If Rowling’s aim was an exploration of “loss and distance and separation” and her serious readers don’t get it, is that a fail on our part or hers?

2. The book also contains themes of mysticism, clairvoyance, and the supernatural. What made you want to write about those things?

I’m very interested in the function superstition fulfills for human beings, and this was a way of exploring how, when we don’t know, we tend to fill the space with our own theories, hopes… and the investigating officer has a breakdown and he believes he can solve the case through occult means, which is one of the reasons it’s never been solved. Because he left such a mess behind him. I can’t give too much away, but he looks at tarot cards, and astrology, and Strike and Robin inherit a very strange set of notes.

Robin and Cormoran definitely think of astrology, tarot, et cetera, as “superstition,” or, in Robin’s case at least, something mythical and primitively psychological in the Jungian sense. Whether Rowling does or not, given her own occult arts skill set, the importance of the embedded ‘True Book’ of Bill Talbot in Troubled Blood, and the hours, days really, Strike and Ellacott devote to deciphering it, seems a different matter. This answer to this question, mostly one about plot, I think qualifies as a “dodge.”

Which characters, confronted with a situation they don’t understand, “fills the space” of confusion with their “own theories, hopes” by which we’re told here is the equivalent of tarot and astrological consultation? I can only think of Robin’s two Thoth Tarot card spreads at Leamington Spa and in her apartment on her 30th birthday. Talbot’s obsession is explained in text as a function of his failed thyroid, not superstitious confusion “filling the space” of his desire for surety.

3. Broadly speaking we know what Troubled Blood is about. But what are the themes you’re exploring in the book?

One of the major themes in the book is an exploration of the changing nature of feminism. Because the doctor who disappeared was an ardent feminist. And different takes on femininity, and what is expected from women. Robin turns 30 in the book and she’s starting to face the question “will I ever have children?” People around her are starting to have babies and she faces certain challenges as a woman in this book. She’s the youngest person at the agency but she’s been left in charge of it for awhile and she’s managing men who are older than her and possibly don’t think she should be in charge of the group meetings.

And then the question is who killed this doctor, and there’s a serial killer who is based on a real life killer called Jerry Brudos who was active in the 60’s. My serial killer was active in the 60’s and 70’s. And obviously there we’re examining woman hate, duplicity, misogyny. That’s a big theme. Including one big row between Strike and Robin about Strike putting certain expectations on her because she’s the woman. Remember to be polite to people when he doesn’t bother.

“One of the major themes in the book is an exploration of the changing nature of feminism.” Now that is a meaty answer, and one, given the transgender controversy in which Rowling has been endlessly labeled a ‘Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist’ or ‘TERF,’ you’d think even the reviewers who dismissed Troubled Blood as nothing more than the vehicle for the message “Don’t trust men in dresses” would have picked up.

What Rowling-Galbraith means by “the changing nature of feminism” will certainly be the subject of posts here at HogwartsProfessor going forward, especially, I think, with respect to the question of roles and misogyny that is highlighted at the end of her answer and the matter of a professional woman’s desire and ability to be a ‘proper mother,’ which is the first part of her answer, the matter of children vs career.

The subject of child murder, euphemistically called “abortion” and “termination” today, as well as child death by miscarriage, post-natal infanticide, and by “mercy killing,” is explored throughout Strike5. It is what Strike would call a haunting set of “coincidences,” as he does the number of people showing symptoms of poisoning, and by which he means ‘repeated occurrences of the same event in different guises at different times, seemingly disconnected.’

The biggest historical “change” in the “nature of feminism,” of course, is the switch from the virulent anti-child murder position of the first feminists (Susan B. Anthony insisted on calling pre-natal infanticide “child murder,” for example) to the at least as ardent pro-choice views of contemporary feminists today. The central child deaths in Troubled Blood are that of Ilsa Herbert’s miscarried child, a loss that Nick believes is her fault because she was working through the pregnancy, and Gloria Conti’s womb-infanticide, a murder facilitated by Margot Bamborough, though both her husband and best friend claim with vehemence that the doctor’s views on this deadly procedure had changed irrevocably after the birth of her own daughter, Anna.

Is Rowling ‘going there’? Could the author be writing a Hardy-esque morality tale about the “consequences” of this great moral lapse by Bamborough? If she is, the blowback from the twitterati and even her most faithful readers will dwarf that of the transgender activists, to most of whom the right to murder an unborn child is something akin to a religious sacrament.

Look for a post here soon that lists the number of children in Troubled Blood that die or who are murdered or tortured — Satchwell’s sister Blanche, Dennis Creed, the sibling of Janice Beattie lost in child birth with its mother, Janice herself, and Janice’s first poisoning victim come immediately to mind. There will have to be another one that catalogs the women who “accidentally” become pregnant to win a marriage or some kind of security and support. Leda Strike and Sarah Shadlock are the obvious headliners there with the mystery of Charlotte Campbell’s pregnancy with Strike (and her aversion to husband Jago’s desire for more children) a possible entry.

My preliminary hypothesis is that Rowling-Galbraith is not offering a black-and-white position paper on either the Pro-Life or Pro-Choice sides but a nuanced look at the facts of motherhood and vocation as competing claims for women today, which conflicting and essential callings within women feminism is changing or needs to change in order to address.

Regardless, I think this Rowling response is the big take-away from the interview and the one most in need of exploration by serious readers.

4. Do you think crime novels need unreliable narrators?

I think that crime novels gain from having witnesses who do not perfectly recall because that’s real life. I remember things that interest me so I would be put in the unreliable category because I have very clear memories that I’m interested in which are sometimes very small details. But I’m unreliable on times and dates. So I have some sympathy with some of the witnesses and some of the suspects I should say in this case who don’t quite remember what they saw.

An unremarkable answer to a bizarre question. Suspects lie in Troubled Blood, not the narrators. A much better question would have been about narrative misdirection — and why Rowling-Galbraith has Strike admire the skills of both Creed and Beattie in this regard.

5. Has Tom Burke’s portrayal of Strike in the TV adaptations influenced the way you think of the character now?

I get asked this a lot because I’ve been fortunate enough to have my books made into TV shows and movies, and the honest answer is no. I still see the Strike in my head who is very vivid. The character always comes from the same place. Having said that, I absolutely love the TV series. I’m really proud of what we’ve done on the series.

Pablum for interview watchers who are only BBC adaptation fans….

6. Robin has been through a hell of a lot, but she still puts herself in harm’s way for the sake of the investigation. What makes Robin so courageous?

I think that… it’s not bravery if you’re not scared. In the last book, Lethal White, and in this book, I hope the reader understands that she has been fighting to return to the person she was meant to be. In other words, she was always planning to do something of this nature, and then her life was derailed by something very bad that happened to her. And I see her as having lost 5 years, the 5 years she spent with her boyfriend from school, whom she then married because that was the place of safety to her. And we’re now seeing her work her way back, very bravely, and through certain challenges, back to the person she was always destined to be.

I think Robin makes a far better detective than I ever would and she has skills that I don’t have – she can drive very well and I can’t drive at all. But there is a bit of my life experience in Robin – that feeling of being compelled to do what scares you — is something that I can empathize with.

Rowling-Galbraith highlights here the correspondence between Robin’s rape and consequent decisions and struggles to regain her identity as something greater than ‘victim’ with the author’s experiences of assault, escape, and recovery. Readers willing even eager to read her books through an autobiographical lens are given Rowling’s okay here for that perspective and interpretation.

7. Will Robin and Strike ever get together?

My honest answer is I think they’re both quite damaged people. Robin’s damage is very obvious. It’s been explicit since I think the third book. She’s been thru something very traumatic. His trauma is also very obvious – he’s lost a leg – but he’s damaged emotionally and you see in this book what his childhood was. It was a very odd and disrupted one. So my feeling is that they need to do a degree of healing before they – or he – is able to have a relationship of the kind I know a lot of readers would like them to have. They do take a big step forward in this book.

This is the equivalent of asking Rowling after the publication of Order of the Phoenix “Does Harry defeat the Dark Lord in the end?” Of course she isn’t going to give you an answer to that question, Doofus.

That being said, Rowling’s answer is an invaluable statement of what is evident in the texts. This is an allegorical, spiritual, even alchemical dance of recovery and psychological healing we’re being witness to, not just a Boy Meets Girl romance. So, thanks for asking that question!

8. It seems to me that Strike is attracted to drama. At one point Robin says he doesn’t like things easy – he likes to take the hard path. Would you agree with that?

Exactly. People like that can be difficult to be around, if a settled life is not what they want. He’s asking himself some hard questions about what he really wants, and in this book he does start asking questions. On a couple occasions – he witnesses a birthday of a very old lady and it does pass his mind, “If I reach that age, who will be there with me?” So it’s not that he doesn’t acknowledge that he’s attracted to a more settled life, but I think he really fears it. Because he’s never seen a model of a successful relationship he could aspire to.

Again, the answer is better than the question because she answers a different question.

9. What inspires you? Where does Shanker come from?

He was actually created in 2010. I created him a long time before you saw him. Strike actually makes contact with him in the first book, but you don’t see him. So Strike has this old friend who is a criminal, and I was looking forward to Shanker’s first appearance, because I always liked him, but a little of Shanker goes a long way. People like him, but you don’t want him to turn into huggy-bear from Starsky and Hutch, where in every case, you immediately go and ask Shanker what the word on the street is. He has a very specific function in the book. He has contacts who can give him information he wouldn’t otherwise be able to get. He [Strike] always has to pay. And that’s one of the things I like about Shanker – there’s no sentimentality. He wants money for everything he does.

First note the disjunction in the pair of questions. Rowling-Galbraith chooses to answer neither but to talk about Shanker and his role in the books. For Rowling on her inspiration and method as a writer, see The Lake and the Shed interview. About Shanker? This answer highlights the emergence of Dave Polworth as Strike’s “oldest mate” and points to the meeting of Strike’s two closest male friends in Strike6. Frankly, I can’t wait.

10. Does it start with the crime or from the character or motive?

Nearly always I start with how it was done. I’m often asked do you know who did it when you start? I always know who did it, and I always know how they did it. Each of the Strikes I knew how the crime was done before I wrote it and I really work outwards from there. With Lethal White I definitely started with the Lethal While foal and built outwards symbolically. I knew that plot would have to take us somewhere rural to get near actual horses. That led to a nice bit of character between Strike and Robin because he really does not like horses and Robin grew up in Yorkshire and had a scrubby pony. And that’s one of the things that makes Strike think she’s quite middle-class and quite safe when he first meets her. She seems that kind of girl, though she really isn’t that kind of girl at all.

I rather liked this question because I can use the answer in the formalist part of my PhD thesis (syuzhet-fabula!). But, beyond that utility, how could a writer whose work is so tightly woven and structurally resonant with notes sounded within itself (and previous novels!) not know who did it before she started? This question betrays a near complete ignorance of Rowling’s craft and artistry.

11. Music – reference to specific songs. Do you have a particular artist in mind before you start a novel or does it just come?

In the four previous novels, it sort of came to me as a I wrote. I would …. Because I’m writing on a bit of a lag which has been a relief to me because I can do one or two more books before I have to deal with the pandemic which I think for a lot of crime writers is going to be a real challenge. I tend to look up what was current at the time to see what was playing on the radio. But this book was different because I wanted the disappeared doctor to be as real a person as I could make her to the reader. What would she have listened to, what artists would she have liked.

I looked up the albums that came out before she disappeared in 1974 and of course Joanie Mitchell’s Court and Spark came out. Before I started writing this book about two years ago, if you’d said to me do you like Joanie Mitchell, I would have said yes. I would have said I own Blue. It’s fair to say now that I’ve become Joanie Mitchell obsessive – I own everything she’s done. I started listening to Court and Spark and now I own everything. That’s never happened to me before ,…Her music weaves its way through the book and in the process of writing about Margot’s love of Joanie Mitchell I ended up being completely in love with Joanie Mitchell.

I welcome a guest post — because I’m not going to write this one, believe me — on the subject of Joni Mitchell’s music and its presence in Troubled Blood. I think this might be valuable not only because of Rowling’s answer here and in the music interview she did earlier in the year but because of the Reverence Oonaugh Kennedy’s claim that Joni Mitchell was Margot Bamborough’s “religion,” just after saying she was an atheist but one who had turned against child murder. What is the religion implicit in Joni Mitchell? What does that tell us about Rowling-Galbraith, a big fan?

My copy of the Tom Waits DVD that Robin gives to Strike for Christmas just arrived. I’ll stick to that. Joni Mitchell? Not going there or to the music of Blue Oyster Cult.

12. How close are Tom and Holliday to the characters you have in your head? And have they grown into the roles?

Both of them have been absolutely amazing. I love watching them. I think they do a magnificent job. On screen they really are the characters. They really understand the characters, both of them. I’ve been lucky enough to watch them filming and it’s always fascinating to watch really good actors work. They’ve taken those roles to a different place. It can never be exactly the same as it was in the book, but I think that overall these have been very faithful adaptations.

Again, for the viewers who only know the series because of the teevee adaptations. Next!

13. How does the city of London keep informing and inspiring you?

It’s the perfect city to set a crime novel in. You’ll never exhaust London as a location. It’s big, it’s so storied, you’ve got remnants of medieval times, you’ve got hyper-modern, you’ve got all these little nooks and crannies I get to explore as I’m writing. I very rarely invent locations. I like to base everything in real London. And for Troubled Blood I got to know Clerkenwell really well – this little patch that my fictional doctor walked, the line she took, and where she disappeared. I know it like the back of my hand. I went back a lot and walked it to make sure that what I thought happened could happen. I researched Clerkenwell and I loved it. It’s part of the Strike books that I really love – getting to know London better.

I wish Rowling-Galbraith had something more about why Robin and Cormoran love London, as well as why other characters hate it (see their conversation in Skeeges for that).

14. Is there anything you can tell readers/viewers about the next Strike adventure?

The next one will be very very different from Troubled Blood. In Troubled Blood we spent a lot of time speaking with older people sitting on their sofas because Margot remains 29 but everyone who worked with her and knew her is a lot older. In the next novel we’re dealing with a far younger demographic which will be exciting for me. I like to ring the changes a lot so it’s going to be a very different kind of investigation.

No, I’m not going to chart this interview to see if it is a ring (please let me know what you find if you do! Matching pairs of teevee questions across the axis? A turn between questions 7 and 8?) but we certainly have a latch in the claims made in her answers to the first and last questions, namely, that each of the Strike novels is a different sub-genre for mystery novels. Anyone want to guess where we’re headed now?

Having done a Cold Case crime, one which is as much as or also a Spenserian allegory (Roy the king, Cynthia the queen, Margot the Pearl, Oonaugh — well, Una, Janice, Duessa, etc.), what’s next?

Please make reference to the question numbers in your comments below! I very much look forward to your comments and correction, except for criticism of my use of “child murder” to describe pre-natal infanticide. If you want to share your thoughts on that subject, please write me privately. Cheers!


  1. Joanne Gray says

    #14 is where my mind and curiosity goes. Granted without even a real crumb of direction from a JKR “Twitter heading change” to give us a possible sign post to where she could be piloting Strike 6 plot direction, it’s basically just “a shot in the dark” (funny movie) for any Strike fan’s speculation.

    There is the need to factor in the sixth book of Harry Potter, ‘The Half-Blood Prince’ (my personal favorite) which deals with a book once owned by the title’s mysterious half-blood prince and the second Strike book, ‘The Silkworm’ which has it’s own very trippy book ‘Bombyn Mori’ at the heart of it’s mystery. I’m going to put forth a sub-genre that would be a very different kind of investigation–and probably would involve a younger demographic. It actually came to me because of my own first visit to London which involved trying to see as much wonderful art and wonders that I could cram into only a week.

    One of those necessary art visits was to the British Library where–if I had been a younger person–would have made the security around their crown jewel display of great historical (first folio Shakespeare, Magna Carta, etc.) very nervous since my bad eyesight and the lighting (by necessity) is so minimal that to even see, let alone read, is reduced to the level of sheer will to pull in any and all available light–caused me to get closer than they no doubt liked–God bless them for restraining themselves (I made sure to keep hands away from glass).

    Saying all that, could book 6 possibly be about a heist? A closed room heist, of course. With all the high tech protections in place to protect our current treasures from the tech savvy thieves–it definitely seems a young person’s area of crime.

    If there is need of a murder–since this is a crime novel genre–then perhaps one of the young thieves could have inadvertently, during the escape, have been the victim of another crime in progress (?) slightly outside the original crime scene. A death that seems random–since it is–but once the theft is finally discovered–someone like Strike may see it another way.

    This would give it a bit of an echo from the first case in Cuckoo’s Calling. I also like how this idea could maybe bring in some aspects from an old heist/caper movie that I love called ‘Gambit.’ It involves a man who has planned every aspect of a perfect heist–the perfect crime–based on the fantasy that his necessary partner (a woman) who he needs to pull off this perfect crime is seen by him (in his imagination) to be a quiet and willing extension of his will. A person who is without her own personal agency.

    As perfect plans go, his mechanical aspects moved smoothly when devoid of outside human interaction. Trouble was it became a total failure when the human nature of his necessary partner entered into the mix. His lack of acknowledging that she wasn’t a robot, but a living, breathing human being who was very much her own person doomed his perfect plan. Such cold perfection never had a chance when it finally met messy reality.

  2. #2 The whole case started out with Anna and a leading. When young she assumed Cynthia was her mother because of lack of information. Then she filled in the void of knowledge with her own imaginings. People make assumptions all of the time and twist what they know into a narrative they can live with. That’s what Talbot did by changing the number of houses to the Schmidt system in an attempt to fit people into his belief about the murderer. But filling in the blank spaces does not require tarot cards or astrology charts. When we don’t know or can’t explain something we tend to make up reasons and explanations or act out as Anna did because uncertainty is not comfortable. I’m looking forward to finding out what Strike doesn’t know about his past. Even Strike made an assumption about nurses which delayed solving this case.

  3. I’ve been reading other things than Harry Potter over the last few years, but Pandemic and News Fatigue have prompted me to revisit JKR, one of my all-time favorite authors. I’m a not very serious fan of Golden Era murder mysteries but I generally steer clear of the darker contemporary mystery genres. The enthusiastic posts here have me tempted to give the Cormorant Strike series a go. Just how dark are these books? How much explicit sex and violence do they contain? Do I need to read them in order?

  4. As regards Joni Mitchell’s religion,

    Believe it or not, the answer seems to have been given straight from the singer’s own official website. That’s where I turned up a review of one of her albums that Mitchell thought important enough to include along with the rest of her own PR. Assuming she likes to keep as steady a hand on her public image as Rowling, then I guess she thinks its a big enough deal to warrant the attention.

    The page is a review of her 2000 album “Both Sides Now”, and the byline is by a Michael Moriarty. The basic gist of the review is stated in the opening paragraph:
    “Joni Mitchell’s second CD version of BOTH SIDES NOW – released in 2000 – is her stormy love affair with life, God and Christ. She seems a reluctant Holy Ghost combating the rigors of the Trinity”.

    From there, Moriarty goes on to review each song on the album, and each one is revealed to disclose Mitchell’s ongoing ups and downs with the Owner and Operator of Judaeo-Christianity.

    I can’t say it was anything I expected, however, it has to be said, the careful reader will be able to connect the dots between Mitchell’s own struggles, and their similarities to those of Rowling. On the whole, it was sort of an eye-opener, and a welcome enough bit of new information.

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