Rowling Says Strike Series Ends at 10: Tells Graham Norton ‘No Covid Books’

Rowling sat down today to talk with Graham Norton about Ink Black Heart, with whom she has previously discussed both Lethal White and The Ickabog in publicity junkets pre-publication. Our friends at The Rowling Library promptly found the Virgin Radio audio and posted it at their YouTube channel. Thank you, Mr Tarantino!

The “big news” if you read about this interview, say, at The Daily Mail, was that Rowling turned down an invitation to be in the Hogwarts Reunion party teevee special. I don’t think that makes my top five take-aways from this conversation, which would be:

(1) Rowling Thinks She Will End the Series Before Covid

She has said before that she dreaded the idea of writing Strike stories in a lockdown situation from which suggestion I inferred that she would wrap up the first seven books before the timeline hit 2020. It seems now that there is a very real possibility that the series will end rather than take a new direction by then.

(2) She Has Ten Strike Novels Plotted

Rowling-Galbraith has presented a moving target with respect to how many books will be in the Strike series. When she was first out-ed as Galbraith, reporters were told it was a seven book series which the author and publishers have been denying ever since, despite the significant textual evidence that the first seven books in this collection will work as a set or ‘ring.’

In today’s comments she told Norton that she had ten books in mind, which, because Ink Black Heart, Strike6, is set in 2015, means a book a year if she is to get to Strike10 before the March 2020 lockdown in the UK. She has plenty of time, in other words, to figure out a way to have the Strike-Ellacott Detective Agency work in a time of pandemania.

(3) Ink Black Heart is a “Homage” to an Unnamed Cartoon’s Fandom

Rowling spoke, too, about why she chose to depict a toxic online fandom the way she does in Ink Black Heart, namely, using an animated cartoon’s following online. She claimed that while she was plotting the story “three years ago” she asked her children what online fandom they thought qualified as the worst. They said it was a certain animated cartoon’s fan sites. Rowling checked those sites and agreed with her children’s judgment.

Patricio Tarantino suggested that Rick and Morty is one possibility, and, though I’d never heard of this media phenomenon, the Wikipedia description of the show and its international success seems like a match with Ink Black Heart.

(4) The Online Threats of Violence are not about her Most Recent Experiences

Rowling seems to be making these cameo promotional appearances less to promote sales of her new book than to anticipate and blunt criticism of Ink Black Heart‘s plot as her unflattering depiction of Harry Potter fandom and how its leaders have behaved towards her in the transgender controversy. Last week in her Q&A teasers, she said how great she thought the Harry Potter fandom was, denied that this story was about recent threats against her, and said that she created this plot line years ago, that it was something like “clairvoyance” that real life has imitated her art. She hit the same exact notes in her Norton interview, without specifically mentioning the Harry Potter fandom.

I’m skeptical of this claim, though I understand the need to address it up front to get ahead of the inevitable criticism.

Rowling’s seven personal crises include the Transgender Cancellation as number seven, and, in many ways, though the most recent, it has been the most public and the most virulent. The days of the Potter Panic and semi-professional Harry Haters, 1998-2007, had nothing on the madness, violence, and vituperation of the Radical Gender Theory crowd and transgender activists today who think nothing of accusing Rowling of murder and saying she should be murdered herself. Shadows of this crisis, ripples in Rowling’s Lake of inspiration, have been evident in The Ickabog and Troubled Blood. Re-read the Skegness conversation between Strike and Robin as well as the Valentine’s Day Dinner Party debate and Strike’s thoughts thereafter if you missed that.

Having said that, I find Rowling’s claim that she had plotted this novel before her own online fandom and twitter experience turned into a 24/7 “pub brawl” totally credible. I believe and have argued consistently here that the Strike series with every book we get only shows itself to be a Rowling master-class in parallelism and intricate planning and allusion. It would be much harder for me to agree with her if she said she plotted this book in the last two years rather than in the years before she finished and published Cuckoo’s Calling.

The suggestion that her real-life experience of transgender zealots and Potter fandom PC Gestapo has not thoroughly colored the depiction of a fandom out of control, wildly self-important, manipulative, and even murderous in Ink Black Heart is asking too much. As much as I wish that critical response would not be focused on this Lake-heavy reading rather than on Rowling’s Shed work, the neo-mythological and psychomachian allegory, not to mention the literary alchemy, there’s no stopping that train. The story-hook for Rowling’s online critics is too obvious and, alas, too sure a thing to pass up.

(5) Robin is Now Strike’s “Equal” as a Detective

The Rowling-Norton exchange ends with the host, who clearly has read the book, saying that he was impressed with Robin’s greater role in this installment. Rowling explained that she wanted Ink Black Heart to be different than the cold case of Troubled Blood and that Strike, because he is much less at home in digital reality, had to yield to Robin’s relative ease and expertise with social media and technology. All that made sense.

Her assertion that the Agency is “definitely 50-50 now,” though, I confess, really did take me back. Robin’s skills as a detective have increased exponentially since the first Strike books and her contributions to and insights about solving each case have made her Cormoran’s real partner rather than a “side-kick.” But she’s never solved a mystery. I suppose we have to assume from this conversation that, for a change, Robin “gets there” first in Ink Black Heart and Strike is the one who has to sit and steam while she teases him with clues to sharpen his detection skills as he has done repeatedly to her.

And that will be a big change, because, however confrontational and perceptive as Robin was in Troubled Blood, she was Strike’s confidante, counsellor, and coach, but she was by no stretch of fancy or fantasy his equal as a detective. How we get there promises to be the ascerbic, acidic albedo action of Strike6. I look forward to discussing that with you all beginning Tuesday.



  1. My major concern, reading this, is the fear that recent events might have robbed us all of a potential, ongoing Mystery/Detective series. Something, in other words, that could go on to rival, and then, with time, surpass the Hogwarts saga. Everything Rowling has said up till now has pointed to the idea of the Strike series as the main output for the rest of her career, as it was for Christie, or Conan Doyle, for that matter.

    Instead, she says it “stops at ten”. And I have to wonder if that was her original goal, and the whole recent fiasco has brought everything to an unnecessary, and unwanted halt? Let’s put it this way. It seems doubtful that Rowling ever intended for her series to have a Reichenbach Falls moment. Instead, it’s more that reality might have forced one on her, in the most ironic twist in the history of the Noir genre. Rather than wanting to cancel her detective, as Doyle did, she’s had to usher him into an unwanted, early retirement.

    I hope that’s not the case. If this is the truth however…

    …Well, shoot!

  2. I think all of Rowling’s comments about the length of the Strike series have to be filed away until there is any solid evidence they contain any truth of sufficient substance to comment on.

    The series as structured thus far, as prevailing opinion here holds though Prof Freeman’s pentagram hypothesis demands serious consideration, is a seven book ring or asterisk. The public was told at one point that it was a seven book series.

    Since that announcement was walked back, Rowling has also admitted she was writing a detective series of novels at the time she made Ian Rankin walk back his comment that this was what she was doing.

    She has also admitted that her assertion that she wasn’t really writing a series per se at all but disjointed novels was also a lie.

    We have been told that there were as many as fourteen books — and now we are told there are ten, definitely ten, maybe more if she can figure out how to have Strike solve cases during the UK lockdown of 2020-2021 (when, presumably, all private investigators in the UK went bankrupt or on public assistance).

    So are we to believe there are ten books that have been plotted — or the textual evidence of a seven book cycle, a parallel series with the Hogwarts Saga, and the possibility there may be more (but not necessarily!) or as many or as few as the author claims?

    I’m going with the textual evidence.

    Rowling may not be a liar, but she is someone who deliberately has said things that are not true to the press in order to deceive the public and her readers. Fool me once…

  3. I’m not worried! Saying that she’s got 10 planned is very different from saying she is sure there will be no more than 10 – and she is very happy to imply things for the purposes of misdirection, Remember all that ‘Cursed Child is NOT a prequel!’ stuff on Twitter? – absolutely true, but with the intended consequence that people assumed it was not a HP tie-in, when in fact as we know…. I think Strike will be open-ended and she’ll continue whenever she has an idea, but will leave herself free (after those 10) to be taken in other directions if she finds new projects more inviting.

  4. Bonni Crawford says

    I love the idea that it’s Robbin who is going to become au fait with the dark web. It’s a lovely twist on the theme of Strike being better able to navigate the ‘dark underbelly’ of London with ease, while Robin’s middle-class upbringing (and gender) makes this more difficult for her. If Robin does become really good at online sleuthing, then trying to solve cybercrimes would be something she could do during Covid lockdowns…

  5. Bonni Crawford says

    If I were plotting a Strike novel that would take place during lockdown, I would have Robin & Strike living together with, at the start of the novel, no work. Robin would be keeping herself busy by trying to learn as much as she can about cybercrime, online detection (especially how to do safe detection using the dark web) – she would have become interested in this during the events of Ink Black Heart, but would have had no time yet to follow them up. Then, while perhaps practicing something she’s learnt, she stumbles on something odd…

  6. Bonni,

    A lot of good ideas in your comments. In fact, one of the best marks of any good idea is its ability to help generate others. One thought that you just gave me is the possibility that Strike could use his contacts in the Met to setup a kind of limited run partnership with Scotland Yard. This would allow the agency to stay afloat, while also managing to keep to some level of “realism” during the shutdown times.

    What could happen is the Met could, on occasion, farm out certain cases for Strike, Robin, and the other personnel to solve in their ample leisure time. Friendly faces in the Yard, such as Wardle, Anstiss, or maybe even Laybourne would possibly find enough case material to send their way. Some of it could even turn out to be bigger than anyone was expecting. The curious part is that, for some strange reason, my imagination insists that the best way to execute this idea is as a series of short stories, rather than novels.

    I guess that makes sense if these cases focus on Strike as taking more of an armchair approach to private investigation. It could be a series where the background progress of the lockdown gets a casual mention, along with the agencies fortunes, and the ongoing question of when or whether it will be possible to reopen. In fact, I just realized that a good way to do this kind of narrative would be to take the ARG twitter posts that she’s been overseeing these past few months, and run with it. The story and mystery itself could consist of tweets sent back and forth between Strike, Robin, the agency workers, the Met, and the ever important list of suspects.

    The whole idea could really take off if done right. It would also give Rowling a chance to show off her ability to display her skill with literary allusions through twitter by taking the game to a whole new level. It could allow her to tell a Strike story with all the requisite Classical, Medieval, Renaissance, and Romantic themes and elements that have become the regular diet of all her published books. Or at least there’s one possible solution. And that’s all it is, at the end of the day. Just a wild suggestion.

    Meanwhile, the thread of the lockdown should get teased out over the course of the short stories (or cases), until things ease up, and the final entry concludes with Strike, Robin, Pat, and the whole gang getting ready to go back to whatever counts as “normal” these days. Let me know if can find it, by the way. I’m always losing the darn thing. Still, this is all just wishful thinking perhaps, though I’ll not object if this idea is swiped wholesale.

  7. Covid lockdown could be the blessing in disguise for Strike that it was for many people. He has experienced so much pain from (a) over-taxing his stump, (b) eating poorly while working and consequently carrying too much weight on it, and (c) most likely not doing any of the physical therapy exercises he should to keep the leg in good health. A long term “armchair detective” storyline would give him a realistic timeline in which to get himself and his leg into better shape.

  8. I think writing through, around, or about COVID-19 will (and in many ways, already has) become a roadblock (or inspiration) for many authors, including JKR. The simplest truth is that this story is fictional, and therefore, so is the world, even when inspired by real timestamps and geographic locations. If she had planned to write more before the pandemic changed her story’s general historic timeline, then that is a real shame, and will turn out to be just another good thing the pandemic has disrupted.

  9. Todate, three years of COVID have spawned a new and different wave of crimes directly related to the search for cures, the production of medicines and vaccines and the mis-selling of PPE. The rate of criminal activity has increased rather than decreased. Criminals haven’t been restricted by any kind of lockdown on their activities, rather they have been provided with additional fields of activity – the explosions of scams being just one example.
    I’m sure JKR has enough writing skill, imagination and determination to grasp these as opportunities, and not as a “roadblock”, to developing further avenues for her characters to grow and develop as detectives, and enthrall those of us who have come to enjoy and appreciate her writing. The way she has drawn so well, the relationship between Strike and Ellicott is intriguing and touching, as well as being almost new in its tone and sensitiity, and I, for one, cannot wait to see it grow and develop. 2020 is no barrier to anyone who has the writing skill and imagination to have wrutten what she has so far. All power to your pen JKR. Your audience awaits you.

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