Rowling’s ‘Running Grave’ Video Shorts

The Rowling Library has compiled all of Rowling’s answers to questions, all originally posted on the Robert Galbraith Facebook page, in one very convenient YouTube package. I think I speak for all Serious Strikers in thanking them for that collation. Their transcript of these twenty questions can be found here.

After the jump, a review of what irked many listeners and my own thoughts about what made the event easily forgettable.

The complaint among many listeners was that the even was hyped as a ‘live’ event that would take place at a specific time for which they should be sure to be in attendance or miss out. When it turned out to be recorded program that could be viewed anytime, the response was predictably sour. Here are the first four comments after the last posting:

Please just post a full interview next time and be clear about it being an interview. While it is great content you are disappointing people by framing it differently.

As other people said: We will be here for the very interesting content, no need to be misleading, it only generates unnecessary disappointment and doesn’t show whoever manages this in a good light. We respect the books and the author, please, respect us also.
Was great to hear JK Rowling talk, she’s an incredible author. Just wish the admin team for the page had made it clear what this would be like as I know people, including myself, cancelled plans and work etc thinking it was an hour ‘live’. Maybe just worth being more clear next time. Otherwise, the interviews were great, love hearing her talk and learning more about these incredible books.
All the videos were truly interesting and I just admire JK Rowling’s endlessly creative mind! BUT to whoever is managing this page – do not mislead such a dedicated loyal audience again. Nobody missed anything, this was not something that HAD to happen tonight at a given hour. I would understand timing, lead up, etc with such a hype if this date would be either Robin’s or Strike’s birthday …

You won’t be surprised that I found the whole exercise disappointing if completely understandable for reasons beyond the misrepresentation of it being a ‘live’ interview.

For starters, it’s not an interview, not really, though it is Rowling-Galbraith answering questions about her work. Q&A is a format, however, not an interview, which is an actual exchange of ideas grounded in someone-other-than-the-author (or other-than-her-public-relations-crew; see the Running Grave Acknowledgements page for Stonehill, Salt, and Hutchinson, Inc., who steer HMS Rowling) pressing her on subjects she may or may not want to talk about. Or which SSH, Inc., an acronym worthy of their primary task, don’t want her to talk about.

So there’s nothing about the cults Rowling used as her model for the Universal Humanitarian Church and Jonathan Wace. Scientology, EST, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Latter-Day Saints, not to mention The Jesus Fellowship Church or ‘Jesus Army’ that is the UHC’s most obvious UK model, all get a pass — and Team Rowling doesn’t have to deal with blowback from these very powerful groups, at least those that have not been taken out by scandals.

She doesn’t have to address what the Private Eye reviewer of Running Grave suggested point blank, either, namely, that the UHC’s being a “cult that preys on the rigid thinking of those with autism and forces lesbians to sleep with men” (‘Auto Friction’) is a not very subtle depiction of transgender extremists. We’re not ‘going there,’ clearly, in this pablum pastiche of softball questions and answers packaged and published by her PR managers.

What I find most disappointing, not being especially interested in these two relatively topical issues that tabloid reporters might have pressed her on, is that the interview-that-isn’t-an-interview, with the exception of the last two questions, has the author discuss her characters and the series as if they are real people. There is quite literally only one thing remotely literary in this conversation (the talk about the title), nothing about her artistry or greater meaning, nothing even about the playful echoing of the Strike novels with the Potter books.

There was Rowling responding to a question about the “theme” of cults with several notes about her interest in “mind-control.” That was worth the time of stopping by and listening. 

The one moment where she begins to talk, though, about her interests in mythologies and archetypes as an explanation for the ability of cults to draw people in, the follow-up isn’t about Rowling’s use of myths to create palimpsest texts informed by the archetypal stories just beneath the surface. We go on straight away to an invitation for Rowling to discuss Strike’s character arc (vaping!), Robin’s development (a boyfriend!), and their “personal and professional” changes.

That’s not the sort of opportunity that a real journalist asking Rowling questions in an interview would miss. No questions about her own faith, nothing about Strike’s spiritual reflections in the Aylmerton church, nothing about Robin’s capture of the “mother-of-pearl fish” pendant from Mazu.

This pre-packaged Q&A  does accomplish, however, exactly what it was meant to do, if I’m right in assuming that Rowling’s publishing contract stipulates that she do at least one interview per book and post so many items on the Robert Galbraith facebook page. The set-piece above checks those boxes.

If the hope was to engage further those Strike and Ellacott readers who eagerly await each new book, though, or to reach out to new readers who are not yet on board with Cormoran and Robin’s adventures, I don’t see how this sit down performance moved the dial in any fashion. Those who like the Denmark Street Saga enough to have read the first six books multiple times have already bought the seventh; those who only know the series via the BBC teevee adaptations will not be moved by this milquetoast conversation and its superficiality to take the plunge into the printed page. And the framing of the event, as noted, left quite a few Strike readers feeling disrespected.

Barmy Army, are you out there? Rowling released a much more substantial if still staged-by-staff question set after Ink Black Heart was published, which package of twenty-four ‘Thoughts from The Presence’ was supplemented spectacularly less than a month later by a live Q&A with readers hosted by Barmy ArmyThat was easily the best exchange Rowling has had with serious readers ever. If we do not have a ‘Barmy Army Live with JKR, Part II,’ I have to wonder if SSH, Inc., decided it was not worth the risk of there being an occasion for their choleric boss to ‘go off’ in ways they cannot control. 

So, my take-aways are once again to stick with the text and ignore the author’s publicity takes as much as possible. Until Rowling and her handlers agree to a Q&A with serious readers with challenging questions, these fan-servicing “interviews” are little more than distraction and the satisfaction of contract obligations. I wish I had spent the time watching these video vignettes finishing my ring composition write up.

Your thoughts? Fire away.


  1. Well. You said it all, and then some. I agree, and while I will always enjoy listening to Jo, this indeed felt like something that had to be ticked off on a list.

    IMO we had about a week with some nice Strike interaction with Jo on Twitter before she fell silent on her writing.

    Perhaps she’s just not interested, and I’m not sure I would blame her for that. Besides, how much use is it to try and force someone to ‘play nice’ with an audience if they would simply prefer to spend their time differently?

  2. My thoughts are that while I agree the framing of the Q&A as a ‘live event’ was misleading and frustrating, the general questions about character development and how she sees the characters developing in the future were not at all surprising, because this is what most readers care about, and what they wanted to know (the comments did not express disappointment in the direction of the questions). The PR team are not going to draw RL parallels, readers can do that for themselves (and have done). Also, it’s rude to refer to the author as ‘choleric’ just because she expresses her views honestly without fear.

  3. Ah, the ironies (and hypocrisy?) of an anonymous poster celebrating honesty and fearlessness in Goliath while denigrating as ‘rude’ the same virtues in the boy with a slingshot — or the one speaking honestly and fearlessly about the Empress’ staff and the New Clothes in which they’ve dressed her. We can all agree, at least, that there is nothing rude or cowardly about this reader’s policing my choleric observations and outlier ideas in defense of Rowling-Galbraith, Inc., and the superficial Group-Think in Strike fandom. Thanks for sharing, ‘Laura’!

    The conversation on the moderator channels at HogwartsProfessor last weekend, in contrast, were about why this pre-packaged and nigh on substance-free Q&A was posted weeks after the publication of ‘The Running Grave.’ Rowling’s comments, are a mystery, heavy as they were with notes about her inability to speak frankly because she didn’t want to spoil the novel readers had not read. Clearly, the greater part of her audience on the Galbraith facebook page were fans who had long ago started their second or third readings of Strike7 — and the ‘Ink Black Heart’ equivalent Q&A was published four weeks before that novel was released.

    Why was a pre-publication marketing device only deployed after the book had been published?

    The two answers suggested in those exchanges between writers here and our friends were (a) the debacle of the Amazon ‘Look Inside’ and Apple books releases of the first ‘Running Grave’ chapters caused a turnover in the marketing team that put on pause the other pre-publication efforts like this Q&A that were planned, and (b) someone realized that Rowling was obliged to do at least one interview after the book was published, something she and SSH, Inc., didn’t want her to do because of her exposure with respect to cults and transgender subjects, and this fan-servicing pablum checked that box.

    No need to poke the Scientology tiger in the eye, to field questions about the Irish Catholic baby selling operation back in the day, or to hear questions about whether the author was implicitly criticizing as mind-control cultists Gender Theory Extremists, those who insist lesbians who won’t date women-with-penises are bigots, via the Chapman Farm treatment of gay people — win-win-win!

    There’s something very prudent and calculating in that second possibility, if not especially honest or fearless; please overlook the rude temerity inevitable in sharing such baseless speculation.

    Back to charting ‘Running Grave’!

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