The Rowling Headers – in Context

I’m very please with the list of headers to J. K. Rowling’s twitter account we have assembled, but there are still many that haven’t yet been identified. There are also many that while we have identified them, we haven’t yet got a good explanation of the meaning of the image. In an attempt to foster further investigation and comment, I present an analysis of what Rowling has admitted to be currently working on when the headers were live.

 

Batch 1

I have somewhat arbitrarily batched the headers for analysis, and the first batch dates from 29th November 2014 to 12th January 2016 are probably the least interesting in terms of clues. The first three are in the style of Rowling’s latest website design, and probably were generated during design work for that. There may be some profit taking a closer look at the text visible on the papers, but the Murray clan broach we have seen before, and the initial notebooks are commercially available. We next have a banner for her signature charity LUMOS and a Christmas decoration scene. The Christmas decorations may be related to The Christmas Pig, but as it was posted on the 8th December 2015, it is just as likely to be a photograph of her own festivities.

The Silkworm was published on 19th June 2014 and Career of Evil was published 20th October 2015, almost bracketing this period. From her twitter account we know that on 5th October 2014 Rowling was working on both a novel and a screenplay, so that was presumably Career of Evil and Fantastic Beasts and where to find them.

Through January she says on twitter that Robert Galbraith is writing, before changing to editing in May 2015. The Career of Evil title was revealed on 11th June 2015.

Batch 2

The second batch date from 12th January 2016 to 8th March 2016, and the three headers are each a mystery. In this relatively short period of time we have: a crow, possibly stuffed, possibly from a film or stop motion animation; and still life photograph containing a rose, some elderberries and cobwebs; and a silver tea service with sugar cubes also covered in cobwebs.

Twitter is relatively silent on what she is writing, other than the less than helpful ‘a book’. Career has already been published. The works we know she could be working on at this time are either Lethal White, or The Christmas Pig.

Batch 3

The third batch from 8th March 2016 to 2nd August 2016 are largely prosaic other than one big mystery, and one that is encouraged by J. K. Rowling herself.

The first is a still from the video which accompanied History of Magic in North America on Pottermore, which was published a day before on 7th March 2016. The last four are an advertisement for The Cursed Child and three headers related to the UK referendum on leaving the European Union.

The remaining header has been directly referenced by Rowling. But here is the mystery: it is not a flamingo, but a roseate spoonbill. They are quite easy to tell apart, provided that you don’t crop the image so that you don’t see the head. Rowling did take her yacht to the Grenadines in January 2016, where both of these birds would have been present. Three weeks after this on 30th May 2016 she writes that she is “writing deaths“.

Batch 4

The next batch of four headers were uploaded between 2nd August 2016 and 30th September 2016. This is quite narrow period of time, but one at which we know she was working on three different projects. The headers themselves feature an embroidered Chinese dragon; leather bound editions of The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm; the cover of the screenplay for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; and a patronus from the Pottermore quiz.

The headers give a clue as to what these three projects might be. First of course is Lethal White, then finalizing the Fantastic Beasts script prior to publication on 18th November, and the new patronus quiz where Rowling was awarded a heron.

Charmingly we know that she was writing about Robin on 13th September when a robin flew into her writing room.

 

Batch 5

This batch covers 30th September 2016 to 31st December 2016. This period covers the run up and premier of the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them film. We have a period photograph of New York and two film posters, with a festive picture of Diagon Alley for Christmas. The mystery in this set is the first image. Superficially this could be taken for New York, but it is actually Broadacre– a concept city developed by Frank Lloyd Wright though most of his career.

Other than Rowling having trouble with a chapter in October, it is not clear what Rowling was writing during this period.

Batch 6

The next set contain my favourites in terms of mystery and cover 31st December 2016 to 10th August 2017. We have two headers containing still lives of the vanitas genre, the inevitability of death and the consequent shallow vanity of earthly pleasures and achievement (John Donne perhaps?). Two images cover the Three Fates in tapestry and sculpture, who assign destinies to mortals in Greek myth. Lastly we have a return of that mysterious crow, this time in an identifiable stock image.

Other than teasing us with the header images, there is not direct evidence as what she is writing:

 

Batch 7

The next batch cover the dates 10th August 2017 to 13th December 2017, and other than the unidentified desert scene, all seem to be Lethal White related. The evidence from Rowling herself seem to bear this out, culminating in the memorable Catullus with popcorn tweet.

Batch 8

These headers cover the dates 13th December 2017 to 11th April 2018. Within this batch we have a festive picture of Edinburgh Castle, and two that are identifiable as Lethal White related, the under-croft of the Houses of Parliament and an artists model of a white horse. The notebooks are of a type that Rowling uses for drafting and planning, but the blue decorations remain a mystery.

This period demonstrates the difficult task of writing more than one thing at the same time, with Fantastic Beasts scripts ongoing, Crimes of Grindelwald due to be released on 16th November and Lethal White finished and entering the editing process.

Batch 9

These cover the dates 11th April 2018 to 26th September 2018. We have three locations, in Chile, China and Alaska (where Rowling travelled in her yacht this year); an illustration of Pelicans in their piety from the Aberdeen Bestiary; an advertisement for Lumos and Lethal White (published 18th September 2018); and a mystery photograph of what are perhaps Irises.

We also have a clear statement on the her website of what she is working on, including the first indication of what will become The Christmas Pig.

 

Batch 10

This next group covers more than a year from 26th September 2018 to 25th January 2020, during which Crimes of Grindelwald was released on 16th November 2018. Within this group we have a return for the third time of the mysterious crow, this time in the form of a close photograph of feathers.

The picture of St John’s gate demonstrates she was working on Troubled Blood and we also know she was writing Robin’s birthday in November 2018.

We also have a picture of Rio de Janiero and Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, likely related to Secrets of Dumbledore script being re-written during this time.

 

Batch 11

This series covers 25th January 2020 to 21st May 2020 and the start of the Covid pandemic. We are firmly in Troubled Blood territory here with the Thoth Tarot deck, Crowley star chart and The Faerie Queene.

J. K. Rowling announced that Strike 5 was finished on 25th January before the title was revealed by Robert Galbraith twitter on 19th February.

On 13th May she revealed she was editing two things, giving our first hint of The Ickabog.

 

Group 12

The headers for 21st May 2020 to 16th July 2020 are all Ickabog related. The first four showing glimpses of the box that the draft was kept in, followed by a peak at the rough copy.

We then have a look at the graphic design used for the daily serial release, and an example of the children’s art competition that was run at the same time.

Group 13

This batch dates from 16th July 2020 to 13th April 2021, and these dates include the publication of both Troubled Blood on 15th September and The Ickabog on 10th November.

The astronomical clock was first teased on Robert Galbraith’s twitter account before making it onto Rowling’s twitter header. The remaining headers are all publication advertisements.

Batch 14

Within this batch we make a welcome return to some cryptic headers. They date from 13th April 2021 to the last posted on 4th March 2022, a period just less than a year. The first teaser was solved very quickly with the announcement of The Christmas Pig on 13th April 2021. We two outstanding cyptics, that of  George Wombwell’s grave and the seafront at Cromer.

There is no indication of any script work during this time, but there is editing of The Ink Black Heart, and a tantalising hint of another work just begun.

The start of editing for Ink Black Heart was assumed to have started when Rowling posted:

If you have any clues as to what the headers may represent, or have any comments or corrections, please let me know in the comments down below.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. I have a theory about the cryptic headers in Batch 2, which seem to fit together very well, aesthetically, and seem like they are “work reference” headers. Judging by the dates, this batch could have been early on in the writing process of Strike 4, if she spent some time after Career of Evil was finished working on Fantastic Beasts or Christmas Pig (correct me if I’m wrong about when these projects were written). Do you think it’s possible that Strike 4 was originally supposed to be a different plot, but she realized part way through that the story worked better for Strike 6? So she re-started with Lethal White? After all, we know she’s moved ideas around before – didn’t she say that she came up with Silkworm first, but that Cuckoo’s Calling made a better first book? If this was the case (and I know it’s a reach), that could mean that this batch of headers which don’t otherwise make sense could actually refer to the story that would become Ink Black Heart! (And could also explain the very long gap between CoE and LW, if she had to scrap part of a draft and start from scratch). What do you think? Have I completely lost the plot here? Perhaps someone with a better head for dates (I’m as bad as Rowling!) can figure out if this is a possibility?

  2. I realized after I wrote the above that Rowling’s practice of very careful outlining would be an argument against this – surely if the story wasn’t working, it would have been changed in the outline stage, right? But perhaps she was in fact outlining, and simply folds that into the “writing” process when she tweets about it. Or perhaps she saw something that sparked the idea for Lethal White partway through writing, and realized it would work even better for Strike 4 than what she’d planned.

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Hoping to get back to this, I venture that the second and third ones in Batch 2 made me think of Miss Havisham’s in Great Expectations – though what that may have to do with anything I know not.

  4. Nick Jeffery says

    Hello Pools and David, it is possible that batch 2 is a ‘parked’ project, we know that JKR can be thinking/working on projects for many years before they see the light of day. I do agree that the second and third pictures do seem to show the decayed gentility associated with Miss Havisham. The genesis of Strike 4, being complicated with all the Fantastic Beasts work did take a very long time.

  5. Karol Jay says

    Could the decaying gentility be the world of the Chiswells?

  6. Thanks very much for this Nick! I think it confirms that mostly we’re looking for clues to texts she’s writing and editing rather than publishing. And I agree that those cobwebbed headers don’t seem to align with anything we’ve seen yet – here’s to hoping its evidence of a parked and future project!
    I have an idea for the flowerbed given that you’ve aligned it with the writing of Christmas Pig – could this be real flower bed in which Rowling’s youngest daughter found Blue Bunny? ‘My youngest daughter, she found a muddy little blue bunny in the flower bed that had obviously been there for years.’

  7. Nick Jeffery says

    I love the idea that the scene of Blue Bunny’s resurrection is that flower bed!

  8. Thanks Nick! And I do think it fits given that her other homely/touristy ones are always of something a bit more dramatic or seasonal!

  9. This is wonderful, Nick! I need to do some real thinking about these but I hope we can chat about them soon!

  10. Hi Nick – I think your brilliant header posts mean I may have located another reference we’d not spotted before…

    In Rowling’s Museum of Curiosity appearance, recorded 8 June 2019 she says:

    ‘I love doing the research, I love going to real places, and I think that is definitely a reaction from the fact that previously I made everything up. And it’s nice to be in the physical world and describe that. But I have a half-written children’s book where I’m going back into a complete invented world that I’ve sort-of got half finished. So I sort of move between the two.’

    I think this must be a half-finished Christmas Pig – she has said she did not start looking at Ickabog again until 2020, and also it doesn’t fit – this sounds like a completely fantasy land: the Land of the Lost. And the Twitter header she put up six months before this comment – at the time, seemingly just a generic Christmas one – The Regent St angel of lights (on 5th December 2018) therefore seems like a nod to the Christmas Pig.

    We know she had the original idea on a summer holiday – which would make that summer 2018, so Christmas 2018 would have been a natural time to be working of Christmas Pig. And angels are important! – Broken Angel, of course, but this angel, with its huge glowing wings, is very close to how Jim Field has illustrated Hope.

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