JK Rowling wows soldout show at Harrogate

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith.
The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith.

By Graham Chalmers

Harrogate International Festivals presents

Robert Galbraith in Conversation with Val McDermid, Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Royal Hall, Harrogate.

Here he/she comes on stage in a stylish gray suit, long hair, white shirt and pink tie as if she was auditioning to be Paul or George on the cover of Abbey Road.

It’s meant to be crime author Robert Galbraith but tonight’s host, fellow crime author Val McDermid, has kindly let the cat out of the bag in her introduction.

No matter. The fact that ‘Robert Galbraith’ is JK Rowling is the elephant in the room everyone knew about.

It’s the reason this Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival event had proven so popular, so much so, in fact, organisers have had to set up live streaming of the event in the Old Swan Hotel across the road for the audience overspill.

Had this been the days of Harry Potter, the Royal Hall might have seen a repeat of the fan mania it witnessed when The Beatles appeared half a century ago.

But there’s nothing frenzied about the relaxed conversation between this odd couple, the Lennon and McCartney of crime fiction.

In her sawn-off red shorts, workaday checked shirt and shock of white hair, the rough and ready intelligence of McDermid makes a good foil for multi-millionaire Rowling – at one point she jokingly refers to her old friend’s “butch outfit.”

McDermid was one of the first people to read, and like, Rowling’s first foray into crime fiction, The Cuckoo’s Calling, at time when even she had fallen for the Robert Galbraith ruse.

Rowling laughs at the memory even as she admits to having been relieved that McDermid blessed the book out of honest appreciation rather than mere friendship.

“I wanted to prove I could get a book published on its own merits. I’m thankful I’ve got such a loyal readership but I wanted to do something just for me.

“My editor knew who Robert Galbraith was but no one else at my publishers Little Brown did. I even wrote a thank you note to Val in fake handwriting as Robert.”

Facing each other on a pair of cosy armchairs, the muted brown and reds of the lighting rig creating the feeling of intimacy within an otherwise empty stage, McDermid’s blunt opinions and broad ribaldry offer the perfect balance to Rowling’s guarded sophistication and quietly steely wit.

She also asks all the questions you would ask in the same position.

Why the choice of Robert Galbraith as a pseudonym?

“It’s not based on the economist JK Galbraith. I’ve had a thing about the name Galbraith since childhood. And Robert is partly because Robert Kennedy has always been my political hero.”

More interestingly, the author of the bestselling book series in history says she’s never liked her own surname.

“I hate my own name. In a way I wished I’d not been published until after I was married. Then I could have been JK Murray, which would be much better.”

For the full report, see the Harrogate Advertiser, July 24 edition