J.K. Rowling Takes on a New Genre
The author, who penned the books in the C.B. Strike series under the pen name Robert Galbraith, discusses writing detective novels, fleeting anonymity, and seeing her characters come to life on screen.
Cinemax: When did you first start thinking about writing crime novels?
J.K. Rowling: I thought about writing crime for years before I wrote The Cuckoo’s Calling. I took five years between the end of Harry Potter and publishing again and those five years were great. I just had lots of time to play. The two novels I finished during that time were Cuckoo and The Casual Vacancy.
Cinemax: Why did you decide to write the Strike novels under a pseudonym?
J.K. Rowling: I just wanted it to be about the writing, and I had this dream I might be able to get three books out under the pseudonym before anyone realized it was me.
Cinemax: Did knowing you’d be publishing under a different name affect the way you wrote?
J.K. Rowling: I was writing differently because it’s a very different genre. The pseudonym was just a way of disconnecting myself from all of the baggage that comes with being me. As I entered this new genre, one that I’d always wanted to write in, I really wanted to go in without expectation.
Cinemax: Where did Strike come from?
J.K. Rowling: Strike is entirely imaginary. He’s damaged in certain ways due to an upbringing that’s quite unusual. I’m interested in the problems of people who are connected to the famous without being famous themselves; I sometimes say it’s an extended apology to my children. But he was just a very vivid character who came to me in the best way: He just walked into my head.
Cinemax: Were you inspired by classic detective stories, or did you actively avoid those conventions?
J.K. Rowling: There are certain immutable laws of detective fiction that I follow. Part of the appeal and fascination of the genre is that it has clear rules. I’m intrigued by those rules and I like playing with them. Your detective should always lay out the information fairly for the reader, but he should always be ahead of the game.
But in terms of creating a character, I think Strike conforms to certain universal rules, but is very much of this time. He is a veteran of wars that many people still talk about; he’s a complex character because he’s rooted partly in the military and partly in the very louche world that a lot of people would like to enter without really understanding how damaging that world can be.
Cinemax: Now that you’ve seen Tom Burke — who plays Strike — in action, what’s your verdict?
J.K. Rowling: I’m thrilled. He’s a fantastic actor and he’s got all of the physicality of the part. It’s very important. The character’s obviously an amputee, it’s physically difficult at times for him to move, to walk, to navigate. All of that’s really in the scripts and Tom does it amazing justice.
Cinemax: Holliday Grainger seems to have brought something quite genuine to her role as Robin. What do you think of her portrayal?
J.K. Rowling: I just love her. I couldn’t have asked for better. In some ways, she is Strike’s mirror image. It’s a difficult part to play in many ways: In the first book I hint at what lies beneath, but she seems like a very nice girl next door and slowly you realize just how much is bubbling under the surface.
Cinemax: How does it feel to have your books hit the screen?
J.K. Rowling: You’re giving up control, which is always slightly unnerving. You have to really trust the people you’re working with. It was really important to me to get the right people both in front of, and off camera. I absolutely love writing the books on which the scripts are based. Through the whole of the first three books I have seeded future plots. The first time I met Tom, I said, “I hope to God you enjoy playing this character because I think I’ve got at least another 10 books in me.”