So it has emerged that JK Rowling has written a crime novel under the pen-name of Robert Galbraith. She declared that she’d hoped to keep it secret for a little bit longer, but I do wonder how much her publishers were delighted to expose her and thus improve the sales (there has been an exponential rise in sales already!)
The book had only sold 1500 (hardback) copies in the two months since publication, though I gather that this number is not a true reflection. It relates to the number sold to bookshops: the actual number sold all the way through to the consumer is more like 450. Though that doesn’t sound much, for a hardback for a ‘new’ author (as Robert Galbraith was supposed to be) it is a good start, and has had many positive reviews. Most writers would be happy with that beginning to their career.
I can understand JKR wanting to hide her writing behind a pseudonym. Harry Potter has taken a mammoth portion of her life and defined her in such a way as to be difficult to escape from it. A different persona allows her to write freely, and not for children, and to carve out a new writing career for herself. She has said that writing is what she has always wanted to do and I wish her well.
She is by no means the first author to write different genres under different names. The late Iain Banks made the minor adjustment to Iain M. Banks for his science fiction writing. Janey Fraser, journalist and novelist, has written romantic novels under the name of Sophie King, but other genre books as Jane Corry and Jane Bidder. It must be hard sometimes for her to know who she is!
I chose a pen-name (Withenay – see here for my explanation!) in order to distance myself a little from my writing. It has sometimes helped me, in my memoir, to feel I’m writing about someone else. But even without that side to my life, I already have other names. I still find it strange to sign birthday cards ‘Mummy’, and have just sent an email to my niece and nephew signed off as ‘Aunty Catharine’. Every so often I am reminded of my heritage with my maiden name: just the other day I had to explain to my daughter that I used to have the same name as Grandpa. Each make me feel like a different person (I quite like my maiden name – it makes me feel young!) How much more different can a person feel when alternative names are used in the public domain?
Besides, I like my alternative persona: she’s usually a lot more fun than the real thing!