Famous and famously famous author JK Rowling, richer than the Queen, having finished the Harry Potter series, moved on. She published a novel in 2012, The Casual Vacancy, which a New York Times reviewer called disappointing and dull. But Rowling did not call herself a one-trick pony, throw herself down on a pile of banknotes, and sob in despair.
In July 2013, it was revealed that a mystery novel by Robert Galbraith, The Cuckoo’s Calling, first of a planned series, was actually by Rowling.
Rowling had created a convincing biography for Galbraith, who supposedly worked in the security industry and couldn’t do public appearances. The secret of the alias was known to a very small trusted circle. The book was published, sold reasonably well, got good reviews.
It happened on Twitter. A columnist for The Sunday Times, India Knight, mentioned the book, calling it “so good,” and an editor for The Guardian asked if it was good for holiday reading (whatever that means). Then one @JudeCallegari tweeted “Written by JK Rowling.” Knight wrote “Eh?” and Callegari replied “It’s her pseudonym – promise its true” following up with “Seriously. Friend works for publisher” (These tweets are gone but were reconstructed by The Telegraph.)
Callegari? Who huh? Later, Rowling said, “it has not been pleasant to wonder for days how a woman whom I had never heard of… could have found out something that many of my oldest friends did not know.”
After those few angry wondering days – did the agent leak it? did someone at the publisher leak it? – Rowling’s own solicitors confessed to Rowling’s agent that the leak came from them. They issued a statement.
We, Russells Solicitors, apologise unreservedly for the disclosure caused by one of our partners, Chris Gossage, in revealing to his wife’s best friend, Judith Callegari, during a private conversation that the true identity of Robert Galbraith was in fact JK Rowling.
Whilst accepting his own culpability, the disclosure was made in confidence to someone he trusted implicitly. On becoming aware of the circumstances, we immediately notified JK Rowling’s agent. We can confirm that this leak was not part of any marketing plan and that neither JK Rowling, her agent nor publishers were in any way involved.
I assume that they have also apologized directly to Rowling. Their client. (Their wealthy client.) They get a little credit for naming names. Although they say they apologize “unreservedly,” notice that they try to mitigate the offense with little touches – it was a private conversation! Callegari is his wife’s best friend! he trusted her! Whilst.
But this is exactly the kind of thing you hire solicitors not to do.
Before analyzing the apology further, let’s look at the offense. The revelation ruined Rowling’s plan to have her new work judged on its merit, free from whatever associations Harry Potter might suggest to readers and reviewers, whether for yay or boo. It subjected her to sneering about how this was all a publicity stunt. (Which is why the solicitors’ apology mentions that it was not part of a marketing plan.)
On the Jack of Kent blog, they discuss the issue of whether Rowling might have any legal claim against her solicitors, such as “breach of confidence.” They did betray her confidence, but she didn’t lose money by it.“Usually in English law, one cannot sue unless any loss or damage has been caused by the wrongful act.” In the end they agree that she could in fact sue for distress and “general damages.”
The revelation did put a rocket under the book – San Francisco’s public library at last look had 529 hold requests for just 2 copies of The Cuckoo’s Calling. Only one is me. (The library has ordered more and updated the catalog to show that Galbraith is a pseudonym for Rowling.) Yet there are things worth more than money. Especially if you are already richer than the Queen. Rowling will never know how successful the Galbraith series could have been without this, won’t get the “totally unvarnished feedback” she wanted.
The apology from Russells Solicitors is bare-bones. They say sorry for what they did, and add some detail to protect her, her agent, and the publishers from the publicity-stunt implication. They do not say why this was a bad thing to do. Given that this is a public statement, and that there has surely been a more elaborate apology made directly to Rowling (groveling would be appropriate), I suppose it will do.
Some other apologies are in order. Gossage, the loose-lipped solicitor, should apologize to Rowling. His apology should mention violating his professional responsibility to a client, for the sake of showing off. He should apologize to his partners and probably has. He should apologize to his wife, since her relationship with her best friend may be in bad shape.
Callegari, said to be in seclusion since all this happened, should apologize. While she didn’t have the lawyer-client duty, she had the ordinary duty of a decent person not to give away someone else’s secrets to show off. (Which doesn’t seem to have worked out for her.) Her apology to Gossage should mention probable damage to his career and to the reputation of his firm.
Some reports mistakenly inserted another bad person into the chain of gossip, saying things like “… Chris Gossage… told his wife who then told her friend Judith Callegari. Callegari… tweeted the news…” (Italics added.) But apparently there was no intervening wife between Gossage and Callegari – that was just an assumption. As a lawyer’s wife, I am indignant. Although I’m not sure I am actually owed an apology, small gifts of cash are always useful.
Also Voldemort should apologize. I couldn’t resist saying that. See why Rowling wanted to write under a pseudonym?
I’m guessing this was to be the start of a bird-themed series, what with the cuckoo in the title and the main character’s first name being Cormoran (one letter short of cormorant): a theme-titled series like the Sue Grafton alphabet-themed mysteries (to V is for Vengeance and counting) or the apparently unstoppable Janet Evanovich number-themed mysteries (hurtling along at Notorious Nineteen). Five hundred and seventy-four species of birds have been found in Britain. So obviously 572 books may have been denied us. Murder and the Masked Shrike, Horror of the Hoopoe, The Dunlin’s Death-song.
But wait! Rowling says she plans to keep on writing Galbraith books, and has already completed the second. Hurrah! I may still get a chance to read Chirp Me Deadly.