Is there any genre Rowling cannot master?

Last updated 05:00 16/07/2013
Fairfax Australia

As The Cuckoo's Calling rockets to No.1 in Amazon's best-seller charts, Fairfax books editor Jason Steger reviews the pros and cons of writing under a pseudonym.

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Perhaps most surprising about the news JK Rowling wrote The Cuckoo's Calling under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith is not that she should take a fake name or that she should write a crime novel - after all there were plenty of nasty goings-on in the Harry Potter books - but that she would have the time to write it given her first official novel for adults, the much anticipated The Casual Vacancy, was published only late last year.

OPINION: The Galbraith book slipped under the radar in this country but received positive reviews in Britain when it was published in April. Within hours of the news breaking about the real identity of the author at the weekend, the book rocketed to No.1 in the Amazon bestseller charts.

It is described as a ''classic crime novel'' in the vein of those two veteran queens of the genre, PD James and Ruth Rendell.

That should surprise no one as Rowling, no postmodernist, made her name with a series of books about a teenage wizard that fell slap bang into line with very British novels about boarding schools, albeit with a fair bit of magic added to the recipe.

And The Casual Vacancy took its archaeology from the social novels of that 19th-century master George Eliot - whose real name was Mary Anne Evans. Rowling said it was liberating to write as Galbraith. That's nothing new; take on a new identity and a writer often finds the words flowing more freely.

When Nikki Gemmell wanted to write her sexually charged The Bride Stripped Bare, she wrote it as Anonymous. In doing so, she said, she could be as frank as she liked.

And two recent Booker Prize winners, John Banville and Julian Barnes, have both turned to crime.

Banville adopted the name Benjamin Black to write a series of noir novels set in '50s Dunlin and  is now working on a new book featuring Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe.

And Barnes created bisexual ex-cop Nick Duffy in four novels sert in London's Soho under the penname Dan Kavanagh.

Both of these literary writers said they found genre fiction easier to write under another name, while Banville got into trouble with the British crime-writing fraternity by saying it was easier to write than the work he produced under his real name.

But neither has had the attention nor sales that the Rowling name guarantees.

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- Sydney Morning Herald


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