Everyone has heard of J.K. Rowling thanks to the Harry Potter series. I can’t even quite remember a time when the name wasn’t familiar to me because I grew up with the series. Now have you ever heard of Robert Galbraith?
Born in 1968, Robert Galbraith is married with two sons. After several years of working with the Royal Military Police, he began working for the SIB (Special Investigation Branch), the plain-clothes branch of the RMP. He left the military in 2003 and has been working since then in the civilian security industry. His first attempt at a novel was The Cuckoo’s Calling which was published in April 2013. The idea for the protagonist of the novel, Cormoran Strike, grew directly out of his own experiences and those of his military friends. (Losowsky)
Sounds like any ordinary author with a lot of military experience to draw from, right? To the unsuspecting eye, that’s all he was, an ordinary author selling 1,500 hard copies and 7,000 e-books, library, and audio sells his first three months after the novel was released, nothing fancy. The novel was ranked 4,709 on Amazon’s bestsellers listing and had received a few positive reviews from trade magazines. The novel reached number one in UK audiobook sales and had received two offers from television productions. For only being a few months, Galbraith’s fame proved to be small but favorable.
Then in just three month in July 2013, it was revealed that Robert Galbraith didn’t really have any military background, in fact Robert wasn’t really Robert at all but the ever so famous J.K. Rowling! Overnight, The Cuckoo’s Calling went from being ranked number 4,709 to number 3 on Amazon’s bestsellers listing and sales increased by 156,866% like magic (Hern). Who would’ve thought a name could hold so much power?
At first it seemed as though this was just a marketing ploy by Rowling’s publishers to help boost sales, but as Rowling has stated on the FAQ page of Robert Galbraith’s website, “As for the pseudonym, I was yearning to go back to the beginning of a writing career in this new genre, to work without hype or expectation and to receive totally unvarnished feedback. It was a fantastic experience and I only wish it could have gone on a little longer” proving that no marketing campaign was involved. In fact, Rowling had only mentioned her secret to a couple of people, failing to tell even some of her closest friends.
So how did the news get leaked?
Social Media. The world where news spreads faster than wildfire and Twitter is the match, the moment something important is posted, it already has thousands of retweets.
Out of the few people who Rowling told her secret to, she never expected Russells, a reputable law firm, to be the one to blow her cover. According to Dassanayake, the leak of the real identity of Galbraith was traced to a Twitter user named Jude Callegari whose account had been deleted. Jude was linked to the London-based law firm and is said to be best friend of the wife of one of the firm’s partners, Chris Gossage. Rowling’s law firm Russells said they apologized ‘unreservedly’ for the leak. The law firm said: “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” (Dassanayake).
The thing about Twitter is that anyone can say whatever they feel like, whether it’s the truth or not. Once hearing of this news, the Sunday Times in London was not about to publish this story without any hard evidence. This is where two experts were called in to use forensic linguistics otherwise known as stylometry to help solve the mystery. Stylometrics tends to rely on broad statistical analyses of how words are used and their sentence construction.
One of the experts on stylometry was Patrick Juola. Juola has been researching the subject, with a focus on authorship attribution, for about a decade. He uses a computer program to analyze and compare word usage in different texts in order to determine whether books were written by the same person.
A part of what stylometrics does is demonstrate the use of “rare pairs,” or idiosyncratic two-word phrases that an author uses regularly, probably unconsciously, more so than other comparable writers (Rothman). Juola uses a program called Java Graphical Authorship Attribution to pull out the hundred most frequently used words that an author uses. This is in order to eliminate rare words, like character names and point plots, which leave him with idiosyncratic two-word phrases and words like of and but, which are then ranked by how often they are used. For most people those words seem unimportant in solving the matter, but prepositions and articles leave an authorial fingerprint on any word because they can’t be changed since it’s part of the subconscious mind.
Juola was provided with four different texts to compare against The Cuckoo’s Calling: Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, Ruth Rendell’s The St. Zita Society, P.D. James’ The Private Patient and Val McDermid’s The Wire in the Blood. According to Juola, “In this particular case, I wasn’t that certain at all” (Rothman) because he was only given these four texts to compare to The Cuckoo’s Calling. The only thing this proved was that out of all four of the novels, The Cuckoo’s Calling was most similar to Rowling’s work which only meant that she was more likely to be the writer than any of the other three authors. Even with such little evidence, they took what they found and confronted Rowling’s publisher, who then confirmed their findings.
Now, being curious as to what phrases exactly proved to be similar, I did a little more research where I then found a Yahoo article where Chris Wilson did his own analysis of the novel and compared it to several dozen comparable texts. By using the final two Harry Potter books, The Casual Vacancy, and The Cuckoo’s Calling–which Wilson had already learned that Rowling wrote–and thirty-six other books that were used as a control group, Wilson found fifteen distinct phrases seen consistently in Rowling’s novels. Using the phrases, Wilson used the Natural Language Toolkit Library for Python to identify two-word phrases that appear in at least three of the four Rowling books and in no more than four of the rest of the 36 books. In order to test against coincidence, Wilson also used a fifth Rowling book to check for the phrases found in the other four books and found that they were still present in the fifth.
One of the phrases found:
The Casual Vacancy
“How many people d’you think knew the door code before Lula died?”
“Growing up black in a white family, what d’you think?”
“How d’you think Wilson shapes up as a possible killer?” Strike asked the policeman.”
“So why d’you think she didn’t call to say she couldn’t see you?”
“Oh God, yeah, what d’you think? How would you feel if someone had written songs about…
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
“Where d’you think you’re going?” yelled Uncle Vernon. When Harry didn’t reply…
“Who said none of us was putting the news out?” said Sirius. “Why d’you think Dumbledore’s in such trouble?”
“So who d’you think‘s got it now?” asked George.
“How many hours d’you think you’re doing a day?” he demanded of Harry….
As well as other phrases like, “Bloodshot eyes,” “panting slightly,” “inside pocket.” The list of all phrases can be found here
In addition to the literary science of stylometry, upon reading the novel myself there were a few clues in The Cuckoo’s Calling that reminded me of Harry Potter. As part of the prologue, Rowling inserted a quote by Lucius Accius, “Unhappy is he whose fame makes his misfortunes famous.” Well the author of the quote automatically makes me think of the ever so notorious, Lucius Malfoy–you know, pure-blood, long blonde hair, always carried around a cane with a snake as a head.Then the quote itself makes me think of Harry Potter and how he became famous–being the only one to survive Voldemort’s killing curse. Another clue would be Cormoran Strike who is described as being bulky, hairy and messy and lives where he works. When Cormoran meets Robin, his soon-to-be assistant, he almost knocks her over and tells her of his “secret world,” his private detective life. It looks like Rowling couldn’t erase the image of Hagrid out of her head! Finally, one of the last clues I thought sounded suspicious was the supermodel who dies in the novel, Lula Landry–does Luna Lovegood ring a bell?
Even if Rowling’s secret wasn’t tweeted to the whole world, I think eventually, people would have caught on. Would the book have sold as many copies? Probably not, but it is definitely interesting to think about how she would have improved as a writer with truthful feedback.
Dassanayake, Dion. “JK Rowling ‘very Angry’ at being Unmasked as Author of the Cuckoo’s Calling.” Telegraph Media Group Limited. 18 July 2013. ProQuest. Web. 29 May 2014.
Hern, Alex. “Sales of “The Cuckoo’s Calling” Surge by 150,000% after JK Rowling Revealed as Author.” New Statesman. New Statesman, 14 July 2013. Web. 01 June 2014.
Losowsky, Andrew. “JK Rowling Pseudonym: Robert Galbraith’s ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ Is Actually By Harry Potter Author.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 13 July 2013. Web. 04 June 2014.
Rothman, Lily. “J.K. Rowling’s Secret: Forensic Linguist Explains How He Figured It Out.” Entertainment. Time Inc., 15 July 2013. Web. 04 June 2014.
Rowling, J. K. “Robert Galbraith FAQ.” Robert Galbraith. The Blair Partnership, 2013. Web. 29 May 2014.
Wilson, Chris. “15 Signs That J.K. Rowling Wrote the Book You’re Reading.”Yahoo! News. Yahoo!, 24 July 2013. Web. 3 June 2014.