Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Tuesday, October 02, 2012
JK Rowling: Secret darkness behind The Casual Vacancy
As JK Rowling's The Casual Vacancy is finally published, Gaby Wood speaks to
her editor and her agent about the Harry Potter author's disturbing first novel
JK Rowling's The Casual Vacancy
is an unremittingly bleak bookPhoto: Christopher
Sometime last year, on a date none of the interested parties cares to
specify, three people met for lunch at a restaurant in London. David Shelley,
the 35-year-old Publisher of Little, Brown, arrived to find his lunch companion,
the lawyer and agent Neil Blair, sitting next to a blonde woman. “The woman
turned round and my jaw dropped to the floor,” Shelley told me earlier this
week. “I recognised her instantly: it was Jo Rowling. She said, ‘I’m Jo.’ And I
said, ‘I know… I know who you are’. It was an extraordinary moment.”
The biggest-selling author on Earth was about to defect from her publisher of
nearly 15 years, from her agent of the same period, and – most likely – her
readers. Rowling had virtually finished the 500-page manuscript of The Casual
Vacancy, her first book for adults, but she did not tell David Shelley this
and did not, over the course of that lunch, discuss any project in particular.
Only Rowling and Blair knew what was in question. By the end of that afternoon
Rowling had chosen Shelley, who for the most part publishes crime fiction, to be
the editor of The Casual Vacancy. The book was not shown to any other
publisher, there was no auction, and news of its existence was withheld until
February this year.
So began the life of the biggest publishing event of the 21st century. Much
has been made of the legal documents that have had to be signed by anyone
requesting an advance copy of Rowling’s novel – one newspaper dubbed the
contract a “super-embargo”, likening it to a super-injunction.
JK Rowling is so exceptional one wonders how to deal with her taxonomically:
should a new species be invented, perhaps? Her book is not just a book because
she is not just an author – she is a phenomenon: call her J Ro. It’s hard to
imagine how someone so adored, and clung-to, and scrutinised, can find the room
of her own required to write what is proposed as a serious novel for adults.
Rowling herself – clearly keen not to seem ungracious – has said recently that
she is “the freest author in the world”, because she has no need of the income
from this book, and because for the five years it has taken her to write it, it
was entirely under wraps. But in many ways she is the least free. She told the
Leveson inquiry that she had been forced to hire privacy lawyers on at least 50
occasions. The editor of the fourth Harry Potter book – the one that changed
Rowling’s life – was mugged in the street and had her car broken into twice, by
people presumed to be in search of the manuscript. In 2005, an armed security
guard who had stolen a copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
fired a gun as he was trying to sell it to a reporter. When I speak to Rowling’s
agent, he seems mystified and almost hurt by the suggestion that anything other
than precedent has prompted the need for secrecy and protection.
Such is the paranoia surrounding Rowling that a pre-arranged interview with
her editor David Shelley, not due to appear until after the book’s publication
date, partly resembles a Monty Python sketch: Read it at The Telegraph