In today’s news, the lawyer who “leaked” J.K. Rowling’s secret identity as Robert Galbraith was fined for breaching a client confidence. Below is my version of what might have happened had the case gone to trial.
News Item: J.K. Rowling Settles Legal Action With Russells Solicitors – UPI
News Item: Lawyer Behind J.K. Rowling ‘Galbraith’ Leak Fined £1,000 – The Bookseller
BAILIFF: Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye! The Queen’s Bench Division of Her Majesty’s High Court of Justice is now in session, the Honorable Percy Utley-Hampstead presiding.
THE COURT: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we are here today in the matter of Rowling v. Russells Solicitors, et al., which is a civil action for damages resulting from the defendants’ alleged leak of the plaintiff’s secret identity. Mr. Mayhew, please call your first witness.
MORTIMER TIPTON-MAYHEW, QC: Thank you, your Lordship. The plaintiff calls, well, the plaintiff, Ms. Joanne Rowling.
THE WITNESS, MS. ROWLING, IS DULY SWORN.
BY MR. TIPTON-MAYHEW: Please state your name for the record.
MS. ROWLING: I’m afraid that’s rather complicated.
TIMOTHY ERSKIN-FINCH, QC: Objection!
THE COURT: Quite right, Mr. Mayhew. We must have the witness’ name.
MS. ROWLING: Very well. I am J.K. Rowling.
MR. TIPTON-MAYHEW: Your occupation, madam?
MS. ROWLING: I am an author. Not only of the beloved young adult fiction for which I am world-famous, but also of literary fiction and now, under the name Robert Galbraith, of crime fiction as well.
MR. TIPTON-MAYHEW: Bit of an all-rounder, one might say?
MS. ROWLING: One might.
MR. TIPTON-MAYHEW: Please describe the injury you suffered as a result of the defendants’ disclosure that the true author of the novel The Cuckoo’s Calling, published under the pseudonym of this Galbraith chap, was in fact you, the famous J.K. Rowling.
MS. ROWLING: I was angry and distressed that my confidences had been betrayed, and this was very much aggravated by repeated speculation that the leak had been, in fact, a carefully-coordinated publicity stunt by me, my agent, and my publishers to increase sales.
MR. TIPTON-MAYHEW: Thank you, madam. No further questions.
THE COURT: Cross-examination?
BY MR. ERSKIN-FINCH: Thank you, your Lordship. Now Ms. Rowling, the income from your novels and related properties has made you the thirteenth wealthiest woman in the United Kingdom, has it not?
MS. ROWLING: Twelfth, thirteenth. Who’s counting, really?
MR. ERSKIN-FINCH: Wealthier than Her Majesty, the Queen?
MS. ROWLING: Well . . .
MR. ERSKIN-FINCH: And yet The Cuckoo’s Calling sold only a few hundred copies until your true identity was revealed, after which the book leapt to the top of the bestseller lists, prompting your publisher to print an additional 140,000 copies.
MS. ROWLING: All true.
MR. ERSKIN-FINCH: Will you please explain to the ladies and gentlemen of the jury how it’s possible that you’ve been damaged by overnight success and millions upon millions in sales revenue?
MS. ROWLING: Gladly.
(THE WITNESS TURNS TO THE JURY.)
When I first wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, I didn’t set out to be rich or famous. No, I only wanted to be a writer – an ink-stained wretch in a ratty track suit, eating tinned anchovies and ignoring personal hygiene, spending nine, ten hours a day for years on end squinting at a blinking cursor and ruing the day I’d begun this godforsaken, soul-sucking novel that no one but my dog would ever read. You see, I wanted to suffer. I wanted to endure rejection and condescension from agents and editors who’d never actually written anything in their lives. Scorn from the publishers of diet books, and celebrity memoirs, and cozy mysteries with titles like Death Takes a Hollandaise. Pity from friends and family.
And then I wanted to sign a publishing contract – oh, happy day! – with a £1,000 advance against a ten percent royalty, only to pay for my own jacket photograph, my own publicist, my own book tour. I wanted to post status updates on Facebook touting my latest review on Goodreads. I wanted to attend writers’ conferences at my own expense, where I’d be charged tuition in order to sit on panels with names like “Crafting the Query Letter” and tell starry-eyed newbies how they too might one day live the glamorous life of the writer.
But alas, it was never to be. The Harry Potter books were a sensation, and you know the rest. Translation into sixty languages. Hundreds of millions sold. Then the film franchise, and the theme park. Soon I’d amassed a personal fortune of over £500 million. The dream, of course, was dead.
THE COURT: A tissue, Ms. Rowling?
MS. ROWLING: Thank you, your Lordship.
And then one day it hit me – the dream wasn’t dead after all! I could simply start over, not as J.K. Rowling, world’s most successful living author, but as Robert Galbraith, a former Royal Military Police investigator turned debut crime novelist. That was the ticket! And it was going quite brilliantly – obscurity, poor sales – when suddenly it all fell to pieces. Success, that cruel and fickle mistress, had returned again to haunt me, leaving me with only one alternative.
MR. ERSKIN-FINCH: Litigation?
MS. ROWLING: Naturally. Somebody had to pay.
Chuck Greaves is the author of three novels, most recently Green-Eyed Lady (Minotaur).