IT began with a barely literate tweet.
At 11.34pm, on Wednesday July 10, Fleet Street columnist India Knight told her 95,000 followers that she was enjoying a new novel. “The book I’m reading (detective nov called The Cuckoo’s Call, Robert Galbraith, so good, feat/ghastly cokey v think Mayfair women) has ++”.
A few minutes later, Harriet Green, family editor of The Guardian, asked if it was a good choice for holiday reading. Knight said yes. Then, at 12.07am, a follower called @JudeCallegari dropped a bombshell about the book.
Callegari’s tweets have since been deleted and her account suspended, but it has been possible to piece together for the first time the ensuing conversation between Callegari and Knight, using screengrabs that were taken at the time:
JC: “Written by JK Rowling”
JC: “It’s her pseudonym – promise its true”
IK: “Seriously? How do you know?”
JC: “Seriously. Friend works for publisher”
So began a series of events that would lead to the unmasking of Robert Galbraith as JK Rowling, The Cuckoo’s Calling’s rise from 4,709th position in the Amazon sales chart to number one, and a search for the source of the biggest leak in recent publishing history – a whodunit mystery that would tax even Cormoran Strike, the ex-military police gumshoe at the heart of Rowling’s new book.
When the mystery was finally solved on Thursday, a senior lawyer’s reputation was in question and a Surrey housewife was holed up in her five-bedroom home in Claygate, refusing to answer journalists’ questions over the intercom. As for Rowling, she made it known that she was “very angry” and “disappointed”.
In the hours immediately after Rowling’s cover was blown last weekend, there was a widespread belief that the affair had been a clever publicity campaign orchestrated by her publishers, Little, Brown. Since its publication in April, The Cuckoo’s Calling had sold 449 copies in the UK, according to Nielsen Bookscan, and a further 1,000 copies overseas. And Rowling herself had seemed surprisingly relaxed at being outed. “I had hoped to keep this secret a little longer because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience,” the 47-year-old author said.
But then, as is so often the case, the unmasking of Rowling began to look more like cock-up than conspiracy. By Monday night, bookshops and wholesalers were sold out, and a massive reprint wasn’t going to reach the shelves for five days, even though the publisher’s printers were “working round the clock”. Good for ebook sales, a missed opportunity for bookshops.
And, in a sobering assessment of the publishing industry, it emerged that sales of 1,500 copies in hardback for a debut crime writer were deemed perfectly respectable – certainly not disastrous enough for Little Brown or Rowling herself to turn to the nuclear option of revealing Galbraith’s real identity.
As bookshops and online retailers began to prepare for the imminent and unexpected windfall, attention inevitably turned to the book’s publication back in April. Kate Mills, publishing director of Orion, was brave enough to admit that she had turned it down – a rejection that has been compared, in terms of lost revenue, with the dozen or so publishers who passed on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997. “When the book came in, I thought it was perfectly good,” Mills said. “It was certainly well written – but it didn’t stand out.”
The fact that the manuscript had been sent out to other publishers for consideration suggests that Rowling genuinely wished to remain anonymous for as long as possible, regardless of book sales. Suspicions would have been raised if a debut crime writer’s novel had only been submitted to one editor. It was also sent to established crime writers for “jacket blurbs”, including Val McDermid, Mark Billingham, Peter James. McDermid was “gobsmacked” when she heard the news; she had invited Galbraith to sit on her New Blood panel at this weekend’s Theakston’s crime writing festival in Harrogate.
To be fair, it took a group of experts in forensic linguistics to help establish that The Cuckoo’s Calling had been written by Rowling. Patrick Juola, a professor of computer science at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University, was one of those called in to compare the text with The Casual Vacancy, Rowling’s first adult novel, published last year, and with works by Ruth Rendell, PD James and McDermid. Using various software programs, Juola looked for authorial fingerprints by highlighting the most frequently used words. “Prepositions and articles and similar little function words are actually very individual,” Juola told Time magazine. “It’s actually very, very hard to change them because they’re so subconscious.”
Juola’s computer analysis, though not conclusive, complemented other findings, including Galbraith’s fondness for Latin quotes and a distinctly feminine way of describing women’s clothing. There was also the fact – so obvious with hindsight – that Galbraith and Rowling shared the same publisher, David Shelley at Little, Brown, and the same agent, Neil Blair.
In the end, Rowling admitted that she was Galbraith, but that still didn’t answer the question of who had leaked the story in the first place. Four days after Rowling’s unmasking, journalists pored over the social media profile of the resolutely unmysterious Jude Callegari, looking for something that might connect her with Rowling.
Judith Callegari, to give her full name, is a mother of two who lives in a large detached house in Claygate, Surrey. She is married to Paul Callegari, an employment lawyer with K&L Gates in the City, and on the afternoon of July 10, she shared a sensational secret on Twitter about Galbraith that she had been told by a lawyer. But it wasn’t her husband who had told her. It was Chris Gossage, the husband of Jude’s best friend, who worked for Russells.
The firm, based in Soho, is a highly regarded legal practice that represents clients in the entertainment industry, including Rowling. On Thursday, it issued a statement that finally solved the mystery: “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.”
Gossage joined Russells in 1999 and qualified as a solicitor in 2001. As a partner, he currently heads up the corporate department. The Solicitors Regulation Authority has so far refused to comment on whether the firm has been reported for breach of confidentiality.
It would surprise no one if Rowling has lodged a formal complaint. In a public statement, she all but issued a Cruciatus curse against Russells: “A tiny number of people knew my pseudonym and it has not been pleasant to wonder for days how a woman whom I had never heard of prior to Sunday night could have found out something that many of my oldest friends did not know.
“I had assumed that I could expect total confidentiality from Russells, a reputable professional firm, and I feel very angry that my trust turned out to be misplaced.”
After this, the names Gossage and Callegari may well feature as unflattering characters in the next Galbraith novel. But perhaps the real villain here is Twitter and the dangers of an idle, midnight tweet.
Jon Stock, Telegraph.co.uk