The J.K. Rowling Index

List of all J.K. Rowling's writings.

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The Strange Tale of J.K. Rowling and the Bengal Tiger Reserve

Index ID: BENTIG — Publication date: February 18th, 2020

Even by Wizarding World standards, this one is bizarre.  Rumours were recently circulating that J.K. Rowling was collaborating on, or even writing, a book called What’s Left of the Jungle Book, based on the exploits of a guide at a West Bengal tiger reserve in India.  It turns out the rumour was the result of a chain of misunderstandings, mistranslations and over-eager speculation between a group of students, the reserve guide and a potential publisher.  J.K. Rowling has not arranged to meet the guide in California, has never visited the Buxa Tiger Reserve, and has no plans to base any work – fact or fiction – on this subject.


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On Writing

Index ID: OW — Publication date: January 6th, 2019

Q. Do you have tips for others trying to write?

A: I have to say that I can’t stand lists of ‘must do’s’, whether in life or in writing. Something rebels in me when I’m told what I have to do before I’m fifty, or have to buy this season, or have to write if I want to be a success.

Ten Habits All Best-Selling Writers Have In Common. These Five Tips Will Transform Your Writing! Follow J.K. Rowling’s Golden Rules For Success!

I haven’t got ten rules that guarantee success, although I promise I’d share them if I did. The truth is that I found success by stumbling off alone in a direction most people thought was a dead end, breaking all the 1990s shibboleths about children’s books in the process. Male protagonists are unfashionable. Boarding schools are anathema. No kids book should be longer than 45,000 words.

So forget the ‘must do’s’ and concentrate on the ‘you probably won’t get far withouts’, which are:

Reading

This is especially for younger writers. You can’t be a good writer without being a devoted reader. Reading is the best way of analysing what makes a good book. Notice what works and what doesn’t, what you enjoyed and why. At first you’ll probably imitate your favourite writers, but that’s a good way to learn. After a while, you’ll find your own distinctive voice.

Discipline

Moments of pure inspiration are glorious, but most of a writer’s life is, to adapt the old cliché, about perspiration rather than inspiration. Sometimes you have to write even when the muse isn’t cooperating.

Resilience and humility

These go hand-in-hand, because rejection and criticism are part of a writer’s life. Informed feedback is useful and necessary, but some of the greatest writers were rejected multiple times. Being able to pick yourself up and keep going is invaluable if you’re to survive your work being publicly assessed. The harshest critic is often inside your own head. These days I can usually calm that particular critic down by feeding her a biscuit and giving her a break, although in the early days I sometimes had to take a week off before she’d take a more kindly view of the work in progress. Part of the reason there were seven years between having the idea for Philosopher’s Stone and getting it published, was that I kept putting the manuscript away for months at a time, convinced it was rubbish.

Courage

Fear of failure is the saddest reason on earth not to do what you were meant to do. I finally found the courage to start submitting my first book to agents and publishers at a time when I felt a conspicuous failure. Only then did I decide that I was going to try this one thing that I always suspected I could do, and, if it didn’t work out, well, I’d faced worse and survived.

Ultimately, wouldn’t you rather be the person who actually finished the project you’re dreaming about, rather than the one who talks about ‘always having wanted to’?

Independence

By this, I mean resisting the pressure to think you have to follow all the Top Ten Tips religiously, which these days take the form not just of online lists, but of entire books promising to tell you how to write a bestseller/what you MUST do to be published/how to make a million dollars from writing.

I often recommend a website called Writer Beware (https://accrispin.blogspot.com) to new and aspiring writers. It’s a fantastic resource for anyone who’s trying to decide what might be useful, what’s worth paying for and what should be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately, there are all kinds of scams out there that didn’t exist when I started out, especially online.

Ultimately, in writing as in life, your job is to do the best you can, improving your own inherent limitations where possible, learning as much as you can and accepting that perfect works of art are only slightly less rare than perfect human beings. I’ve often taken comfort from Robert Benchley’s words: ‘It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up, because by that time I was too famous.’

 

Q. What do you love most about the writing life?

A: I can’t answer this without sounding melodramatic. The truth is that I can’t really separate a ‘writing life’ from ‘life.’ It’s more of a need than a love. I suppose I must spend most of my conscious life in fictional worlds, which some people may find sad, as though there must be something lacking in my external life. There really isn’t! I’m a happy person, by and large, with a family I adore and quite a few activities I enjoy. It’s just that I have other worlds in my head that I often slip in and out of and I don’t really know how it would feel to live any other way.

 

Q. What does it feel like having your work scrutinised? 

A: Having your work scrutinised is an inevitable concomitant of being a professional writer. I never dreamed that there would be a fandom the size of Harry Potter’s picking over the books. It’s staggering and wonderful. Given that I’m fairly obsessive myself, these are kindred spirits.

I could have spent literally every hour of every day discussing Potter characters, plot twists and theories with fans over the last ten years, but as I want to work on new things, I don’t give in to this temptation that frequently.

I miss the days when readings and events were slightly more low key.  I’m not complaining, but when audiences grow big you obviously can’t reach everyone who wants to ask you a question. Being able to engage with people on Twitter goes some way to solving this for me.  It’s astounding that people are still so interested in those books, and I doubt I’ll ever stop interacting as long as there are readers who know the world so well.

I’m in a new phase with the fandom right now, because I’m working within the wizarding world again, on Fantastic Beasts. Once again, I’m balancing wanting to interact with fans, with not being able to answer certain questions fully, because we’re only two films into a five film series. It’s a nice problem to have, though.


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Answers to Questions #3

Index ID: AQ3 — Publication date: November 12th, 2018

Q: Do you create as much detail beyond what we see in the Fantastic Beasts films as you did for the Harry Potter books?

A: Warner Bros had optioned the rights to the Fantastic Beasts years previously, so I knew that it might one day become a movie, but the only discussions we’d ever had about it were quite vague. I do remember thinking that if anything ever came of it, I’d have to make sure they got Newt Scamander right, because even though he never appeared except as a name within the Potter books, I knew a lot about him. He’d captured my imagination while I was writing his little book. I envisioned a doggedly different, awkward man who was at a loss with humans but phenomenally skilled with beasts.

As for Dumbledore and Grindelwald, I knew a huge amount more than ever appeared in the books, and this is my chance to show/tell some of it. Of course, in a film, one is revealing a story in a very different way than one does in a novel. Sometimes a single look does the job of three paragraphs. As readers of the original books will know, the pair of them don’t meet for a long time between their teenage interactions and their epoch-making confrontation in 1945. Nevertheless, we’ll be exploring their backstory in the films.

 

Q: What kinds of ‘beasts’ are we dealing with here – human or animal?

A: The idea of beasts works on several different levels within the movies. There’s the literal sense of non-human creatures: some of them cute, some of them terrifying, some simply strange. Then there is the metaphorical sense of the beast inside a man, the crude emotions that a manipulative genius like Grindelwald knows how to stoke and use. We’re also dealing with the idea of beastly people:  that some humans are something less than human.  Even where there is great charisma and intelligence, there may be an utter lack of conscience. Finally, I’m exploring the idea of creating beasts, which is to say, othering or dehumanising our fellow people, as the first step towards cruelty or extermination.

So through this beastly landscape walk our original four characters, led by the shambling figure of Newt Scamander, who loves the purity of creatures that the world might call monsters. The human world around Newt and his friends is becoming darker and more complex, and the original hunt for escaped creatures will become a hunt for something much more elusive and difficult: a return to humanity.


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Answers to Questions #2

Index ID: AQ2 — Publication date: September 1st, 2018

1. How do you manage two very different fictional worlds (Cormoran Strike and the Wizarding World) and two very different formats (books and screenplays)?

I’ve never had any problem moving between fictional worlds, even if I’m working on them simultaneously. There can be a lot of hanging around waiting for notes on the draft of a movie script, so I like to have a novel on the go in the background.

I envision the different fictional worlds as different rooms to which I have access. At worst, when entering one of the rooms, I have to spend a bit of time re-orientating myself, finding my bearings again, checking what I’ve put in which drawers. However, they’re discrete places in my head, and the moment I re-enter one of the worlds, the characters are as fully real to me as when I left them. Cormoran Strike has never reached for a magic wand, and Newt Scamander doesn’t limp or drink Doom Bar.

The difference between screenplays and novels is more challenging. It isn’t that one is intrinsically easier than the other, but that I’m far less used to writing the former, whereas novels and I are old friends.

2. What comes first, plot or character? 

I’m most interested in character, but plot usually comes first. I need to know the broad outline of the story before I start hatching characters. Having said that, a couple of stories have grown out of a single character. Character can be plot.

3. How do you come up with titles and how important are they?

Titles usually suggest themselves, but coming up with them always make me nervous. I think they’re quite important, which adds pressure. I have no idea what the third Beasts movie will be called, even though I already know the whole story. On the other hand, I already know the titles of the fifth Galbraith book and the children’s story I’m writing next.

4. Does the process of making film and TV put pressure on you to write faster, and do audiences’ reactions influence where you go with plot and how you develop characters? 

Fan reactions to Harry Potter were both exhilarating and overwhelming, often at the same time. I saw it as my job back then to make sure that I arrived at the ending I had planned for the series before the first book was even published. The final destination was hugely important to me, for reasons that were both personal and artistic, and I plotted a course towards it despite being subjected to a lot of (almost entirely good-natured) buffeting from readers.  Part of the fun of a series is the way people invest in the relationships from book to book (or film to film), and I love the fact that people have strong opinions on what should happen next. On the other hand, I never set pen to paper without knowing way more than will eventually appear on the page or screen, and I usually have a fairly strong idea of where I’m going, that won’t change.

In the case of the Beasts movies, I’m writing original screenplays, so there’s a practical need for the work to be done by a specific date so that filming can commence on time.

Where the Cormoran Strike novels are concerned, and even though I love the TV adaptations, I still finish the novel when it’s ready, no sooner! When I agreed to the books being adapted for TV I made it clear that the books would come as and when Robert Galbraith chose. Luckily, he loves writing them, so we should hopefully be seeing Strike on TV for some time to come.

5. Why choose Twitter rather than a well-placed press article or interview to make your opinions known?

Well, firstly that assumes that my main objective in tweeting is to ‘make my opinions known’ rather than what I think most people’s reason is for being on Twitter, which is to engage with other people, to debate and joke. I think for a lot of well-known people, it’s a bracing dose of normality.  Nobody’s shy about telling you you’re an idiot. Twitter’s a great leveller. It isn’t for everyone, but nearly all the writers I know love it, because they’re in their own medium.

There’s a time and a place for a press article, but tweeting is something that happens for me on writing breaks. At its best, it’s fun and fascinating. People in all their diversity and strangeness interest me more than anything else on the planet, and Twitter is as good a place as I’ve ever found for seeing human nature in the raw!


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Answers to Questions #1

Index ID: AQ1 — Publication date: May 30th, 2018

1. What are you writing right now?

I’ve just finished the fourth Galbraith novel, Lethal White, and I’m now writing the screenplay for Fantastic Beasts 3. After that I’ll be writing another book for children. I’ve been playing with the (non-Harry Potter/wizarding world) story for about six years, so it’s about time I get it down on paper.

2. What is a typical writing day?

I try to start work before 9am. My writing room is probably my favourite place in the world. It’s in the garden, about a minute’s walk from the house. There’s a central room where I work, a kettle, a sink and a cupboard-sized bathroom. The radio is usually tuned to classical music, because I find human voices the most distracting when I’m working, although a background buzz, as in a café, is always comforting. I used to love writing in cafés and gave it up reluctantly, but part of the point of being alone in a crowd was being happily anonymous and free to people-watch, and when you’re the one being watched, you become too self-conscious to work.

The earlier in the day I start, the more productive I am. In the last year or two I’ve put in a couple of all-nighters on the screenplays for Fantastic Beasts, but otherwise I try and keep my writing to the daytime. If I’ve started around nine, I can usually work through to about 3pm before I need more than a short break. During this writing time, I generally manage to drink eight or nine mugs of tea. Being incredibly clumsy, prefer eating things that won’t ruin the keyboard when dropped. Popcorn’s ideal.

3. You have collaborated on several projects. How does that work?

By nature I’m quite solitary, so novels and I suit each other perfectly, but the collaborations I’ve been involved in have been pure joy, mainly because of the people involved.

For ten years I said no to proposals to adapt Harry for the stage, usually as a musical, and using the existing books. So when I met producers Sonia Friedman and Colin Callender, I wasn’t sure what I was going to hear. I only knew that they wanted to do something new, which was intriguing, because I had no desire to go endlessly back over old ground.

I couldn’t have asked for better collaborators on the stage play than John Tiffany (director) and Jack Thorne (writer). Incredibly, John and I knew each to say hello to years ago, when I used to write in the café at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. When we met for the first time about Cursed Child, I stared at him, thinking, he looks so familiar, where have I met him? And he told me, and the whole thing felt oddly fated.

I told John and Jack what I thought had happened to Harry, Ron and Hermione in later years, explained how focused I was on Harry’s son Albus, who’d been given the burden of not one, but three legendary names, and together we created the story that Jack wrote.

I have so many wonderful memories of the earliest rehearsals, of seeing the costumes and illusions for the first time, but what I remember most fondly about the three of us working together is the laughter. I loved the process from beginning to end.

I particularly remember the first full dress rehearsal I watched. By this time I knew the script backwards, had heard it read all the way through and watched individual scenes acted, but nothing prepared me for seeing it in its entirety, in the theatre. I found it incredibly moving and it brought back a tsunami of memories about the seventeen years I spent creating the characters and writing the Harry Potter books. John and Jack did a superb job. Very few people have come inside the world with me and it creates a particular bond.

The big difference between theatre and movies for me is scale. When I go down to WB Studios Leavesden and see a thousand people at work on Fantastic Beasts, building sets, making costumes, doing digital effects, making models and props and all the hundreds of other things that go into making a movie, it can feel utterly overwhelming. Terrifying thoughts run through your mind, such as, I must not break an arm, because all these people’s jobs depend on me getting the screenplay finished.

However, at the heart of the process is a very similar collaboration to the one I had on Cursed Child, this time with David Yates, the director, and Steve Kloves, who was the writer on seven of the eight Potter films and is a producer on Beasts.

In spite of the fact that I’d watched Steve close up for all those years, I found screenwriting utterly different from novel writing and very challenging at first. Basically, I learned how to write a screenplay as I went along, knowing that the movie was definitely going to be made, which is, to say the least, atypical. Steve gives great, pithy notes. The one that made me laugh longest was when I had a character in a cut scene in an early draft say, ‘They’re children!’. He said, ‘Yeah, unless we’ve got the casting badly wrong, that’ll probably be obvious.’

David knows the world of Potter intimately now, after directing four of the eight original movies. I love working with him. I learn a lot just listening to him talk about images. Even though I have a highly visual imagination, I’ve had to learn just how much can be said onscreen without a word, and David and Steve have taught me that.

The thing with movies is, however frustrated you get with the screenwriting process, and right at the moment when you think ‘never again, this is too hard’, you go down to the film set and join in with one big glorious game of pretend, with the world’s best pretenders saying your words, and dressing out of the most fabulous dressing up box, and what with the lights and the smoke and the music you’re suddenly in love with the process all over again.

4. What exactly is your role as producer? How much say do you have in the look and feel of the films?

Warner Bros and David Yates, the director, have always let me have my say, though not necessarily the final word. That’s true of all the producers, of whom I’m only one: our input is taken seriously but it is very much a collaborative effort.  The director is ultimately responsible for everything that’s seen on the screen. As the screenwriter, the majority of my input comes at an earlier stage.

5. Do you write for readers or for yourself?

This is a tricky question in some ways, because a writer who truly only wrote for themselves probably wouldn’t try and get published. At the same time, I agree with Cyril Connolly’s words: ‘Better to write for yourself and have no public, than write for the public and have no self.’

I certainly write ‘for myself’ in the sense that I have to write. It’s almost a compulsion. I need to do it. I don’t feel like myself if I’m not writing regularly, and I feel restless and odd if I have nothing to write, which these days is never, because I’ve got so many different projects on the go, by choice. I also write for myself in that I need to feel excited about a story to want to capture it on paper. I’m afraid I couldn’t write anything just because I knew people wanted it. The impetus always has to come from within.

On the other hand, no story lives unless someone is prepared to listen. As a writer, your highest aspiration is to touch people, to connect, to amuse or console. What could be more wonderful than hearing that your book helped somebody through a tough time? I think of the times when books have been my best consolation and source of strength, and I’m proud beyond words when I hear that anything I wrote did the same for other people.


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Twitter blocking

Index ID: TWBLCK — Publication date: December 7th, 2017

Note: Published on J.K. Rowling's official website.

I have one simple rule when I block people on Twitter, which I do very rarely.  I block when my personal line has been crossed in terms of aggressive or insulting language.

Some recent publicity was given to the fact that I blocked a fan on Twitter. Contrary to the fan in question’s assertion, they were not blocked because they asked a question about Johnny Depp playing Grindelwald.

I saw several of this particular individual’s tweets by chance, and they were saying things to and about me, and about somebody with whom I work closely, that crossed the line of what I’m prepared to accept.   The question about Grindelwald was not one of those tweets and I didn’t see it until the person in question began claiming that that was why they had been blocked.

Twitter has given me back a way of talking to readers directly and allows me a profound connection with a fandom that is, in the main, kind, tolerant and friendly.   However, I have a duty towards my own mental health and happiness, too.  The block button, is a useful last resort at times when somebody either forgets, or perhaps doesn’t care, that they are talking to a fellow human being.


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Grindelwald casting

Index ID: GGCAST — Publication date: December 7th, 2017

When Johnny Depp was cast as Grindelwald, I thought he’d be wonderful in the role. However, around the time of filming his cameo in the first movie, stories had appeared in the press that deeply concerned me and everyone most closely involved in the franchise.

Harry Potter fans had legitimate questions and concerns about our choice to continue with Johnny Depp in the role. As David Yates, long-time Potter director, has already said, we naturally considered the possibility of recasting. I understand why some have been confused and angry about why that didn’t happen.

The huge, mutually supportive community that has grown up around Harry Potter is one of the greatest joys of my life. For me personally, the inability to speak openly to fans about this issue has been difficult, frustrating and at times painful. However, the agreements that have been put in place to protect the privacy of two people, both of whom have expressed a desire to get on with their lives, must be respected.  Based on our understanding of the circumstances, the filmmakers and I are not only comfortable sticking with our original casting, but genuinely happy to have Johnny playing a major character in the movies.

I’ve loved writing the first two screenplays and I can’t wait for fans to see ‘The Crimes of Grindelwald’. I accept that there will be those who are not satisfied with our choice of actor in the title role. However, conscience isn’t governable by committee. Within the fictional world and outside it, we all have to do what we believe to be the right thing.


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Cursed Child film rumours

Index ID: CCFRUM — Publication date: January 20th, 2017

Welcome to the first bit of rubbish in my wastepaper basket…

A rumour has made its way all the way into the press that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will be made into a film – and not just one film! A trilogy, with Dan, Emma and Rupert returning to their original roles, to be released in 2026.

I have no idea how these stories emerge, but to set the record straight once and for all: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a stage play, it was conceived and written as a stage play, it was always intended to be a stage play and nothing else, and there are absolutely no plans for it to become a movie, a novel, a puppet show, a cartoon, a comic book series or Cursed Child on Ice.


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Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them – Intro to signed edition

Index ID: INTFBSE — Publication date: November 12, 2016

Note: This signed copy of the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them screenplay was for some people who attended the event with J.K. Rowling at Carnegie Hall, in 2016. However, in 2017, Lumos made available 10 more copies of this signed book for the first 10 people who donated $2,500.

As a token of my gratitude, here is a special keepsake from the Lumos benefit screening you attended at Carnegie Hall on November 12, 2016.

This book of the screenplay of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is one of a very limited number I have signed especially for this event.

Thanks to your support, we can help transform the lives of the 8 million vulnerable children currently in orphanages around the world, making sure they are not left in the dark or forgotten, and drive a global movement to end the institutionalization of children -for good- by 2050.

I hope you enjoyed the evening and can find a place on your bookshelf for this memento.

On behalf of Lumos, thank you.

J.K. Rowling


The following images are related to this writing


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Violent Femmes album for RAM

Index ID: VFRAM — Publication date: September 1st, 2016

I’m not quite sure how the Violent Femmes passed me by. I turned 18 the year this album came out, but I was obsessed with The Beatles at the time. Of contemporary bands I really loved, the standouts were the Smiths and the Psychedelic Furs. I loved any band with a great guitarist. I played guitar myself, mostly alone in my bedroom.

It’s possible that I heard the Violent Femmes but I’ve forgotten. They could easily have been part of the informal seminars on alternative music I received from the muso I dated in my late teens. His parents were Dutch and we hung out mostly at his house, because we were allowed to smoke in his attic bedroom. I’ve got happy memories of sunlit wooden rafters and smoke rings and walls covered in black and white pictures he’d clipped out of NME, while the Dead Kennedys, Jah Wobble or the Birthday Party blasted out of the speakers. Setting aside the fact that I had a pair of very long-lived goldfish named after Guggi and Gavin of the Virgin Prunes, I never became a whole-hearted convert of his favourite bands. Much as I adored him, I didn’t share Muso Boyfriend’s attitude to music: his scorn for the accessible and tuneful, the baffling mixture of irony and obsession with which he regarded his favourites, and his conviction that if the herd hates something, it’s almost certainly brilliant.

The NME was Muso Boyfriend’s bible and it took a hard line on nearly anything commercial or popular, talking about bands in the top ten with the kind of contempt most people reserve for child abusers. A few real Gods could be forgiven commercial success, obviously: people like Bowie or the Stones, but the likes of Nik Kershaw might as well have been Thatcher herself as far as NME were concerned

When the Stranglers released ‘Feline’ and it went to number 4 in the album charts, an NME journo went into meltdown, ranting about the fact that people who’d never heard ‘Rattus Norvegicus’ were now calling themselves Stranglers fans. You could almost see the flecks of spittle on the page. (I’d bought ‘Feline.’ I didn’t own ‘Rattus Norvegicus.’) And I still vividly remember an NME interview with Gary Kemp from Spandau Ballet, a band I never liked, though I admired Gary’s chutzpah in agreeing to talk to them. The interviewer’s disapproval of Gary and everything he stood for reached a glorious peak with the phrase ‘this whorehouse called success.’ I never made much headway arguing about this sort of thing with Muso Boyfriend, though, so after a bit of snogging I’d cycle home and listen to ‘Rubber Soul.’

My first live gig and my first music festival were both with Muso Boyfriend: Big Country at Dingwalls in Bristol, supporting act: John Cooper Clarke, the punk poet. We spent my 18th birthday at the Elephant Fayre in Cornwall, hitching there from South Wales. I’d told my parents some whopping lie about how we were getting there, probably that Muso Boyfriend’s older brother was driving us. Half an hour of unsuccessful hitching later, it suddenly occurred to me that my parents had said they were going shopping later. This meant they might soon be driving past us, so I kept diving for cover every time a Honda Civic came into view.

We finally got a lift, thank God, so I survived to enjoy my birthday at the Elephant Fayre. We pitched the two-person tent by a marquee full of Rastas selling tea and hot knives and saw the Cure, whom Muso Boyfriend was weirdly keen to hear, in spite of the fact that they’d actually been on Top of the Pops. The only other act I remember well from the Elephant Fayre is Benjamin Zephaniah. He did a poem about having the shit kicked out of him by a policeman. Twenty odd years later, I was on a team with him at a kids’ book quiz at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

You’ve now listened to it, at least 3 times, what do you think?

I didn’t Google the band or the album before listening, because that felt like cheating, so I knew virtually nothing about them except that this came out in 1983. When I told my friend Euan which album I was going to review he assured me I’d like it, but his favourite album’s by The Cramps, so that wasn’t entirely reassuring.

Wanting to concentrate, I go outside to my writing room in the garden, which has a wooden ceiling. This, unlikely as it may seem, is relevant information.

So I put on the Violent Femmes and hear a catchy acoustic guitar riff and I think, this is great! I’m going to love them! I’ll get a Violent Femmes T-shirt, buy the entire back catalogue and bore everyone rigid with my new obsession!

But then the vocalist kicks in and I have an immediate, visceral response of ‘no, scratch everything, I hate this.’ The change of mood is so abrupt my mind goes blank. I try to analyse why I moved from appreciation to intense dislike in a matter of seconds, but the best I can do is ‘I’ve heard voices like that before.’

By the time I reach track seven, all I can think about is the Toy Dolls’ cover of Nelly the Elephant. I’m not proud. I know this says more about me than the Violent Femmes.

After I’ve listened to the whole album once, I look down at the place where I was supposed to be making notes and all I’ve written is: ‘his upper register sounds like a bee in a plastic cup,’ which the professional writer in me recognizes as ‘not 500 words’. Feeling glum, I postpone a second listen to the following day.

It’s raining next morning and I can’t be bothered to go and find shoes, so I don’t take the album into the writing room, but stay in the kitchen. With minimal enthusiasm, I put on the album again.

This is weird. The vocalist is actually, um… good. Where did the bloke I heard yesterday go? Now I’m not busy hating him, I notice all the great hooks and how they sometimes sound like a manic skiffle band. There’s a nice bit of bluesy slide guitar and an actual xylophone on ‘Gone Daddy Gone’. Plus, when he half talks, half sings, Gordon Gano (I checked the album credits) sounds a bit Lou Reed, and I love Lou Reed. Apart from being the vocalist, Gano also happens to be the guitarist I fell for yesterday.

I can’t understand why he grated on me so much first time round. Beneath my wooden ceiling, he was the Ur-voice of all those NME-approved punky bands I never liked: nasal, whiny and brash. Today, sitting beside my kettle, he’s raw, catchy and soulful.

Only then, staring into a mug of tea, do I have the little epiphany that you, clever reader, saw coming a mile off. Listening to an album that reeks of 1983, in a room that bears a passing resemblance to that attic of long ago, was a mistake. It wasn’t Gordon Gano who was the problem: it was me. I was listening with a ghostly eighteen year old ex-boyfriend at my shoulder, and behind him, a chorus of snarling early eighties NME journalists, all ready to jeer, because even if I like the Violent Femmes, I’ll like them in the wrong way.

So the sun came out and I took the Violent Femmes back across the wet lawn into the writing room, telling myself that it’s not 1983 any more, and this is between me and the Violent Femmes, nobody else. On the third listen, I realized that I loved the album. Before I knew it, I was listening to it over and over again. Only then did I let myself look at their Wikipedia page.

The Violent Femmes, I read, were ‘one of the most successful alternative rock bands of the 1980s, selling over 9 million albums by 2005.’ Yes, the Violent Femmes ended up in that whorehouse called success, and you know what? It only makes me love them more.


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