I finished a Sue Grafton book this morn. Plotting wasn’t too bad, the ‘private investigator’ Kinsey Millhone is a dislikable neurotic and there’s some really silly details in there – she drives a 1970 Mustang 429, f’rinstance, an extremely rare and temperamental beast – but what really bugged me was the excessive wordiness of the book. She doesn’t write “I parked the car, grabbed my bag and walked in the front door”, no, she describes where she parked, how she parked, an assessment of her car-parking skills, the items she took from the car and so forth, on and on and on. It was around 480 pages and could have made for a neat 350 pager.

 

I’ve done a bit of proofreading and editing in my time, stripping articles and reports down to two-thirds of the original length without losing a shred of meaning and intent. Gimme ‘W for Wasted’ in digital form and I could delete sentences that would sharpen it up plenty, before I even thought about phrases and words.

 

But Sue has nothing on JK Rowling when it comes to excessive wordiness. I started reading that ‘private eye’ novel she published under a pseudonym, laboured through forty or so pages that could easily have been condensed into fifteen before I threw it aside.

 

It’s preposterous on every level. The ‘star’ PI has a ridiculous name and habits. Early on, he changes his shirt in his office, ripping off the old one, “buttons pinging against the walls” or something like that.

 

I’ve known a lot of drunks, drugfucks and general ne-er-do-wells and I’ve never known of habits like that. Perhaps when you’re JKR and the last twenty years of your life have been spent writing books about teenage wizards and counting the zeroes on your bank statement, you might think that tough guys are like that.

 

She could have put aside a few days to read some of Dashiell Hammett’s lean, spare prose or Raymond Chandler’s dark, troubled hero or John D Macdonald’s humour and colour. But she’s JKR and doesn’t feel the need for stylistic research or an editor.

 

A friend of mine, a professional writer and editor, said that bigname writers never get edited and JKR is about as big a name, saleswise, as there is. I’m not bothered personally. Millions of people have enjoyed her books and I wouldn’t deny them that pleasure. But, by the gods, read some Hemingway and learn some economy.