A friend asks, how many words is my new book?
I reply that it's only 60,000.
By contemporary standards that is terribly short. Most of the crime novels I receive for review are at least twice as long and many of them three or even four times that length. Yet when I started writing crime fiction 60 to 70,000 words was the standard length, and I still think that's about right for all but the most complicated and elaborate stories. Almost all of the novels I read would benefit, in my view, from tightening up. I wonder why it became fashionable to write and publish sprawling blockbusters many of which are too heavy to hold comfortably. When it became habitual to write them is obvious: as soon as people started using computers. Compared with writing by hand or using a manual typewriter, word processing is extraordinarily easy and presents an almost irresistible temptation to go on and on. Except to me: I often sit down to lengthen a book I thought I'd finished, find myself crossing out superfluous words and rearranging inelegant sentences, only to discover when I reach the end that it's even shorter than it was before.
So, short, sweet and elegant or sprawling, generous and long-lasting? Which do you prefer?