Monday, 23 September 2013


Late last night or the night before, twenty five robbers came knocking . 

No, not that rhyme, but words – a lot of words -  certainly came knocking one night recently. 

I spent almost a whole night awake reading Carl Hiassen’s first novel, “Tourist Season”. That man can be a compelling writer. I’ve read a Hiassen before so I really should have known better than to open up those pages at bedtime. But I did. Alas!

If you've never come across his books, Hiaasen writes with a witty and gently mocking sympathy for the pain that life brings to people, or that people bring on themselves. 

His "Everglades at the max" adventures usually circle around a crime or two - often gruesome - plus a lost but loveable under-dog hero, a lively but not-to-be intimidated girl and a host of eccentrics with the best or worst of intentions. Alongside the danger, violence and entertainment, Hiassen’s message was clear even back in 1992, when this book was published. Damage was being done to the Florida eco-systems by thoughtless development, laziness and greed. An eco message is the steely core within a Hiassen romp and makes his books a bit more than airport fiction.

But back to here and now and Word Turning, with me bumbling about on my Procrastination Masters again. 
What exactly was the special Hiassen wisdom I spotted? 
Why I am I mentioning his writing, other than in connection with the bags under my eyes?

Here is is, with words straight from page 12.
Imagine the scene: Wiley, an old newspaper editor, is talking to a clueless writer about the column he’s just submitted.

Here we go again, Mr Journalism School.” Wiley was gnawing his lower lip, a habit manifested when he composed a news story. “You got some good details in here. The red Royal Tourister. The black Raybans. That’s good. Why don’t you toss out the rest of this shit and move the juicy stuff up top? Do your reader a favour for once. Don’t make ‘em go on a scavenger hunt for the goodies.”

Re-read those last sentences.
“Do your reader a favour for once. Don’t make ‘em go on a scavenger hunt for the goodies.”

Gulp! I am one given to too much scavenger hunt writing. I love turning over words,  I like playing with language, enjoy expanding on a setting or describing a character, smile when I slip in a coy reference. I tend to take my time. Words? It's just possible I use too many of the damn things.

Hiassen, coming from a journalism background, doesn't. He writes so that his story reads swiftly and sharply. He doesn’t hang around, blocking the plot with sensitive, “creative” descriptions. You want a story? You got a story!

Note I'm not talking about my writing “voice”here. I don’t want to write “Hiassen” and my story wouldn’t suit “Hiassen”. I am talking about the need to edit, rehape, cut - and the writer’s responsibility to the reader, especially the young reader.

One more time. “Don’t make ‘em go on a scavenger hunt.”

Okay. So I’m off to hack through my over-written Work in Progress. I may lose some overhanging phrases, even some beautiful ones. I will slash away some wordy undergrowth. There could be slaughter and the quiet disposal of unwanted characters. And maybe this will make my story better. Maybe. 

Ssssh! Off I go, into the wilderness of words. I may be some time.

Happy writing, all.


Ps. Carl Hiassen has also written several books for young teens too: “Scat”, “Flush”,“Hoot” and last year, his latest: “Chomp”.

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