Tag Archives: Jo Nesbø

500-Page Novels

As debut authors, we’re advised to follow the word counts suggested as being acceptable by writing gurus:



In writing my crime novels, I’ve brought the last four in at about 80,000 words, though the first story I wrote ballooned to 179,000 words, entirely due to my ignorance of word counts! I’ve lopped 40,000 words off it, and as I prepare to join KDP Select I’m marketing it as a double-length story for the same price as the others. Good value!

The main reason that word counts are crucial is the cost of printing, storing and transporting books. Publishers will risk signing a book of 80,000 words, which amounts to 300-325 pages, depending on font size and formatting, but any bigger than that could see diminishing returns. Such concerns don’t apply to digital books, but an unknown writer needs to be introduced to readers in a digestible size.

I’ve read several very long novels in recent years, including Neal Stephenson’s Reamde at 1,056 pages and 322,080 words. He’s just published a new novel, Fall; or, Dodge in Hell which at only 896 pages and 276,660 words has had some book critics calling it a short story!

Once a writer has established good sales figures, they’re allowed to sprawl. In 2019, I’ve read several crime novels of 500 + pages: John Connolly’s A Book Of Bones was 688 pages and 126,125 words, while Don Winslow’s The Border is 736 pages and 253,460 words.

I’m currently enjoying Knife by Jo Nesbø, which features his protagonist cop Harry Hole, a loose cannon with addiction issues. The plot involves his long-term life partner being murdered by a serial killer he captured who‘s been released from prison after completing his sentence. While he was incarcerated, Harry killed the killer’s son, who’d also become a murderer, so bad dad is after revenge.

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Nesbø devotes many pages to exploring Harry Hole’s thinking. After reading an eight-page chapter in which he ruminates on life, love, faithfulness, the rock music he’s listening to and the alcohol he’s drinking, I considered how much space I’d permit my detective protagonist to do something similar. It wouldn’t be more than half-a-page, as I’m so aware of hitting the 80,000word count. My hardback copy of Knife is 530 pages long, some 147,465 words, according to the reading length website:


I’d like to do more of the same. I feel constrained by 80,000 words. In writing a series featuring the same characters, I’ve attempted to bond the reader with them, which could be better done with more space.

Of course, should I decide to go ahead with self-publishing on KDP Select, I can write books of whatever length I like, without the interference of a literary agent and publisher. Such temptation requires restraint.

Do you feel like you need more space to tell your stories?

I Couldn’t Put It Down!

I find that, as a reader, I approach books in different ways. Some titles I hope will be edifying, such as philosophy and self-help books. Volumes of poetry and studies of a painter’s work may lift my spirit. Sometimes, I read non-fiction as research for my crime novels, delving into forensic medicine, autopsies and poisons.

I tend to base my library requests on book reviews and works praised in author interviews. There’s always the drawback, when reading in my chosen writing genre of Crime, that I’ll be less likely to enjoy the ride than look for ways that it could be improved.

There aren’t many authors whose work blows me away every time, making me thrilled when I see that they’ve got a new book being published, keeping me alert for its UK publication date, so that I can be first in the queue to request it at the library. When I’ve got my hands on it, I’m voracious!

One such author is James Lee Burke, whose 400-500 page novels I usually read in a few days, but then I’ve been a fan of his 22 Dave Robicheaux detective novels since the first title, The Neon Rain was published in 1987. After so long together, I’ve invested in his protagonist’s story arc, even wondering about how he’s getting on from time to time, which proves how real he is to me.

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Reading a new Robicheaux story is like meeting up with an old friend—and it’s not always good news—Burke’s protagonist is a deeply flawed man, which he realises himself, and it makes him all the more compelling. I’m currently 50 pages from finishing the latest story New Iberia Blues, already having mournful feelings that I won’t be able to find anything as good to read next.

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In the Crime genre, the only other author I know of who portrays such a conflicted hero is Jo Nesbø whose Harry Hole is self-destructive, determined and excruciating to keep company with—which again makes the books unputdownable. There’s definitely an element of “What’s the idiot going to do next?”, that keeps me reading on.

It’s a key element of story-telling, that we care what happens to the main characters. Their story becomes our story—their truth becomes ours—a merging occurs. From the time of the caveman telling tales around a fire to people reading e-books on smartphones and Kindles, the narrator needs to create that empathy.

In historical fiction, I’m transfixed by the dilemmas that C. J. Samson’s Tudor era lawyer Matthew Shardlake faces.

Shardlake is one of the most likeable fictional characters ever created, and one who lives on his wits and cunning in what were incredibly dangerous times politically—with heads rolling off the Royal chopping block—and, where a man could be stabbed to death by the henchman of a courtier as he walks along a darkened street.

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What these three protagonists share is that they walk a fine line between normality and oblivion. They all want to make things right in society, but the evil forces they oppose threaten to corrupt and destroy them. They’re living on the edge. As Friedrich Nietzsche warned:

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.

As a reader, I stand alongside them, glad that I’m not them, but eager to know how they’ll survive.

Whose books can’t you put down?

Which characters have you bonded with?

Nobody Does It Better

Which writer’s work do you eagerly anticipate reading, impatient for their new novel to be published?

It could be someone who writes a series of novels featuring the same characters, or an author who takes years to pen their new story, which finds itself shortlisted for major literary awards. You might be working your way through a writer’s back catalogue, enthralled by their skills, while still taking glee from the occasional stinker of a title, that simply didn’t work.

We’ve all got our favourite authors, and some of them aren’t highly regarded by the critics, but who cares? If books are like food, why not have the occasional naughty treat?

My own list of got-to-read authors includes Walter Mosley, James Lee Burke, John Connolly, Michael Connelly, Barbara Kingsolver, Andrea Camilleri, Annie Dillard, Alice Hoffman, Dennis Lehane, Henning Mankell, Elizabeth Strout, Jo Nesbø, Justin Cartwright, Haruki Murakami, C. J. Sansom, Ann Patchett, Joe R. Lansdale, Don Winslow, Donald Ray Pollock and Jane Harper.

I read two hugely impressive debut novels in 2017, which whet my appetite for the second titles by Lars Mytting and by Kim Zupan.

My list of authors I seek out is based on those that I like. There are plenty of novelists whose books I admire, but don’t particularly like. As an example of this, I recently re-read Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, which was written in a complex way, with long sections devoted to streams of consciousness. Woolf was experimenting with ways of writing a novel, as part of the Modernist movement, but it doesn’t make for easy reading.

Who floats your boat?

Which author makes you forget what you’re doing, to read their story?