Proof Reading with Christmas Faeries

Writing is a lot of Waiting

Waiting for feedback from editors, waiting for literary agents, waiting for publishers and waiting for proofs. Beyond my control, each wait tinged with anxiety, the passing time was hard to take. I didn’t want my work published posthumously, I grumbled to myself.

Yet perversely, when the first proofs of The Hong Kong Letters arrived for correction at the beginning of December last year, I could not find the time to read them. My house is always full of paying guests and I have a quartet of gorgeous daughters. That combination triggers a multitude of dramas in a minor key that intervene to arrest all my best laid plans.

It was the proofs that now lay waiting for me and the clock was ticking – they had to be back by the end of the month.

A Daughter’s Solution

When the family arrived for Christmas, Kim, my eldest daughter, declared my stress was overshadowing the festivities. “If everyone takes a chapter or two”, she said, “the proofreading will be done in no time.”

I was aghast at that idea.

But Kim is a force to be reckoned with and soon all around the house they sat; family, guests and friends, drinking wine, reading bits out loud, tutting and laughing, their pens flashing across the pages, editing chapters taken out of sequence, each with different ideas on grammar, punctuation and all the rest.

My irritable interjections that they were not meant to be editing, just proofreading were ignored. Dale who’d been my first editor took my arm, “Just wait, Mum. It’ll all be OK. Go for a long walk or something.”

I sulked instead and prowled the house, ignored. I wanted desperately to hang each one up like tinsel and run off on my own to a Norman Rockwell Christmas where I could sit by a roaring log fire, chewing the end of my pencil while children and adults played wholesomely and silently under a huge Christmas tree and faithful retainers basted the stuffed turkey.



And yet…

And yet… that crazy volatile wine-logged edit was marvellous. Pivotal. I sat down in the quiet when they had all left, and in the lull before the New Year, grateful and irritated in equal measure, accepting and rejecting, finally owed every word of my manuscript.

Nevertheless, I said nothing out loud when the second and final proofs appeared in my inbox. Instead I remembered an old acquaintance - one who lived far away - who’d once told me she’d done a proof-reading course.  She picked up typos that had fallen through so many reads - yet she too was desperate to edit… My grandmother who I’d described as a ‘thrifty, tall and vitreous stick of a woman’ became ‘virtuous’. I smiled at that, I am sure she was indeed virtuous, but that attribute was not one I cared about as a teenager.

When I Opened the Box…


Eventually the day came in mid-March when Emily and Alice called me. “Mum there’s a great big carton downstairs! Come quick.” It’s a great thing to hold your own book finally. The frustration of waiting fell away and I was left with just the pleasure of having brought together my own tale and the story of my old friends, with the help of great mentors, the encouragement of family and the enthusiasm of the many guests who have passed through my house over the years.

One author I learned about recently said it took her twenty-seven drafts to complete her manuscript. I’ve been thinking that when I finish the first draft of my next book, I’ll just wait until Christmas and look stressed again…

The Hong Kong Letters is published by Arcadia

Dropping off dangerous spiders!

I didn't take this photo...  It was taken in my house, in my garden ... relax!

I didn't take this photo...  It was taken in my house, in my garden ... relax!

The international guests I host through Airbnb are hardly in the door, when they ask about spiders.

“Not to worry, the spiders in the house are harmless, you have to really go looking for dangerous ones!”

They are not easily convinced.

And then one time...

Moments after I had shown one guest her room, she arrived screaming in the kitchen and threw herself into my arms.

"A spider, a spider, above my bed!"

IKEA should really not sell lamps like this in Australia:

I didn't buy it to terrify guests, I bought it to amuse my small children

I didn't buy it to terrify guests, I bought it to amuse my small children


Guests ask difficult questions

Although I'm reassuring, the conversation complicates if guests follow up by asking if I have ever found a dangerous spider in the house.

“Well yes, once, but a long while ago ...” 

Their eyes widen, “IN THE HOUSE?”

“Yes, but it was before we put in flyscreens and got brushy things on the bottom of the doors.”

This confirms their worst fears – the spiders are OUT THERE, battering to get in

They immediately want to know more.  “What kind of spider?  What did you do?”

“Well it was a funnel-web. I released it in Lane Cove National Park.”

What I don’t tell them is that I confiscated it from a guest who was a biology student.  He'd put it in a jar and wanted to keep it as a pet.  When he cooked, the jar sat on the kitchen bench.  Other brave guests would shake the jar to see if it was true funnel-webs jumped.    But when he told me he let it out for runs, I’d had enough. 

Neither do I tell them that I didn’t drop it at the nearest entrance to the Park but took it far away as I was terrified it might have some kind of homing instinct.

That’s why I prefer hosting graduates.  They are past keeping things in jam-jars.

Take aim, fire!

“You didn’t kill it?” is the next question from my newest guest.  It is especially Australian men that want it dead.  And they repeat, "Really, you didn't kill it?"

Last week my daughter Emily listened to my spider spiel

She watched the expressions on the faces of my guests as I moved into the convoluted story about the single funnel web ever known to have crossed the doorstep. 

Afterwards, she took me aside and said, “Mum too much information.”

 “But I can’t lie!” I say...   “I have to tell them when they ask if I’ve ever had a dangerous spider in the house.”

“But Mum, it was over five years ago.”

“But it still happened.”

There was a pause while Emily, who is very practical and solution focused, thought about my predicament.

“Mum, think of it like demerit points - spider sightings drop off after five years.”




Don’t mess with spiders with your bare hands

Don’t leave your soggy towels on the floor

Don’t walk around outside at night in bare feet

Don’t touch spiders in the kids paddling pool – funnel-webs just look drowned

Don’t go poking around in my garden without gloves on

And if you find one, call Emily