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

Up-to-date with Addiction

For years now my daughters have been urging that I smoke weed

They can’t believe I missed out in the swinging sixties and feel there is still time to rectify such a glaring omission. I argue that my credentials are good – after all I did marry their father - a new-age hippie who smoked pot in a cave in Devon bedecked with beads in the days of flower-power. 

Nope, they said, I needed to try it personally.

One of my dearest friends recently gave in to her son’s similar urging and, under a starry sky, rode a dragon – a magnificent bleached tree trunk thrown up on a New Zealand beach by winter storms. She joined the chorus.

My answer has always been the same

I really have never wanted to try it; I might like it and the last thing I need is another addiction.  Wine and gin slings are surely enough. I staunchly fought off the suggestion that weed should be on my bucket list and felt confident that I’d finally reached an age of being able to hold my ground…  I was a little smug about my ability to rebuff addiction.

The addiction would turn out to be a different kind of buzz...

I got a smart phone.  Another 'girls’ idea'. I kept loyal for years to my little old Nokia but the girls wore me down and I succumbed.  I could not refuse, for I knew I was trying their patience, calling them from afar asking them about timetables or directions.

Well let me tell you, weed would have been a cinch compared to this!

This is addiction 101.  I grab my phone as I wake up and roll over jabbing at the keys. You’ll see me in supermarket queues, waiting rooms, on buses and trains, no longer engrossed in a paperback or indulging in a little contemplation, but checking the news or Facebook.  Ninety percent cute animals and small children that aren't mine. Posts to share for a million likes and every day a birthday that I never knew about before. 

Clickbait has me in its thrall...

I can feel my eyes glazing when I flick from Trump to Brexit and whizz past ScoMo. Had I missed out on the last six months of them and just picked up the news now, I would have missed nothing!

Maybe I could lose the phone and get stoned. Or get stoned and lose the phone!

It has made for an easy New Year’s Resolution - I’m following Lifehackers Ten Tips to reduce my addiction - Ten, isn’t it meant to be Twelve?

Hong Kong Revisited

Hard to get my bearings in Hong Kong! The Law Courts and iconic Bank of China building look like toy-town nestled in the middle of all the skyscrapers.

Hard to get my bearings in Hong Kong! The Law Courts and iconic Bank of China building look like toy-town nestled in the middle of all the skyscrapers.

I landed in Hong Kong last week, to take a trip down memory lane

I’d lived there half-a-century ago.  It wasn't that I wasn't prepared for change but I was travelling with Dale, my daughter, and initially there was nothing I could show her, it was all bloody gone.

The years had wrought havoc. Like a botched facelift, Hong Kong was stretched and shiny with a touch of zombie. For a start, they’d shrunk the harbour! 

I couldn’t work it out until someone explained The Star Ferry Wharf had moved, rebuilt on the edge of reclaimed land.  Dale asked me how land could be reclaimed if it wasn’t there before.  I said I didn’t know, but I thought it made everybody feel better to call it that, as if it really was theirs in the first place.

In another fifty years it is doubtful whether there will be a harbour at all… 

I remembered chickening out of the annual cross-harbour swim in 1969 as it looked a bloody long way, but the way things are going, I’ll be able to come back and swim it when I’m a hundred years old and I’ll smash it. 

Who needs a harbour anyway these days?

Why bother... tunnels burrow under it, bridges connect islands to the mainland, flyovers do their thing. The harbour, my quintessential Hong Kong, has become emasculated. The last of the old junks have long gone along with the lighters, water taxis, sampans and all the other craft that constantly plied back and forward between the island and mainland; the waterway reduced to a bland irrelevance.

I took a deep breath...

Actually Dale told me to take a deep breath.  She could see I felt overwhelmed and it was all new to Dale so she felt a magic that still lingered on. And I mused that was the real change, you could take a deep breath - no Hong Kong pong, although like an idiot, I put my nose in the air trying to scent that awful smell as if I was missing some elixir from my youth!

We took the Peak Tram. That was familiar and so too was the restaurant at the top. We stopped for lunch and my old love affair with Hong Kong rekindled - it is still stunning.

Lunch on the Peak

Lunch on the Peak


A friend took us out to Sham Shiu Po by the MTR - a rapid-transit underground system that was new to me.  He also said Sham Shiu Po was one of Hong Kong's poorest areas although there were more Westerners than any other area we visited because of a new art college. So that put my nostalgia in its place - the poverty and the foreigners making it familiar!

I started to feel more at home

On the second day, I spotted the iconic Bank of China building, albeit now dwarfed by skyscrapers and bereft of its spooky Red China cloak and dagger atmospheric. And I found other familiars: in Causeway Bay where we stayed, air conditioners lodged in high-rise windows above, still dripped onto the pavements and onto our heads, Chinese girls still loved to wear pink and I still wondered why. Hong Kong still wakes up late - I always liked that - a lull before the frenetic activity of the day. It's a grotty bleary time of half-shuttered doors; sudden sloshing water- buckets; hawking, horrible spit and absolutely no polish. If it's all too much, look up and still there is one of Hong Kong's wonders - bamboo scaffolding.

Dale and I watched these guys for ages...

Dale and I watched these guys for ages...

And on the far side...

We took off for the other side of the island.  The bus twisted past Deep Bay and Repulse Bay on narrow roads that I drove so often in my beat-up cream-coloured mini – a car that would be very out of place in present day affluent Hong Kong - and at last we reached St Stephen’s Beach at Stanley and most of it remained steadfast to my memory.

I walked out along the old pier looking over the bay where I learned to swim, water ski and sail in quick succession. All the capsizes, all the immersions, weekend races and even a half-hearted attempt to train for that damned cross-harbour swim.

The clock is ticking for Hong Kong again

In thirty years the agreement that maintains Hong Kong as a Special Administrative Region will end and finally, it will be integrated into China. The Hongkongers I spoke to were resigned to that. The clock cannot be turned back they said. When I lived there it was thirty years until the British left the Crown Colony of Hong Kong. We could not believe that the clock would move forward.

And in thirty years, I’ll be back for my cross-harbour swim!


Baby – the new millennials most popular name

Is it just me? 

Or is it a generational thing?  As soon as I got pregnant, Mike and I started thinking about names.  Boy or girl?  We hadn’t a clue. We just knew whatever the sex, we'd need a name.

Some thought we were ahead of the pack when we choose unisex names, although Kim and Dale have suggested a certain laxity, convinced – incorrectly – that we economised.

Our girls were named at their first gasp and hit the breast identified – names penned on pink wristbands. 


My grandchildren, their sex no secret, date of arrival perfectly pinpointed,  are just “Baby” for days or, in the case of our first grandchild, for weeks - or maybe it just seemed like that. 

So that painful business of tossing names around; recalling ex-romances, nasty friends at school, suicides, embittered relatives or business partners, takes place AB – after birth!  

I don’t get it – how can you expect a child for nine months and not have that organised!

My girls hoot with laughter at the thought.  How, they say, could anyone name a newborn before meeting him or her?  How could Mike and I have done that

It seems to me that if everyone did that, there’d be a sudden increase in names like Ginger, Scarlett, Angel, Beau, Hello Sailor, or maybe Hello Tiger, and Holy Moses.  Or if the name rolled off the cuff too early, perhaps a whole new lexicon like Ouch, Hallelujah or Never Again.

When I had Alice in South Africa, a lovely Zulu nurse told me her own name translated to English was “Enough” and it was her Dad that named her!  She was the eighth and last-born in her family.

Well done Emily and Tom – and welcome Ashton Fox – our 5th grandchild - that only took ten days!