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… 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