Meet Lara Thomson.

This is the woman who proofread and helped me edit all six of my novels prior to their publication. She is SO central to my writing process that I can't imagine having achieved what I've achieved without her help. They would not be the same.

It pays to have a critical reader to keep an eye on what you do; someone to represent every single person who is going to read your books. We have argued passionately over things as small as the placement of commas. Sometimes I won - I'd estimate about 20% of the time. That kind of relationship is the rarest sort of gold.

We first met in a charity shop, and I convinced her to join the reading group I attended at Rotherhithe Library. So much water has passed under the bridge since then.

XXX Michael

Lara writes:

Let me start here. I met Michael ages ago and, as I found out he was an author (first one I ever knew), I showed an interest in his work, as one does. I very likely asked to read his first, as yet unpublished novel, again as one does, and was absolutely charmed by the story and impressed with the dedication to historical fact. He certainly did his research. What followed then was no doubt giving him my impressions and Michael suggesting I should read the novel with a critical eye to detail. Here I have to admit that I secretly fancied being a proof reader and just never got around to getting there, which included all those margin squiggles that one had to memorise. I leapt at the chance and immediately gathered my materials, pamphlets, pencils and rubbers that worked (Japanese Muji shops are wonderful for erasers, I recommend them).

I was off, a veritable bulldog sniffing out every and/but/comma/colon vs semicolon/full stop/etc, which detracted in my opinion from the flow, in fact anything that proved what an invaluable aid I was to Michael’s success. I hadn’t at that first stage felt confident enough to actually comment on subject matter!

We settled into a splendid routine after time and spent many a pleasant hour on the phone with him, backing and forwarding with each story. As time went on, and with my confidence surging, I did hesitatingly follow character’s storylines…but there wasn’t much I could find wrong, I have to admit (proof: we’re still friends). Michael always was a careful writer and there really weren't many glaring inconsistencies in his output. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Now that he is no longer writing, and all you Twitter followers have his undivided attention, I am a retired proof reader.

Being ancient has robbed me of quite a few interesting subjects I could talk about. However I feel I have an intimate knowledge of what it is like to Be Old, not cutesy-old and still able to wear jeans, as I passed that stage years ago thanks to a hip replacement. I’m talking about what happens when everyone under 70 sees me and looks away…

I don’t comb my hair not because I have forgotten how to but because so many fall out of their own accord. Yes, I know yours does as well but not as much as mine. They congregate on my clothes, sorry about that.

I itch, my ears in particular. This fault was confirmed by my octogenarian friend.

I walk with head lowered to avoid pavement hazards, and not because I can’t stand up straight, which I actually can’t, I’m told. My reasoning is that my top half is faster at walking than my bottom half and my legs are always trying to catch up.

My constant mantra in my waking hours is ‘I mustn’t fall’. It’s embarrassing when it happens and it hurts, and I take so long to heal that I’ve usually forgotten why I ache.

I do really appreciate being asked if I need help; I smile my thanks, something I have learnt to do because of the frequency with which this now occurs. It often happens when I choose a supermarket checkout machine because it’s good for my brain, keeps me in touch with modernity, and I don’t feel that I need to call an assistant over more frequently than the younger ones. But I often have to give my shopping basket over to a kindly assistant who appears out of nowhere to take over, very kindly of course, and proceeds to put my shopping through at the rate of knots which no one could possibly follow, then leaves me to pay the total, usually way over what I was expecting, and can’t check on it until I get home.

I need reasons to go out every day, hence the short list of groceries I often don’t require but are on special offer, to be carried home in one of my innumerable shopping bags. I could vary the bag I use daily, but why bother? No one will notice, not even me. The rest lie unused but are ever so comforting.

One of my important loves is lists: to do today/tomorrow; to write to; to want to buy; to ring the doctor (even I have given up on that one); above all a reminder to check my daily calendar if I can find it. If anyone is expected for drinks and nibbles, the whole lot is shovelled up off the table and piled somewhere never to be touched again…as a new avalanche is ready to be started.

Finally, I would like to discuss memory, my memories in particular. Ah, if only I could remember more! I just have mental snapshots: little me being dressed to go to school on a very cold morning in Saskatchewan with only my eyes showing. Me, playing with paper dolls in the yard in summer. My pet chicken Judy ‘disappearing’ in the Fall. Hanging around a bowling alley with friends eating hot dogs and chips.

I could go on but expect I have exceeded the word limit. Can I count, of course I can, but one perk of growing old is not to admit this, so over to your friend Michael.

Bye all,

love La xx 

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