Conference Call

pens, pencils, washi tape, goody bag
An amazing goody bag from

I’m just back from a week away at my second SfEP conference. Although the get together was over the last weekend, Saturday 10th to Monday 12th September, it takes me so long to get anywhere that the only sensible thing to do is combine it with a few days each way visiting my family back home in Whitby. The 12-hour drive then seems a little bit more palatable.

At the 2015 conference, as a newbie, I felt like a rabbit in the headlights (it was the first time I’d ever met ‘real’ editors), but this year was a much more relaxed affair, meeting up with all the wonderful people I met last year who I’m proud to call friends (and some lovely new friends too).  It was more relaxed, even if I did take a wrong turning, ended up heading back out of Birmingham, and arrived at the Aston Conference centre a little shaken up (thanks SatNav app).

There’s way too much happening in a weekend to write about it effectively, so here are a few notes:

If you are swithering over whether to attend a conference, just do it. Being based in the far north, I was put off for years – getting anywhere involves either a plane journey from Wick John O’Groats Airport (only good for Edinburgh or Aberdeen, to meet onward connections), a 2 ½ hr drive to Inverness for the better airport or train connections (the train from Thurso takes 4 hrs to reach Inverness – not pleasant unless it’s for the sightseeing), or driving for hours and hours and hours. I always drive, and while it is tiring, once you arrive at your destination all the hassle just melts away. Forget about the cost of travel and the conference. Believe me, the networking, workshops and associated experiences are worth far more than a dented bank balance.

Yorkshire in the morning
8am Yorkshire as I start the drive back home

There is no way you will get to every workshop, so just pick some and ignore the FOMO. I was lucky last year as the workshop choices were a no-brainer. This year I wanted to go to every one! When you get to choose your workshops there is a little Yoda voice in your ear telling you to choose wisely, but honestly I think everyone will get something from every workshop, even if it’s just a window into another editing world.

My most unusual choice this year was Richard Beard’s Live Critique. I had no idea what to expect, and as it turned out it was an illuminating look at critiquing extracts to a live audience. Who knew that audiences turn up to watch someone getting critiqued? I didn’t. My ‘must do some homework’ sessions were Paul Beverley’s macro workshops, which had my brain spinning, and the speed shake-up session on revitalising an established career, which highlighted that I need to write down my business goals and move towards them sooner rather than later.

Sarah Hunter’s editing business text had us all laughing at corporate speak while we untangled it and broke it down into plain English and Ali Turnbull’s development editing workshop confirmed what I had suspected all along (that I occasionally do this type of editing, only I hadn’t labelled it as such). I think the session with the biggest ‘Ah-ha!’ moment this year had to be Lorena Goldsmith’s talk on working with authors and literary agencies. I will no longer shy away from dealing with agents directly.

You will eat well and drink far too much coffee. It’s a given, so don’t try to avoid it. Eat, drink and be merry, everyone else will be doing the same.

The Mound, Golspie, Sutherland
The Mound at Golspie, just over an hour left of my journey home, where I stopped to take a sip of Frappucino only to realise it had been leaking since Inverness. Nice.

Talk to everyone. I know how scared I was last year so I tried to speak to as many people as possible this year, especially the newbies. Unfortunately there were still some people I missed, or didn’t spend as much time with as I’d hoped, but there are a LOT of people milling around. I can be extremely socially awkward but try to ignore the gremlin voices when I can (don’t get me wrong, I can talk the hind legs off a donkey, but then I can suddenly see myself from the ceiling and think ‘you wally, shut up, you’re talking complete crap’).

You don’t have to attend everything or stick around all the time. Coming back to social awkwardness, if you need time out you don’t have to stay. Go and have a breather or take an early night if you want to – I actually dipped out early after the gala dinner this year as I suddenly felt extremely awkward. No one noticed, no one cared and I recharged my batteries by having a little me time.

You will be surprised at least once during the weekend. I was constantly surprised this year. Many people came up to me (especially at the beginning) and told me that they read this blog and how much they like it. The first time I was approached I was stunned and slightly embarrassed (in a nice way), but by the end of the weekend I had learned to accept the praise and say thank you without belittling my writing. It’s always a shock when you realise that people actually read what you write!

I was also surprised by a few people who seemed to genuinely think I was younger than I am. Let’s just say the lighting in the Conference Aston public rooms should be highly praised.

You will make some wonderful friends and you will talk to people you’ve just met as if you’d known them all your life. Having spoken to a multitude of editorial types over the SfEP forums over the years it was wonderful to finally put faces to names, however, it really is like picking up a paused conversation. And for those I met last year, it really didn’t feel like a year since we last chatted. Spotting John and Kat as I left the hotel for the pre-conference workshop was a great start to the weekend.

Caithness, Loch Rangang
8pm Loch Rangan, Caithness – almost home

So overall, really, this blog is just saying that the SfEP Conference is a must if you are an editor (and I’m not just saying that because this year we were treated to an amazing goody bag courtesy of

I now have a lot of catching up to do, some notes to decipher and memories of a wonderful weekend with some amazingly brilliant people. Here’s to next year!

12 Comments on “Conference Call

  1. Yes, Sara…we really do read your blog. And you are always an enjoyable read. Cheers.

  2. Good call and descriptor of conference experience and benefits in a field of interest. My last was a ukulele workshop weekend , of all things, but marvellous and your points hold well.

  3. Ah, thanks for the mention, Sara. I have to say that you didn’t come across as nervous last year and (obviously) definitely not this time. It is great when people read your content and make nice comments, isn’t it? Delighted to hear you’re planning to make it down to Wyboston Lakes next year!

    Many conferences give people good reason to be nervous – they’re not always the most welcoming of environments – but the SfEP events really aren’t like that. So please give it a try if you haven’t before. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did!

    • Aaah it’s hanging around actors all the time John… It rubs off 😄
      After seeing the route to Wyboston I think Bloody Scotland will have to wait another year. I’d miss the SfEPers too much.
      I’ve been to a few conferences in my time, and the SfEP is by far the friendliest (and most interesting) of the lot!

      • Because it’s full of people like you, see. We’d miss you if you weren’t around (with your pink hair and all).

      • Aaah no, it’s people like YOU John, with your live videos and enthusiasm (ok…challenge accepted, next year it’ll be pink).

  4. As a newbie at this year’s conference, I was delighted I made the wise decision to sit at your table for dinner on the first night, Sara. It was great to meet you. Hope to see you again next year.

    • I’m glad you sat with us too! What a brilliant night, even if we didn’t win the quiz. Hopefully there will be a repeat next year and we are victorious 😉

  5. Pingback: Social media round-up: SfEP 2016 conference - SfEP blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: