I wasn’t going to write about the latest SfEP conference.
For the past few years I’ve attended the conference, come back all enthusiastic and waxed lyrical about how fabulous it all is.
But you know what? I am going to tell you all about it, because, well, an SfEP conference shows just how a conference should be.
Conferences in the past were, for me, spectacularly dull, staid affairs with a lot of blah, blah, blah and very few friendly faces. Everything was very professional but very matter-of-fact and, well, boring.
SfEP conferences, on the other hand, are welcoming, largely informal affairs with lots to learn. Friendly professionals mingle with each other during breaks while searching for coffee or the occasional short-term bid for freedom.
It’s something I look forward to now and would really recommend for every editor and proofreader.
So … this year … I’ll give you the pro and cons. Just to prove that is isn’t always a bed of roses.
I made my way to the get together at Wyboston Lakes, just off the A1 and not far from Cambridge.
Pros: Brilliantly easy to get to. I totally enjoyed my tootle down the road, singing along to my favourite songs and listening out for my new satnav app (don’t worry, it was totally legal, hands-free and away from touchies). Mind you I didn’t actually need the satnav … Wyboston really was just a straight line down the A1 for about 200 miles!
Cons: It rained, and the service stations on the A1 are pretty shit.
When I got there the venue was easy to find. Time to unload the car and go to register my presence.
Pros: Who should be there, outside the door, looking glam and unflustered? None other than the lovely Louise Harnby! There’s nothing better than meeting a friend and having a welcome hug when it’s raining and you’re slightly out of your comfort zone.
Cons: The wifi went wonky while we were there. No Tweeting! No checking Facebook. But you know what? I used my data allowance when I had to. No biggie.
Now I could go over the conference in tiny detail, but for the sake of your sanity I should probably just take a few snapshots. We started as usual with the AGM. It must have been the shortest AGM in SfEP history – even the new rates for next year raised few eyebrows. We all ran away pretty quickly for some R&R before drinks and dinner (although some of us, 15 to be precise, descended on Janet’s room for pre-dinner jollity). After dinner our table came third in the pub style quiz. Not the pub quiz, as we weren’t in a pub (come on, we’re a bunch of editorial types, it has to be right). A good time was had by all.
Sunday, and I started the conference off with a quick breakfast (I just don’t do mornings … the extra half-hour in bed was worth it). Oliver Kamm opened the conference with a wonderful talk. I can’t actually remember it in great detail, but it must have been good as I bought his book.
Workshop 1 – Phil Mulryne’s session on script editing.
He concentrated on TV script editing and this was the talk I’d been looking forward to most. I’d actually spoken with Phil a few months beforehand. He works for Drama Republic and really knows his stuff and how to communicate that to a room full of editors.
Pros: It was a really interesting, engaging talk with lots of real-life examples of great editing. Having in the last few years been taught to write, as well as edit, scripts I soaked up all the information and thought it was a brilliant start to the weekend. I also now realise that I have to watch both the first and the current series of Dr Foster.
Cons: One of my dreams has now been crushed under foot. I realised that I live too far away from anywhere to ever have the hope of working as a freelance script editor (I’m also probably about twenty years too old). I had to face the facts that I will never be able to commute to a production company and work on a TV script. Don’t weep for me, I’ll live. It’s fine. Really.
Session 1 – John Espirian’s talk on websites
I love John’s talks. He is such a generous human. He manages to impart knowledge without coming across as a ‘know-it-all’. But secretly I think he might actually know it all. I know my website isn’t working to its full potential, so I thought I’d sit in on this session and learn.
Pros: I learnt a hell of a lot. I took notes. I now have to implement those notes, get case studies, think about an email list (that’s probably never going to happen) and focus on my brand identity.
Cons: I now have to implement those notes, get case studies, think about an email list (that’s probably never going to happen) and focus on my brand identity.
After John’s session I actually managed to fit in two productive things during the one-hour coffee break (and didn’t have any coffee). We had a meeting of the new SfEP Ambassadors (of which I’m one) and I nipped into a session on upgrading membership. I’m most of the way towards gaining Advanced Professional membership of the SfEP, I just need to get the hours together. If you want to help me get my hours up contact me about your project (see John, a call-to-action on my blog!).
Session 2 was all about getting the most from directory listings, something that’s quite useful for freelancers as we need to be visible to actually attract clients. I’m so grateful to Andrea Kay for giving up her space for me and swapping sessions. Now I’m not in a lot of directories, perhaps I should be (my SfEP directory listing is here, thanks for asking), but the workshop was very useful.
Sunday night saw the Gala Dinner, on THE best table with Beth who coordinated the conference. We had lots of laughs and were in the best position to hear the Linnets sing (editors can sing too!), listen to David Crystal give another wonderful after-dinner speech (I never get bored of listening to this brilliant man) and see Louise Harnby win the Judith Butcher Award for her ‘highly visible contributions to the SfEP and its membership’. Well deserved it was too, she’s marvellous.
Monday started with Workshop 2 – Emma Darwin’s ‘Working with fiction and creative non-fiction and their writers’. Now this was a refresher for me, but brought up some interesting new slants. I loved Emma’s psychic distance exercise, and will probably use it in my own writing. It’s good to listen to different speakers talk about the same subject – just as every reader will have a unique reading experience, every workshop brings something new to the mix.
Session 3 – Lightning Talks. Lightning talks are fun. I love listening to people talk for five minutes on a diverse range of subjects. Highlights for me this year were Howard’s talk (who knew Elvis was so eloquent?) and Abi’s look at office spaces. I’ve always wanted a white, minimalist, office space with flowers for colour emphasis and shelves of tidiness (never, ever going to happen). Oh, and I did a talk myself on cartoons, which seemed to go down ok.
Loulou Brown’s biography workshop (session 4) was the other talk I’d really been looking forward to, and was the last of the conference. I’ve worked on a few biographies this year, and it’s one of my favourite types of book. I love biographies and autobiographies. Loulou has worked on so many I was fascinated. I’d love to be like her when I grow up.
Pros: The whole talk was wonderful. Plus I came away confident that my work on biography is clear, concise and knowledgeable. She also emphasised the point that unlike other editing work, biography can be all consuming and takes a lot longer. I do find myself underestimating the time it takes to work on this type of material, so I now know that this is normal and I’ll try not to do it in the future.
Cons: The session was too short. I could have listened to Loulou talk about Richard Burton all afternoon. Seriously, she worked on a Burton biog. Jealous.
So the conference was almost over. Just time for the closing lecture by Mark Forsyth. Another witty, enjoyable talk that held the whole room captivated. And then it was all over. Time to drag my sorry ass out of the venue and start the long drive back.
My overall thoughts on the weekend and what I learned?
- Beth and her team did a wonderful job. The venue was easy to get to and comfortable. Unless you were blessed with an executive room, (which I wasn’t), the layout was pretty compact and easy to navigate.
- I loved meeting all my friends, (and getting to know some new ones), and having a few days to speak with real humans, learn new stuff and generally get away from the day-to-day life I sometimes love and sometimes hate. It was great to finally meet some SfEPers who I’d talked at length with, but never met ‘in the flesh’ (urgh, what a horrible phrase, why did I use it?).
- I only had one uncomfortable moment, at breakfast on Monday, when I found myself on my own being joined by a few people who knew each other. I’m probably scary first thing (remember, I don’t do mornings), I didn’t know them and they ignored me, so I just ate up and left. Come on, that’s pretty good going. I remember one genealogical conference where hardly anyone made eye contact or spoke to anyone else for most of the weekend. Now THAT was a fun time!
- I learned that it isn’t compulsory to drink your bodyweight in coffee (I didn’t say I didn’t do it, just that it isn’t compulsory).
- I also learned a lot from the sessions I attended. I wish I could have gone to them all (it’s a pain having to choose only 6 out of 30 possible sessions), but there’s always next year for choosing something different.
This was a great weekend getaway, with brilliant company and interesting workshops.
- I learned that there’s no point in worrying over what you wear. I nearly stayed in my room instead of going to the gala dinner. I’d brought the wrong boots, I looked fat in my dress and I really wasn’t feeling up to it. Eventually I took a deep breath, walked the walk and met Eleanor for drinkies. No one gave two hoots as to what I was wearing. We all had fun!
- I learned I can actually give a talk and not pass out.
- I learned I can actually have a mini-asthma attack thanks to a chest cold (sorry for the coughing everyone) and still give a talk five minutes later and not pass out.
I learnt that it’s very, very dangerous to go and meet puppies on the journey down to the conference. There will be two new additions to our family in a few weeks time. Why adopt one when two are just as much fun?