Musings on the SfEP 2017 conference

SfEP Conference 2017

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.

big tick, correct

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.

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.

traffic in the rain

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.

welcome sign

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.

Oliver Kamm, Accidence will happen

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.

light bulb moment

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.

Conference programme

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.

well done

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.

How a cartoon course saved my sanity

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.

Finally …

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?

corgi pups cartoon

How A Cartoon Helped Me Relax (And It Can Help You Too)

kittens and roses

Running a business can be a pain. Ok, it can be brilliant, but it isn’t all kittens and roses.

Every waking minute can revolve around your business.

When you’re not doing your actual job, you’re thinking about it, about ways to improve it and ways to improve the customer experience. It’s always there, at the back of your mind – you can’t relax, you have a business to run.

Let’s admit it – it can be a bloody nightmare!

work work work

That’s why I decided to do something different. It could be called CPD (continuing professional development), or it could be called mucking around, but after realizing that I just wasn’t switching off I decided to take a cartoon course.

Yup. Doodling. For fun. To help me relax and perhaps gain a new skill.

Now if you’ve been following my blog for a while you may have spotted some of my cartoons. I had one on my website front page for a long time. On and off I’ve doodled since I was at school. Way back when, I had a fabulous Latin teacher who taught us all to cartoon – it was a brilliant way to keep us kids engaged and it’s something I’ve remembered, even though I’ve forgotten a lot of my Latin.

cupboard monster editing proofreading freelance questions

I had this on my website for years

But I wanted to gain a new perspective and, most importantly, I wanted to do something that took me away from my day job. Any free time I have is basically spent project managing for our local theatre. Producing plays is fun (sometimes), but it can be very hard to switch off, especially when I’m editing and project managing during the day. It’s all very full-on and can be hard on the old brain cells.

Cartooning is a way to help you switch off. You don’t have to be good at it and all you need is a piece of paper and a pen.

idea cartoon

When I saw on Twitter that Neil Kerber had started a five-week email cartoon course, allowing you to work at your own pace, I considered it. Neil has the ‘Supermodels’ cartoon in Private Eye, works with national newspapers and corporate clients, and has a nice relaxed style. He’s also a nice chap, which helps.

After some humming and harring, I decided one night (after a glass of wine or two) to just go for it. I have a tendency to put things off so the brain relaxant worked wonders this time.

I won’t tell you what the course includes (no spoilers, go enrol instead), but I will say that it reinforced what I had been taught all those years ago and I also learned new things.

Most importantly, it helped me to disconnect from all the brain work I do, and just let me take time out. Even if it was for fifteen minutes at a time, during a coffee break, I managed to sit down and just scribble.

cartoon dogs

You see, sometimes you need to give yourself permission to switch off. Cartooning is great as a creative outlet. If you need to give yourself an excuse for taking time out to learn to doodle, it can be great for team building at work, for illustrations when you’re giving a presentation or for personalised cards for friends, family and clients. It’s a great stress reliever too.

Now, I won’t say my cartoons will win any prizes (they obviously won’t) but taking a cartoon course was great for so many reasons:

  • It taught me a new skill
  • It reinforced my creativity
  • It taught me that you don’t have to be a brilliant artist
  • It taught me to look at the world in a different way
  • It helped me to relax
  • It gave me something to think about other than words
  • It encouraged my love for great stationery
  • It was a great stress reliever
  • It’s a transferable skill that I can use in business
  • It stopped me being so damned serious

So, you see, I’m glad I decided to take time out and learn something that was fun, took me away from work, and was totally frivolous. Only it really wasn’t frivolous at all – it taught me something valuable …

Do yourself a favour

Time out is important.

For the sake of your physical and mental health you cannot be connected to work 24/7.

Children don’t need to be told to go and play, so as adults we need to re-learn to disconnect and just be.



Neil’s cartoon course can be found on his website This article has not been sponsored or endorsed by Neil in any way, in fact he had no knowledge that I was going to write it.

As usual if you need an editor’s help contact me and we can talk through your project.

Career Development Can Be Fun

boat, career development, team work


It’s half past two on a Friday and I still haven’t written my blog. Normally I would be panicking, but today I’m not. You see, the reason I am late with this week’s missive is that I have been buried in some ‘stuff’. Not literally, obviously, although the pile of books next to me is looking precarious.

I’m about to embark on a new course and I’ve been reading a very interesting book on screenwriting to get me in the mood. Tomorrow I start the Open University A363 Advanced Creative Writing course.

I’ve emailed my tutor (seems like a lovely chap), checked out the books and have occasionally scribbled in my ‘writer’s notebook’ in the hope that something, anything will come to me as inspiration for a story or two. I’m excited but also very scared. Very, very scared.

But what has this got to do with career development I hear you mutter?

speech bubble, question

It’s true, I’m doing this for fun, just as I did A215 Creative Writing for fun. But fun can also be useful. This last academic year I completed A215 with a distinction, and also carried out some CPD in the shape of a fiction editing course (not at the same time though, there are only so many hours in the day! A215 came first). The two complemented each other, and while I was having fun I was also honing my skills for work. By the end of the summer I had a better understanding of both fiction editing and fiction writing. I can now see things from both sides, which not only makes me better at my job, but a more empathic editor.

I’m now about to start the next level and hope that it will further enhance my writing and editing skills. Along the way I also hope to write a play (well it is part of the course), and perhaps it will be good enough for some theatre company to stage. That’s jumping the gun a little – I have to get through the course first. Time spent in our theatre will be useful though, in helping me understand what makes a good play. So my years in the theatre feeds into my time spent on my writing course, which in turn will feed into my working life. So although I wasn’t aware of it, all the time spent reading scripts and producing and occasionally directing plays, and all the fun I was having (even though it’s bloody hard work), was actually a form of professional development. I can edit scripts, any editor could probably edit scripts, but having the hundreds of hours spent in the theatre behind me, I know what makes a good script and know what an actor needs from a decent script. And that will feed into my writing, and also my work.

zombie prom, play, script, playscript

Our last production, now it’s time for panto rehearsals.

So, taking a creative writing course and spending all my free time in our local theatre has been, and will be, a form of career development. Things I can transfer from this type of non-official training:

  1. A better understanding of the writer’s craft
  2. A more empathic view of a manuscript
  3. A clearer view of what works in a narrative
  4. A clear view of what does and doesn’t work in a playscript
  5. An understanding that career development shouldn’t be boring.

There are probably many more positive points I could note, but you get my drift. Career development isn’t all about work, it’s about doing something you love and taking the lessons learned then applying them to your working life.

So it’s your turn … comment below and let us know where you have found career development opportunities in your free time. Have you found any unusual ways of adding value to your work?

And if you need an editor, contact me. I’d love to help you.