Conference Capers

Society for Editors and Proofreaders conference pack

Last week I came out of hiding and headed down to Edinburgh for the SfEP Scottish Regional Mini-conference organised by the Edinburgh, Glasgow and North/East Scotland groups of the SfEP.

Meetings like this are few and far between so for me it’s imperative that the whole thing is an enjoyable experience; there’s nothing worse than a few days away knowing you’ve left a pile of work behind (or worse still, taken it with you). So I cleared my work schedule and enjoyed the six-hour drive to Stirling, where I was staying for a few days, as my daughter and I sang along to our favourite tunes.

On the morning of the conference I gathered together my directions and notebooks, and headed for the train at stupid o’clock (the train was at 8 a.m. … I usually drag myself out of bed at that time). For once I was full of confidence as I know the area and didn’t have to navigate the car around unknown motorway exits while trying to remember directions. I love taking the train – I get to do some people watching and catch up on reading instead of spending my time swearing at road signs.

Outside the venue, 25 Nicolson Square, Edinburgh

Isn’t it pretty? This was the view from the venue – look, blue skies!

I was actually in plenty of time for the arrival coffee and networking (I usually manage to get to places with little time to spare if I’m being completely honest) and was pleased to see some familiar faces. I love meeting new people, but there’s nothing like catching sight of a friend to put you at ease. I talked complete and utter rubbish to a few people, then it was time to sit down and start the conference.

After our Chair, Sabine Citron, welcomed us all we started the day with a wonderful talk from Prof. Geoff Pullum. As Professor of General Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh, Geoff certainly knows his way around words (and apparently a Hammond organ – eat your heart of Prof. Brian Cox!) and this was the presentation I’d been most looking forward to. He didn’t disappoint. I think I’m a fairly rogue editor (and writer) as I prefer to use language as it has developed, rather than stick solidly to old-fashioned usage (unless, of course, the client wants to stick by the ‘rules’), and this talk was wonderful and full of energy. We were told that authorities do not suffice when it comes to grammar usage, and that most ‘rules’ were made up (yes, made up) in the C19th or earlier. As long as the writing makes sense, go ahead and split your infinitives, use the singular ‘they’ and be as passive as you like. And you can start a sentence with and, but and however. The overall theme from this humorous and refreshing talk was that unless you want to sound pompous, go ahead and be less formal – as an editor, over-correcting your author does no one any favours.

Next up was Jane Moody, Professional Development Director, talking about professional development and upgrading your SfEP membership. For me, moving to be a Professional Member was an obvious step, and not at all difficult, however Jane showed that for me to move to Advanced Professional membership will be equally as pain free. I’ll be looking at the upgrade procedure sooner rather than later now. Stephen Cashmore, Training Director, was due to talk about training, but unfortunately the internet crapped out, so we headed for an early coffee break instead.

Ashley Craig, from the North/East Scotland group, gave us a demonstration of commercial super-macros for editing, which was fascinating. I don’t use many macros, although I probably should, and her talk on Editorium and Wordsnsync EditTools was informative and very interesting. The user interfaces looked pretty good (I do like a nice check box) and I might be tempted to give them a trial (although finding the time to play with them might be difficult).

Lunchtime was another chance to catch up, and as we sat outside in the sunshine it made me realise just how much I miss editorial human interaction. Although I do have a tendency to talk complete and utter crap when faced with a bit of ‘networking’. Lunch with friends is a much better way of looking at it.

City of Edinburgh Methodist Church Garden

We sat in the garden at lunchtime, selfies were taken, I looked like a potato with blue hair, so here’s the lovely garden view instead.

Which moves me onto Laura Poole’s talk on authentic networking.  She had us all think about elevator speeches and why we network (it leads to conversations, which lead to relationships, which lead to opportunities). I did chuckle when she told us to ditch the words ‘only’ and ‘just’. They rank highly among ‘Oh, it was nothing’ in my professional phrasebook of ‘things to say when talking about what you do’. After our final coffee break, she gave the final presentation on taking charge of your freelance life. She spoke about dealing with the ‘feast or famine’ aspect of freelancing (how to break the cycle and how to say ‘no’ with conviction), and went into business practices such as client communication, paying attention, raising your rates and task management. Laura’s enthusiasm and drive were really infectious, and I really don’t know how she does it. I’m glad I finally got to meet her at last, as I missed her at the conference last September, but she now has one of my shiny new business cards (sorry, Laura) so she won’t forget the daft blue-haired editor she spoke with on her first trip to Scotland.

When the conference was over, after our Vice-Chair, Lucy Metzger, closed up shop, I dashed off with a friend to Waverley station to bag a seat on the last train before rush-hour madness descended. Sorry to all those I never managed to talk to, I’ll get you in September. There’s nothing quite like a bit of a get-together with friends (otherwise known as professional networking with editorial colleagues) to put a spring in your step. I felt thoroughly energised.

So, what did I take away from the conference?

  • Correct grammar isn’t necessarily something rigid that has been concocted 200 years ago, but is fluid and changing.
  • Professional development is easier than you think.
  • Super-macros are something that can help a professional to tackle their job more effectively.
  • Authentic networking means being yourself, and knowing yourself and your self-worth.
  • Taking charge of your professional life means saying no, as well as yes.
  • Editorial get-togethers are fantastic.

SfEP conference pack and editor's notebook

I’m now looking forward to September and the annual SfEP conference. Until then I have work to do and calendar spaces to fill, so if you know of someone who needs editorial help, contact me and we can have a chat.

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!