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.

gothic-1629448_1920

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.

heart-29328_1280

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

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.