This year the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) held its 29th annual conference. It’s a chance for editing types to socialise, network, learn new things and brush up on their existing skills. And it was the first conference I’ve ever attended.
It took me around five hours to drive to Lancaster University, the location of this year’s conference. It was a drive that saw me contend with wind, rain, a toll booth, and clipped-shut toilet lids at service stations. I reached Lancaster on Saturday a little flustered, and quite tired, but I successfully checked in and located my room. It was like stepping back in time nine years – except my room at Royal Holloway had a comfortable mattress and I could turn around in my old en suite’s shower without hitting my elbows.
I’d arrived in time for conference registration, and then I attended the welcome and annual general meeting. I was strangely pleased to be able to raise my little rectangle of red paper to vote at the AGM. By this time, I was firmly attached to my conference buddy, Rachael Mortimer, and it made the whole weekend seem much less daunting. Thank you, Rachael.
After the first-timers’ pre-dinner drinks and then dinner (duck with hard bits of cauliflower), I headed off to bed. Sturdier conference attendees took part in the pub quiz – a good time must have been had because I’m pretty sure a few of them stumbled into the halls of residence rather late that night.
Sunday began with a full English breakfast (minus the plum tomatoes) but soon we were off to the plenary session and the Whitcombe Lecture. This year the Whitcombe Lecture was given by Professor Lynne Murphy and she provided an informative and entertaining overview of the different approaches taken by US and UK editors. What I’ve taken from it is that US editors tend, on the whole, to edit with the experience of the reader as their primary concern, whereas UK editors edit with the author’s intention as their primary concern. It seems to me that there is a balance to be struck between the two.
After a tea/coffee break (orange juice and cookies for me) it was time for the first workshop of the conference. I attended Getting stuck in: editing narrative openings, in which Eleanor Collins provided ideas and techniques related to the structural editing of narrative texts. It was my first workshop and I had to introduce myself to the group and talk about a book that has an opening I like. Of course, I immediately couldn’t remember a single book I’d ever read. Ultimately, the workshop provided lots to consider for helping authors construct a compelling opening to their story, but Eleanor also explored why authors can find openings difficult to write – an insight into that can’t help but make for better editing on all levels.
It was soon lunchtime. The ‘dumplings’ that accompanied our stew are already infamous, but at least most of my colleagues didn’t spend the rest of the day with stew splattered all down their shirt (I did). There wasn’t time to dwell on my disarray – the first session was upon us. I chose What do proofreaders of student writing do to a poorly written master’s essay? Differing interventions, worrying findings because I have done a lot of work with students. Nigel Harwood discussed the results of a study he conducted into the work undertaken under the banner of ‘proofreading’. Many (I think most) of the participants in his study were not professional proofreaders, but students or the friends and family of students. Nonetheless, it was alarming to hear about the different approaches taken to the work – the collective gasps of astonishment were frequent. It reinforced, for me, how important it is that I have my own guidelines for proofreading work by students (that’s to be submitted for marking) and that I make them clear to prospective clients.
After another tea/coffee break (water, cookies, and an apple I’d taken from the breakfast bar) the something-for-everyone sessions began. First up for me was How the f**k do I style this? with Kia Thomas. I’m reminded of how much I enjoyed it because the only thing I wrote down in my notebook was ‘fuckbadger’, from a game where we had to style a new swear. Then I dashed over to the Lightning talks so I could catch Rachael in action (Proofreading for the Board-Game Industry). She did herself proud. I loved the lightning talk format: such varied topics in succinct chunks.
I’m the local group coordinator (LGC) for West Surrey and North Hampshire, so I went to the LGC meeting next. It was great to meet and hear from other LGCs, and to share what we are doing with our groups, and what seems to be working and what doesn’t. Earlier in the day I nabbed a handful of SfEP badges for my group, and sustained only minor injuries thanks to the pins. I walked back from the meeting with the lovely Lisa de Caux – just one of my Twitter buddies I met for the first time in real life and felt like I’d been friends with for ages.
The evening brought the gala dinner (chicken and leek terrine, roast lamb, and a titchy portion of Eton mess), the highlight of which was the performance by the Linnets (a choir of SfEP members). Julia Sandford-Cooke wrote the lyrics to ‘An Editor’s Psalm’, and has put them on her website to be enjoyed there too. Someone said to me (please forgive that I can’t remember who – I was running on empty by this point) that they needed to be back in their room before midnight, to avoid turning into a pumpkin. I shared the sentiment. Fortunately, I did avoid becoming a squash; it would have made the next day awkward.
I had Coco Pops for breakfast – I pretended I wanted a ‘lighter’ option, but really I wanted the sugar hit. My second workshop, but first of the day, was eEditing for multi-channel publishing. Chris Jennings introduced us to markdown – a lightweight markup language used by platforms such as Scrivener and Ulysses. I haven’t explored options for editing online, and this was a great introduction to the possibilities.
After cookies and orange juice (looking back, I realise I consumed a lot of sugar) and saying goodbye to Rachael, who had to leave early to get her train, it was time for The healthy editor: managing yourself and your workspace. Denise Cowle provided a welcome reminder about self-care and making sure our workspace isn’t negatively affecting our health and work. And I got my first taste of tablet (yeah, I know, I have a Scottish surname and should be ashamed of myself).
Monday’s lunch was much more manageable than stew: lasagne and garlic bread. It was followed by the plenary session, which consisted of a talk given by Kathryn Munt (CEO of the Publishing Training Centre). She gave an overview of the evolution of outsourcing within the publishing industry, particularly to companies overseas. I don’t work with any outsourcing companies, but I know a lot of my colleagues do and it’s an area fraught with difficulties. The session confirmed this, but also provided hope that the publishing industry may begin to tackle the problems raised.
A final tea/coffee break and I headed for one of the sessions I had most been looking forward to: Sarah Grey’s Inclusive language: the ethics of conscious language. Language is incredibly powerful, and we only need to look around us and at recent events to see the results of language and word choices. It’s a real shame that the session was cut short (because the plenary session overran) but I think that will be rectified at next year’s conference.
I didn’t win any prizes in the raffle (boo) at the close of the conference. Many people had already departed by this point, but I said goodbye to some of the people who had put up with me over the three days, collected my certificate of attendance, and retired to my room. I drove home on Tuesday.
The SfEP conference 2018 was brilliant. I had such a good time. Yes, the food and accommodation left something to be desired, but that didn’t detract from the rest of the event. I attended some excellent workshops and sessions, and I learnt such a lot from them. I came back absolutely exhausted, but reinvigorated in my love for what we do.
What I will always remember, though, was how lovely everyone was. I was very nervous about my first conference, but the nerves evaporated almost as soon as I arrived. I can’t list all the people who sought me out to say hello, there were just too many, but please know that I am so incredibly grateful to you all. It meant so much that anyone would even think to do so. And thank you to all the people I didn’t know from Twitter or the SfEP forums but who chatted to me anyway and made me feel like I fit right in.
If you are thinking about attending the conference next year, I highly recommend you go for it. Do it. I don’t think you will regret the experience.