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Linnets, laughter, learning: #SfEP2017 conference highlights

Last year I was not very organised and managed to arrange a holiday exactly coinciding with #SfEP2016. Never again. This year I got it right. Holiday just before, no real thinking about ‘work’ or the day-to-day anxieties of life, just get on and do it.

And it did not disappoint. It was one of the most useful, enjoyable and professionally run events of my entire working life. I feel I made lifelong professional friends, learned lots, had some assumptions challenged and others reinforced. It was intensive but never grinding, enlightening but familiar, comfortable but new, jokey but serious.

And I got to sing with The Linnets, how rewarding is that?

Here are some of the highlights.

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

1. The People

One of the things I was most looking forward to was putting flesh on the avatars. Having been actively involved online with several prominent SfEppers who are tweeters, bloggers, fellow flash fiction challenge contestants, or active on the SfEP forum, I was keen to meet all of them face-to-face. And that turned out to be so rewarding. These were people I felt I knew, almost intimately, before the conference, yet actually In Real Life didn’t. I do now, and was able to spend many hours in their company, one way or another, consolidating the new relationships.

One of those was the person I describe as the ‘incomparable’ Louise Harnby – half in affection, half in awe. It was a truly memorable moment when she picked up the Judith Butcher award. Not to say that the other nominees weren’t hugely deserving too. It was a great achievement even to be nominated, as David pointed out, but still you could tell from the reaction in the room what a special moment it was.

And so rewarding to consolidate friendships from my lovely local group, four of whom were there. And new friends too, special ones, who I had not chanced across before the event, but fate threw us together from the speed networking on, and fate will now do very well to prise us apart.

I was sad that a couple of people I really wanted to meet from online life and SfEP training didn’t turn out able to go, but hopefully next year. Especially mentor Liz and flash fiction challenge organiser Sophie; but they won’t escape for long…


2. The Entertainment

I have already mentioned the Linnets. It was entertaining enough being on the right side of the stage. I can only imagine what it sounded like, but at least people laughed in the right places – and hopefully with the singing rather than at it. Hester, John and Pam in particular deserved huge applause for their role in creating this – amazing – thing!

It is strange that at a professional conference you can laugh so much. The lightning talks for me were as much about laughter as knowledge, with Abi’s talk on editorial interiors standing out for sheer drollery and witty, knowing delivery. Special thanks to Robin and Lucy for asking me to do one: a shame my joke on Sean Spicer didn’t come off!

There was also plenty of entertainment in the late-night bar-room, but not necessarily of the intentional kind. Editors are human after all. It was a good feeling to let our hair down. I am normally in bed by 9 pm. My wife was wondering the next morning what I was doing still on Facebook at 2 am. Oops. My social media trail lay behind me like that of a rather guilty silvery slug.

Finally for sheer entertainment value who could forget Kate and Kia’s inspired business plan for human scarecrows at the end of Louise and John’s session on content marketing. ‘Out standing in the field’ was my favourite line of the entire conference.

3. The Content

Ah yes, Louise and John’s session – reminding us that there was learning at this conference and plenty of it. Anyone reading this blog might think it was an excuse for an almighty outburst of hoots, catcalls and love-ins. But actually there was huge content round every corner, including in some unexpected places.

As someone who hasn’t worked with students much – yet – I did not expect to be so enthralled by Peter’s workshop – for that it was – on working with students. Peter was unashamed: no slides for this session, uh-uh, YOU are going to do all the work. And thus we did. It was a revelation.

And as someone who doesn’t belong to an accountability group I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn, from Denise’s excellent session, that I didn’t actually know what an accountability group was. I do now. What’s more, I picked up loads of really practical tips to use in the similar-but-not-quite-the-same thing I am planning to set up for my book.

My local friends Tracey and Jackie ran a superb session on guerrilla marketing. Lots of advice on how publishers really operate, a real eye-opener to people like me who haven’t ever worked on the publishing side. And then there was the John and Louise show, packed with serious substance on how these two masters of the content marketing universe actually manage it. And how it’s worked. I have loads of blogs lined up in my head. Some of them may even appear on-screen before long. Louise sent me a lovely note after the event which inspired a wave of self-confidence, and John as always was relentlessly helpful, and a fantastic guy with it. Big respect to those two.

And finally the plenary sessions: especially guest speakers Oliver Kamm and Geoff Pullum, speaking from very much the same songsheet as each other and waxing the kind of brilliant, eloquent good sense I would love to bottle and bring home for use in my own work. I knew Oliver when we both started work at the Bank of England in prehistoric times. It was a special pleasure to make his re-acquaintance, given how closely aligned his attitudes to language, pedantry and clarity are to my own.

His book is an essential input to my forthcoming effort. As for Geoff, his excellent summary of readability metrics – ‘not worth the paper they’re not written on’ – set a great precedent for my own talk on readability metrics the next day. Seriously, for me, his talk was actually the best content of the week. Rigorous to a fault, and purveying a philosophy of language I found refreshing, vital and reinforcing.

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So that’s it. #SfEP2017 Wyboston Lakes is over. Goodbye, you are missed. Roll on #SfEP2018 Lancaster. If it can top Wyboston Lakes it will be going some.

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