Conference day dawned very early indeed. In fact, to say ‘dawned’ implies that light was involved. Not so. My alarm went off at 4.45am and it was both dark and eerily quiet when I dragged myself out of bed. The house was empty. My husband was in Ireland and the cat was sleeping in his five-star lodgings – no doubt dreaming of salmon.
My first SfEP Conference was to be the highlight of my year. I joined the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (now the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading: CIEP) in May 2017 but was too late to secure a ticket for that year’s conference at Wyboston Lakes. During the post-conference debrief that September, I listened enviously to members of my local Norfolk group enthusing about how much they had learned. It was obvious the experience was both helpful and enjoyable.
I desperately needed a change of scene. I was one week away from finishing a six-month stint as editor and assistant editor of several wedding publications – a job I couldn’t wait to end. I had managed to have just one week off over six months of working full time, with extra unpaid work thrown in almost every weekend.
Suffice to say, my nerves were frazzled from lack of sleep and overwork. My health was tanking and I was generally unhappy with life. Conference was the one bright spot on the horizon – a chance to be me and to mix with like-minded people.
Conference day meant an early start for the Norfolk group. Six of us were travelling together to Lancaster University in a hired people-carrier. Sarah, John and Julia set out from Norwich and picked up the remaining three stragglers – myself, Agnés and Heather – outside a South Norfolk pub. So, it was a 6.30 pick-up followed by a 250-mile drive. I had no idea Lancaster was so far away.
About six hours later, after a long but smooth drive which included a couple of stops, we arrived at the university campus. We were one of the first there, so we hung out with a few other early birds until it was time to register and collect the keys to our rooms.
Speed networking – a quick way to break the ice
We were staying in student accommodation. The rooms were big, and each had its own ensuite shower room. This would have been heaven for me when I was a student in the late 70s, but on this cold, wet day in early September, it felt a little bleak. Although, to be honest, that was probably a reflection of my general mood.
First up, we dropped off our bags and took a trek around the campus in search of a place to eat. We found a small café serving Thai food, which did the trick, then headed back in the rain for our first events; in my case, Speed Networking.
I almost dipped out of this one, I needed a lie-down, but I’m so glad I didn’t. It was actually fun. I met people in various stages of their editing and proofing careers, including some who were just starting out. As a bonus, I picked up some invaluable tips from those who’d been in the business for decades.
Next came coffee and registration followed by a welcome and the annual meeting in a packed lecture theatre. As a professional member, I was entitled to vote on matters of the society’s business. It was also good to put faces to the names of some of our council members who crop up regularly in emails, such as John Espirian, Sabine Citron, John Firth, Sue Browning, Lucy Metzger, Lucy Ridout and Hazel Reid.
Then, with just 45 minutes for us newbies to get ready, it was time for pre-dinner drinks, a chance to mingle and chat to members of the SfEP council. I really enjoyed talking to Alison Hughes, who was delivering my first workshop the next morning: The budget and beyond: growing your business organically.
Food, pub quiz and time for bed
Soon we were joined by the rest of the delegates and it was time for food, which was a little disappointing – roast duck is way down on my list of favourite dishes. Still, feeding close on 200 people is a challenge and the company more than made up for any disappointment with the meal.
The evening was rounded off with a pub quiz – our team did okay – but we were well and truly outdone by the table where some of the indexers were seated. The Society of Indexers was also holding its conference at Lancaster parallel to ours. I was incredibly grateful for their presence after the gala dinner on the following night. More about that in the next post.
Soon it was time to head back to my room, which was only a short walk away from Cartmel College, hoping for a good night’s sleep. A packed day of sessions and workshops beckoned on Sunday, along with my conference speaking debut in the form of a five-minute lightning talk. Was I nervous? Most definitely!