Monthly Archives: December 2019

Not just fun and games: the CPD of escape rooms

By Julia Sandford-Cooke

You might think I’m just a meek and unassuming editor, but I have a secret identity. When I’m not correcting content, I may be stealing diamonds, exploring Egyptian tombs, solving crimes or perhaps even saving the world (twice from a renegade sheep). Despite my reputation for remaining calm under pressure, I have been known to scream, ‘Why are you just standing there? We only have three minutes to defuse the bomb!’

Yes, I’m an escape room enthusiast. Bear with me because the link to continuing professional development (CPD) isn’t as tenuous as you might think. After 20 years as an editor, I’m still committed to learning but I’ve completed most relevant courses at least once, so have begun to seek out new ways to build and apply my skills. After all, we editorial professionals don’t just spend our days correcting grammar and swearing at Microsoft Word – we also practise problem solving, time management, team working and lateral thinking. And all these skills are tested and strengthened in escape rooms.

What is an escape room?

Basically, you and your team of two to about seven people enter a room to solve puzzles relating to a particular theme or story within a set amount time (usually an hour but, increasingly, 90 minutes). In fact, ‘escape room’ is rather a misleading term. It’s really more about escapism than escaping. Although you may need to find a way out of a setting like a prison or cabin within the time limit, instead you could solve a crime, find a relic, save a pirate ship or pass all your wizarding exams. Sometimes the challenge is just collecting as many toy cats as you can. You won’t actually be locked in (I believe that’s illegal) and, in fact, many rooms allow you to leave at any time – but what would be the fun of that? I won’t spoil your future games by describing the puzzles you’ll encounter in detail but they may involve matching words, spotting inconsistences, identifying patterns, remembering sequences, cracking codes, finding pieces of a jigsaw and completing it, or something more physical, such as shooting foam bullets at a target. Typically, you’ll need to identify a numeric sequence or locate a key for a padlock. It’s seen as bad form to require external general knowledge (that’s what pub quizzes are for) so, as long as you know simple maths and the alphabet, you’ll be able to make a start. If you get stuck, your games master, who monitors you on CCTV, can provide a hint.

Most escape rooms are aimed at adults but switched-on kids aged over eight or so often excel as part of a grown-up team, as long as the theme isn’t too scary – my 11-year-old escape room veteran refuses to do any rooms relating to Egyptian mummies, zombies or school detentions. As for the rooms themselves, some are charmingly homemade, some are slickly mechanised and some have amazing movie-quality sets but all require players to accept the scenario in which they find themselves and work together to achieve a mutually beneficial outcome. Can you see the parallels with publishing yet?

Julia and her husband test a virtual reality game at ERIC. Photo by Guy Wah Photography.

Take my nearest venue, Fakenham Escape Rooms. In this game, we have been employed by the International Rescue Corps to complete the work of a missing professor who had been working on new technology that predicts the time and location of natural disasters. Our mission is to find his research and coordinate our findings to discover where and when the next disaster will be. It’s a fun, immersive room and, as it happens, we were top of the leader board for six months until some professional escapologists (pah!) completed it slightly quicker. It’s the taking part that counts – but beating other teams does motivate competitive players like me. The owners subsequently asked us to test their new room before it officially opened, and listened to our constructive feedback on the experience, a bit like a physical version of proofreading.

It’s all about teamwork

So, what makes a good escape room team? Well, I’ve edited enough business books to be intimately acquainted with the Belbin team roles, and have played enough escape rooms to know that combining people with different skills is going to get the job done quicker and better. For example, my daughter has a mind like a trap and is good at finding hidden items. My programmer husband can apply logic to any situation, and I delegate all the maths puzzles to him. Some of the friends I’ve played with are efficient, organised and focused. Others are highly creative or have an in-depth knowledge of binary. As for me, when I asked for feedback on my performance, Team-mate 1 (my daughter) said I’m quick to make connections between different elements and Team-mate 2 (my husband), after some thought, said I’m better at reading than he is. Our greatest triumphs have been a result of focusing on the goal, clear communication and mutual respect for each other’s abilities. All of which are ingredients for successfully managing any project.

Benefiting more than just me

I’ve attended two excellent conferences this year. One was (naturally) the SfEP conference at Aston University. The other was the amusingly named ERIC – the Escape Room Industry Conference in glamorous Dagenham. Covering everything from game theory to marketing, with a little acting thrown in, it was the most enjoyable small-business foundation course that you can imagine. I came home brimming with ideas for developing my own editing business (‘escape rooms’ now features as a key word in my SfEP Directory entry – puzzle tester for hire). As a textbook specialist, I’d love to look at ways of engaging learners via puzzles and for improving testing methods such as those tricky multiple-choice questions that authors always struggle to perfect.

What’s more, while I’m not quite ready to open my own escape room (watch this space), I made a contact at ERIC which has resulted in another exciting new project. I’ve joined forces with my local library to coordinate a treasure trail for teams of Key Stage 2 pupils (9 to 11 year olds) in which they have to use the library facilities to tackle puzzles and act out a narrative – hopefully developing their literacy and problem-solving skills, and their enthusiasm for libraries, in the process.

Try it for yourself

There are now about 1,500 escape rooms in the UK, and maybe 20,000 in the world, so there’s likely to be at least one near you. Some are inevitably better than others – read reviews before you go to gain an idea of quality because it’s admittedly not a cheap hobby. The typical cost is around £20 per person, and it can be even more expensive if (as a purely hypothetical example, of course) you choose to celebrate 20 years with your husband by travelling to Margate to play five games over two days (Kent being the unlikely escape-room capital of the UK). It’s still cheaper than formal training as well as fun, educational and a welcome break from those ubiquitous screens.

Excuse me, I’m just off to Google ‘Milton Keynes escape rooms’. If you want to join my team for some extra escapist CPD while we’re in town for the 2020 CIEP conference, let me know!

Julia Sandford-CookeJulia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications has 20 years’ experience of publishing and marketing. She has written and edited numerous textbooks, specialising in vocational education, media studies, construction, health and safety, and travel. In her spare time, she’s a pirate, spy and astronaut.

 


Thinking about your CPD plans for 2020? The SfEP offers a wide variety of courses, and more informal CPD is available through its members’ forums and local groups.


Photo credits: Sheep Jonathan Poncelet, Escape Rooms sign – Zachary Keimig, both on Unsplash; Julia and her husband testing a virtual reality game at ERIC Guy Wah Photography.

Proofread by Emma Easy, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

Dear Santa…

Dear Santa,

We know you’re busy at this time of year, but we were wondering if you could take a look at our Christmas list. We don’t need all of these items, perhaps one or two per editor or proofreader, but it would be nice to be given something really useful, really relaxing, really inspiring, or really thoughtful this year. (The less said about last year’s pot pourri and wall calendar of naval scenes, the better.)

Tools for the job

Mugs. We use them a lot. During any given year our mugs will have suffered such wear and tear that a new one is always welcome, particularly a funny editing-related one (from Etsy), or one that reminds us of the most wonderful words we’ve ever read (from Penguin).

Also, any coffee- or tea-making gadgets would be lovely. Nothing too big, obviously, as most of us work alone – well, many of us don’t work absolutely alone, but cats don’t drink hot beverages – tea pots for one from Whittard’s, small coffee makers from Bodum, that sort of thing. Let’s face it, most of us would be delighted with some fancy biscuits. If they’re in a nice tin, we can keep it for any of the business-related detritus we’re currently stuffing in a drawer or putting in endless tiny pots on our bookshelves.

Once we’re refreshed, it’ll be time to get to work. T-shirts or tote bags from Arrant Pedantry will get us in the zone for battling those stray commas and dashes.

Reef blue, dandelion yellow, myrtle green, sapphire blue … no, these aren’t the latest Dulux colour range, Santa. They are the colours of covetable Moleskine notebooks. With one of these on our desk, there will be no excuse not to record every small thought that occurs to us during the editing process, perhaps with a posh new pen.

As we valiantly attempt to sit at our computers all day without turning the heating on, how we will appreciate some beautiful fingerless cashmere gloves from Turtle Doves (around £26 per pair). If you can’t stretch to those, check out the Heat Holders range by SockShop. As well as socks, there are gloves, neck warmers, and even hats. Perhaps reserve the hats for those editing in a croft on a Scottish island without heating. You know who they are.

Once we’ve worked for a few hours, we’ll need to do a Stet activity. These didn’t exist last year, Santa. We just called them ‘a stroll around the block’, ‘a quick spin on the bike’ or ‘a short run’. However, this year they’re an indispensable part of our editing day, and we’ve quite worn out our leisure gear, so some new sports clothes would be most welcome.

When we’re back, all revitalised and with a healthy glow we want to show off, we might want to do some promotional activities. For this we’ll need a selfie stick. After all, our arms just aren’t long enough to snap a photo that looks like someone else has taken it, and the cat hasn’t completed its photography course yet. With this equipment, too, we might be able to finally make that introductory video we’ve been promising the marketing department (yup, ourselves) that we’d produce in 2019.

Gifts for downtime

2019 has been a bumper year for books about language. With a book token, we could choose from Dreyer’s English by Benjamin Dreyer, Don’t Believe a Word by David Shariatmadari, Greek to Me by Mary Norris, Semicolon by Cecelia Watson, or Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch. (Only joking: we’d use this rare opportunity to buy a fast-paced thriller or a book about gardening.)

It’s a cliché, but sometimes the most valuable things aren’t ‘things’. Give us the chance to plant a tree with the Woodland Trust. Or, if we’re fond of birds, buy us membership of the RSPB.

If you’re feeling flush, Santa, you could pay for a one-off house clean or a consultation by a life laundry-type person to get our house and possessions organised. Or, as in that classic Frasier Season 5 Christmas episode, you could treat us to a relaxing massage. We’ll take a BACS payment if you don’t have any cash on you. After all, we are professional business people.

With gratitude and barely concealed anticipation,

The members of the SfEP x


Don’t forget! SfEP members get discounts at Cult Pens, and others – visit the Members’ Area to find out more.


Photo credits: Santa Mike Arney; Mug – Alex; Gift Ben White, all on Unsplash

Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

My first mini-conference: Toronto 2019

By Cat London

Reentering the professional world after being in the trenches as the primary caregiver to young children for eight and a half years is a bit like coming out of a cinema after a daytime movie: you emerge, blinking, surprised to find that the sun is shining and the parking lot is full of cars. Well, the analogy may not be perfect, but as my youngest child approaches three, returning to in-person professional development and finding new opportunities to meet and learn from my colleagues after being focused on my work and my kids has been a pleasure I had not anticipated.

Having recently joined the SfEP, I decided to attend the Toronto mini-conference and so I took a train to my onetime hometown of Toronto. I wasn’t able to attend the pre-conference workshop, led by Dr Malini Devadas, a neuroscientist, editor and coach, but I was fortunate to get an abridged version via Cloud Club a couple of days earlier. Malini, having just arrived from Australia, took the time to answer questions about changing your mindset to increase your income, and to talk about confidence, rates, efficiency and marketing. Her thoughts were very useful to me as I have been starting to think about what my business will look like going forward when my son begins at school.

I have been editing from home in yoga pants for so long that I was quite nervous about being in a room full of talented colleagues and learning from such luminaries as Paul Beverley and Jennifer Glossop. I wasn’t 100% sure I remembered how to talk to actual grownups face to face. However, the organisers and volunteers were so kind and welcoming, the space so full of natural light and the attendees’ conversation so interesting that I quickly felt at ease and excited for the day.

Paul Beverley, the famed Word Macro Man, had flown from the UK to talk to the group about Word macros. He demonstrated some of the huge array of tools he has created and gives away at no charge, with instructions on how to put them to best use. I use a couple of macros regularly, but during Paul’s session I was reminded of how much time I can save every day by mastering macros at a greater depth. I have thus far ignored his DocAlyse and other analysis macros, but have now realised how badly I need them! I also hadn’t realised that there’s a macro that can change the screen background colour according to whether Track Changes is on or off. If you’ve ever had to redo work because you hadn’t tracked the changes (hand up!) you’ll realise how exciting this is. During the break, Paul took the time to look at a macro I had been having trouble with, and even emailed me the next day with follow-up suggestions. Janet MacMillan, one of the organisers of the mini-conference, had mentioned to me several times how kind and giving the general culture of the SfEP is, and Paul is the perfect case in point.

After Paul, we heard from Jennifer Glossop, a Canadian fiction editor I hold in esteem bordering on awe. Jennifer has been working in publishing for over four decades and has edited such authors as Margaret Atwood, David Suzuki and Tim Wynne-Jones. Books she has edited have won or been nominated for many awards, including the Governor General’s Award and the Giller. Jennifer talked about ‘finding the missing parts in a narrative’, about how cutting what is too long is sometimes a simpler task than knowing what is not there and how to put it in. We talked about how to find what might be missing in the areas of plot, character and senses, including missing or offstage scenes, missing emotions, and gaps in timelines. I could write a whole blog post on Jennifer’s thoughts on consequences and how they can work forward and backward in a book (a scene can have consequences down the road or be caused by something that has already happened); the conversation gave me new tools for how to handle some of the challenges I have met in books I have edited, and new ways to explain some of these ideas to authors.

Erin Brenner, an editor from the US with more than 20 years’ experience, titled her session ‘Copyediting 2.0: Editing in the Age of “Post It Now or Lose Your Audience”’, and her talk left me wincing. Not because it wasn’t excellent – it was – but because she helped me realise how many tools and tasks I’ve been ignoring because I’ve been ‘too busy to work smarter’. Erin talked about how easy it is to procrastinate or disregard important tasks like reviewing style guides and finding ways to speed up your work using tools such as PhraseExpander, shortcuts and even the simple yet noble sticky note, as well as how to triage when you don’t have enough time to do everything you would like to do to a document.

Heather Ebbs, a Canadian indexer, writer, editor and teacher, gave me insight into something I knew almost nothing about: indexes. As she put it, ‘indexes are about aboutness’ and it was fascinating to learn more about how indexers work and how to do a better job when tasked with editing an index. When the session ended, I felt a profound sense of certainty that I could never be an indexer, and a more profound sense of gratitude for the professionals who have the skills and experience to do this job with expertise.

Amy Schneider, an editor who has worked on all kinds of books and other projects since 1995, came from the US as well. Her talk, about customising your workspace with templates, dovetailed with Erin’s and reminded me once again that there are many ways to work an awful lot smarter instead of harder, and that it’s time to plunge into them. Amy showed how she uses templates for her work – changing documents to screen-optimised fonts and ensuring that different styles stand out so they can be better edited more quickly – but more importantly she showed us how to take that information and apply it to just about any project and work style.

The sessions ended with a Q&A with all the speakers. The theme that emerged from the day was clearly how to work smarter and more efficiently. Erin challenged us all to do better when it comes to efficiency, and I’m told Malini’s workshop the previous day challenged attendees to pick one thing and do it. So, here I am, publicly pledging that I will be setting up the DocAlyse macro and getting to know it (and maybe HyphenAlyse and ProperNounAlyse) this week.

The conference organisers were like ninjas, or perhaps wizards, conjuring trays of fresh food and pots of hot coffee into convenient locations at regular intervals. Each aspect of delegate attendance was handled thoughtfully, from pronoun stickers to a policy for immunocompromised attendees, to ensure that everyone felt comfortable. There were opportunities to get tech help from Paul Beverley and to learn more about Queen’s University Professional Studies from talented editor Corina Koch MacLeod, who is an educational designer with Queen’s. I don’t want to write an uncritical review, so I’ve been trying hard to come up with something negative to say about the day. I suppose next year it would be nice if organisers could arrange for the weather to be a bit warmer. After the conference we retired to a pub across the street, from which I was sorry to have to dash for the train.

I’m grateful to the organising team of Maya Berger, Kelly Lamb, Janet MacMillan and Rachel Small for bringing together such a welcoming, international group of supportive, interesting and generally lovely people for a day of learning. It was the perfect way to return to in-person professional development, and no one asked me for a snack or told me that their brother was hitting them. I hope to be able to attend some of the SfEP Toronto group meetings in the future, and I am looking forward to next year’s mini-conference.

Cat London recently joined the SfEP as a Provisional Advanced Professional Member. She does developmental editing, copyediting and proofreading of fiction and non-fiction, primarily for publishing companies, and also works as a photographer. A certified copyeditor through Editors Canada, Cat has edited a great deal of gritty fiction and maintains an extensive library of style sheets cataloguing various slang, expletives and obscenities. She lives in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, with her husband, dog and altogether too many children.


Coming up in 2020:

  • The SfEP’s local groups will meet regularly throughout 2020 have a look at the calendar.
  • The next annual SfEP conference will be at Kents Park Hill, Milton Keynes, 1214 September 2020 booking will open in spring 2020.

Photo credits: SfEP notebook – Cat London; Toronto skyline – Richard Kidger on Unsplash.

Proofread by Victoria Hunt, Intermediate Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.