Manal Elsehrawi is based in Egypt and is a writer and editor of a range of ESL materials for various publishers. She is also a qualified IELTS teacher and examiner.
It may be surprising to hear that someone would travel over five thousand kilometres and incur sizeable travel costs to attend a one-day conference, but that’s exactly what I did. I flew from Cairo to London then travelled up to Oxford by coach to attend the Publishing Professionals Awayday for Freelancers on September 16th. Why? Because I was impressed by the programme and knew that it would be so much more than just a professional development event for writers of ESL materials. For someone like me who is fairly new to the industry and lives so far away from publishers, it would be a tremendous opportunity.
When I made the career shift from ESL teacher to writer in 2018, I was in completely foreign territory. I had no knowledge of the publishing industry and no allies. Whilst navigating my way, I noticed on social media sites how many writers and editors, especially those living in the UK, seemed to know each other because they had collaborated together on multiple projects and were recommending each other for jobs. This was my primary goal in attending the Awayday – to network! The best thing about this event was that so many publishers were all there and I had the chance to meet fellow writers and editors in person rather than just virtually as I had been trying to do. It was an excellent chance for me to promote myself and express my interests and ideas in hopes of future collaborations. Since the event, I have connected with both writers and publishers who now know me and show interest in my work.
There were many bonuses too. The pre-conference BBQ on the 15th (really a posh open buffet of BBQ delights) was an excellent way to meet everyone and break the ice so we would not be strangers at the conference the following day. There were also so many informative sessions on the day given by excellent and entertaining speakers. I was inspired to reflect on my own writing and consider whether I was taking such critical factors as diversity and inclusion, neurodiversity, translanguaging and ecolinguistics into enough consideration when creating my materials. It was all very enlightening!
Several breaks were also given to allow for refreshments and even more networking. Attendees were encouraged to unapologetically move around to meet as many people as possible and to stand in open circles to allow others to join in easily. The venue itself was wonderful – very clean and spacious with areas where we could go outside for air or to enjoy the sunshine. I actually stayed at the hotel and found it comfortable and very pleasant.
As for the organisers, Helen, Sue, Karen and Jemma – I cannot thank you enough for all your help and support. By pointing me in the direction of publishers who would be most interested in meeting me because of my passion for writing readers, I felt genuinely looked after and as though I were among old friends who cared that I got the most out of my attendance after such a long trip. You were my allies. Much respect and more power to you, ladies! You started something that has turned into a wonderful triumph. Thank you for the experience and for your kindness. I am genuinely looking forward to my next Awayday.