My first challenge was finding the venue, Kings Place.
Never one to read a map accurately, I failed to register the rather obvious presence of Kings Cross Station next to St Pancras, and shot up Pancras Road instead of carrying on to York Way. By the time I realised my mistake I could see there was a road that connected the two roads, and in fact delivered me right to the door of Kings Place. I could tell I was in the right place because there were hundreds of women of various ages standing in a queue inside. That, and the big sign over the door saying ‘Kings Place’.
I stepped inside and joined the queue, and so began one of the most challenging days I’d have all year.
I’m 75% SAHM to 4 demanding children and 25% self employed , so it’s not like I sit around all day playing Candy Crush and watching Jeremy Kyle. I deal with tantrums, sibling arguments, school runs, housework, pets and clients everyday so I’m no stranger to challenges. But a lot of this stuff is routine and I am frequently painfully aware I have the remnants of a once half-decent brain circling the drain. Sometimes it’s nice to take my mind out of it’s bubble wrap now and again. And that’s where Blogfest comes in.
We all get different things from the internet; information, shopping, companionship. I’ve used it for all these things, but the thing I’d miss most about the world wide web if it were to go poof tomorrow, is its ability to challenge my very thought processes. It makes me think about things that I’d never even considered as requiring a second thought and things that I’d never dreamed existed. It doesn’t always change my mind, but it gets me thinking about things in a different way. It sways my opinions and helps me understand where other people are coming from.
This is one of the things I like about Mumsnet, the forum, and also about Blogfest itself; it challenges my thoughts and introduces me to new things. I went to last year’s Blogfest not knowing what to expect, and found it both enjoyable and thought provoking, so I had high hopes for Blogfest 2013.
It certainly started off well, with a short, sweet welcome from Mumsnet, then a lively keynote panel about anonymity on the web. The star of the show was Stella Creasy, who argued that online abuse should be treated as real life harassment. Despite most of the audience tweets displayed on a huge screen hovering above the panel appearing to be in agreement with her, this was not a view shared by everyone on the sofa. ( Yes Toby Young, I’m looking at you!)
On a personal level, my mind wandered back and forth, considering the opposing view points while following the discussion, until the topic turned to Ask.fm and the sometimes tragic results of the offensive comments made by users of the site. Upon hearing that many of the people on Ask.fm are under 18 years of age, I wondered if it were somehow possible to to hold parents accountable for what their children do online. Or do the parents of the bullies on these sites know what their kids are doing to other kids and just don’t care?
The morning break was welcome, with plenty of coffee, but we could have done with more cake.
For me, Breakout Session 1 was all about writing funnier stuff. I don’t set out to write to make people laugh but people have mentioned they find some of my stuff funny, so I went looking for tips to build on this. There was plenty of talk about whether ‘funny’ was something that could be taught or not, and it seemed that the panel thought that most humorous writers did have a genetic funny bone. Day to day mishaps were a popular source of inspiration, but there was some disagreement about whether these mishaps had to be your own.
The following Think Bomb Session featured the always amazing Tanya Byron, talking about using technology wisely to allow us to stimulate the children we were ‘raising in captivity’; the colourful, but softly spoken Dr Sue Black who told us that tech savvy mums lead to tech savvy kids, which in turn produce tech savvy communities and Jon Ronson, who told us the tale of how a spambot stole his identity. This had us rolling in the aisles.
Prior to hearing these speakers, my opinion had been ‘technology is probably bad for kids but makes a damn fine babysitter’, so it was nice to hear a different message from such clever people. And after listening to Dr Black I resolved to make sure I take the time to keep my technology knowledge up to date for the sake of my kids.
Lunch time next. This was a bit disappointing after last year’s amazing buffet. I had beef and ale pie which was very nice but the only vegetable side dish offered was cabbage, which was an interesting choice. The pie was tasty, I could have done with a knife at one point, but I was too full for pudding, so I can’t complain too much.
We had an hour and 20 minutes for lunch which gave us plenty of time to eat, drink, mingle and bump badges.
Now I have to write about the badges because they were really rather clever. I wasn’t sure I was going to like them at first. They were heavier than normal, but not big enough that they caused a problem, and attached to them was a sticker with each attendee’s name, twitter name and blog name ( I think!). To exchange contact information with another person, all you had to do was tap your badge with the other person’s and a couple of lights on the bottom would flash to show you the information had been exchanged. The idea seemed very popular as people were tapping badges with anyone they spoke to. It was so much easier than fumbling through bags to find cards and pressing them on each person I met. Best of all I didn’t need to take a card in return while hoping I didn’t lose it. Instead I now have a handy little timeline of people I spoke to during the day, complete with multiple contact details thanks to Blendology!
Lunch time was also time to check out the Blogfest Sponsors and have a cheeky midday drink at the Mark Warners beach shack. I also popped into the blog clinic to see if I could sign up to anything useful but I was too late; the slots that would have been useful to me were already taken. By this time I was getting a headache from the constant buzz of other people’s conversations so I popped outside for a breath of fresh air ( ironic really as there a bunch of smokers out there) and admired the coots on the canal for a bit.
The first session after lunch was a panel on how to make money from your blog. I mainly went along to hear the lovely Rachel Lucas speak about how she used her blog to promote her writing career but also came out with a little knowledge about an affiliate scheme called Skimlinks, thanks to Tom Allin. After a bit of research, I have applied to join the scheme, so we’ll see what comes of that.
Breakout session three was fantastic; all about how to tell a better story. The panel featured Al Kennedy And Lionel Shriver (We Need To Talk About Kevin). There was talk about opening lines, both good and bad, and lots of advice about how to write. Not everyone said the same thing, which was interesting, but these are successful writers who have found something that works for them and it was an amazing opportunity to be able to hear them speak.
Penultimately, there was the now infamous ‘Can You Be A Mummy Blogger And Still Be A Feminist?’ debate. My challenge here was not to get sucked into the debate but just watch as chaos broke out around me.
So many people took this personally, and there were some truly ridiculous statements being made. The Big Screen Twitter Feed was seething before it finally got taken down with no explanation, which I thought was a bit off. Even if the powers that be had just said ‘It’s a bit distracting’, it would have been more respectful than just whipping it away from us, as people definitely felt like their voice had been removed.
I thought the original question was a non-starter really, as this flowchart encompasses my ideas about feminism.
I also remembered that the same session last year featured Liz Jones, so I decided that this was probably Mumsnets ‘Wind Up’ session, so didn’t get too het up about it.
But once all the shouting was over, it was the moment we’d all been waiting for.
Jo Brand, large as life and twice as funny, got behind the podium to try and settle us down again. She was wonderfully sweary and just hilarious. It’s such a pity she doesn’t do Twitter as I’d watch her like a hawk.
Once she’d finished, we all crammed in to the bar for some nibbles and a couple of very nice gin and tonics. My friends and I found a spot by the gin, where the waiters came out bearing food, and close to where poor Jo Brand was standing, so we could bask in her presence for a little longer.
At the end of the night, my challenge was to leave the gin, hand in my badge, collect my goodie bag and get myself home. (The goodie bag was one of the best I’ve ever had ( it contained a book, chocolate truffles AND marmalade!) and had enough stuff for me to share out among the kids with only a minor scuffle.)
Finally, slightly OT as this post is also a competition entry, as well as a Blogfest review, so requires a top tip for a family holiday.
My tip is ‘Don’t let having kids put you off something more adventurous when it comes to holidays. Make sure you do stuff for the adults too.’
Hopefully I’ll see you at Blogfest 2014. You can sign up for news here.