Next in our Meet MaWSIG series, Penny Hands, Deputy Publications Coordinator, tells us how she came to join the SIG. 

My MaWSIG story started back in 2013, when the SIG was founded. Our first get-together was at a drinks reception at the Liverpool IATEFL conference. The whole thing felt very exciting. Until then, meeting other editors and writers was a more random occurrence. If you were lucky, you might be introduced to someone whose name you knew from a coursebook series, or you might be brave enough to go up to a semi-celeb after their IATEFL talk and rather sycophantically tell them that you admired their work. Things generally did not develop any further from that.

But MaWSIG was an altogether different affair. Suddenly, everyone was equal. We all formed part of a materials writing family, and everyone had something to offer and something to learn. Our first event took place in Oxford in January, 2014, and we basked in the pleasure of being with so many like-minded folk, sharing ideas, and realising that plenty of other people were experiencing similar hopes and fears. At that time, we all felt like we were on the edge of a digital revolution in publishing; many of us felt unprepared, and I think we all suspected that the beloved printed book’s days were numbered. Over time, I think, as with so many things, we have realised that things aren’t as black and white as that. And, with plenty of mutual support, most of us have managed to make the transition to working in digital authoring tools while continuing to produce material for both print and digital materials.

My children were still quite young when all this was going on, and I felt nervous about committing to an administrative role in the SIG. However, at IATEFL Brighton, 2018, inspired by the collegial atmosphere and encouraged by the ‘refreshments’, I capitulated, and mentioned to Nick Tims that I might be interested in taking over from the outgoing Deputy Publications Coordinator, John Hughes. After that, there was no going back, and I was duly adopted by the committee the following May.

I work closely with our Publications Coordinator, Ceri Jones. My main day-to-day task involves editing and proofreading all our guest blog posts. I read them all and check that the content is relevant and interesting for our members. Then I copy-edit them for accuracy, consistency and flow. I query anything with the writer if I need to ask for clarification, or if we need to check permissions, for example. I then send the link (we work on Google docs) to Nick Tims, our website coordinator, and he publishes it. It’s thanks to Nick that all our blog posts look so professionally laid out. Finally, Jen Dobson announces it on social media.

Other day-to-day duties involve proofreading emails that go out to our members and the MaWSIG’s contribution to the IATEFL eBulletin. I also sometimes check flyers and MaWSIG social media posts. There’s not usually much to feed back on there, though.

The big annual task for the Publications team is the MaWSIG ebook. This is a compendium of all the blog posts we’ve published over the previous year. It also often includes write-ups of talks given at the IATEFL pre-conference event that year and the Showcase day. This can be quite a big job, involving working with writers to update their bios, making sure style is consistent throughout, ensuring that links and references are still up to date, proofreading the ebook layouts and liaising with the designer.

The committee meets online once a week on a Friday afternoon. It’s lovely to catch up with everyone on a regular basis and to see their smiling faces: we’ve just started switching on our video – a move that has seemed to come naturally over the past few months as we all become more accustomed to a slightly more informal approach to video-conferencing. Particularly while we’ve all been in various stages of lockdown in our respective countries of North Macedonia, Spain, Germany and the UK, it’s been a nice way to create a more convivial atmosphere. No need to shave, put on your Zoom shirt or ban the kids/dog/cat from entering the room – we all take each other as we come 😉

I would say my least successful moments tend to occur when it’s my turn to do the minutes: I am seemingly incapable of listening/contributing and typing all at the same time. Fortunately, we use Google docs for our minutes, and other members kindly add in their contributions throughout the meeting.

My favourite moment of the year is when we get to meet up at the IATEFL pre-conference event and enjoy the results of all the hard work that we, and principally our brilliant Events Coordinators, have put in. I can’t wait till we get to do that again.

Penny Hands is a freelance lexicographer, writer and editor. She started her career as an English teacher in France and the UK, and has a master’s in Applied Linguistics from the University of Edinburgh. When studying there, she became interested in dictionaries, and went on to become a senior editor in ELT dictionaries and reference. After going freelance, she worked on various large dictionary projects, and led a team of corpus lexicographers on the Collins COBUILD Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. She also works in the domain of grammar reference materials, recently heading up a research team tracking the evolution of emerging aspects of English grammar. 

Penny’s other special interest is in editing teacher resource materials. She particularly enjoys working closely with authors to help them make their book the best it can be. She has spoken at various conferences about the author–editor relationship, and how it can be nurtured for the benefit of both author and editor, and, most importantly, the reader.