Cybermummy 2011 - Contemplation

There had been such a build-up and hyperactivity about Cybermummy 2011 that I was excited, worried and nervous all at the same time.  There is so much I want to say, so much I have already said and an awful lot that warrants a post of its own.  So, with that in mind, here are a few highlights of my day in London with over 400 other bloggers, a few famous people and a lot of emotional moments.  The rest will be serialised over the next few days and linked in appropriately.  Feel free to come back to this post and use it as an index to see if I have updated.


4am on Saturday has often been a bleary-eyed, early morning bottle feed or a "it's almost daylight, I'd better leave the party" type of time for me so it felt a bit odd to be getting up to jump on a train to London to be part of the 400+ bloggers attending Cybermummy '11.  For some strange reason, the size of the convention didn't daunt me, nor did the fact that I was meeting 'strangers off the internet'.  I was bubbling up with excitement and had a small idea of how my 12-year old son feels when he tries to describe his ADHD.

stuck in a t-shirt
I was travelling down with Manda from Flying Start Magazine (but in her capacity as a blogger rather than a publisher) and we were getting the 5.58am train from Preston (via McDonalds) with not really much planned other than to enjoy the day as it happened.  I had a bit of a clothing and shoe dilemma and someone was taking rather too long in the loo so Milton Keynes got a flash of my bra as I got changed in a spare seat.


Being greeted out of a taxi by Mr Benn (a proper doorman with a pin striped suit and bowler hat - seriously, he was lovely and not once did he question the fact that over 400 rather excited women were randomly squealing at and hugging each other like sixth formers after half term) signaled the true beginning of Cybermummy '11.  This is the sort of thing that someone who hasn't been to London in 21 years wants to see - the slightly unusual and memorable moments.

Early stash!
There were Butlins Redcoats to greet us at the door, along with their green mascot who looked like Barney on acid.   I always wanted to be a Redcoat and admire their enthusiasm but I'm not sure my bemused expression registered with them.  I'm 39, not 9.  I don't need to be twatted with a green tail when I'm trying to work out where to pick up my name tag from, check in my overnight bag and have my first freebie bag pressed into my already full and clammy hands.  I'm a confident person and already I felt slightly overwhelmed so I have no idea how people who were really out of their comfort zone took this.  We grabbed a coffee and had a wander round the PR/Brand stands.  I have been to trade fairs so I know how brands want to talk to you about their product so to have them 'in my face' was expected.  I did want five minutes to catch my breath though so we made our way down to the Cybermummy 1 where the main keynote speeches were being held in the morning session.


Sarah Brown realises she's sitting in front
of me and asks if she can move...
It was lovely to finally see Jen, Susanna and Sian (the Cybermummy founders) "in the flesh" and actually get to talk to them but they all looked a bit "rabbit in headlights" so I quickly introduced myself to them and let them compose themselves for their opening speeches.  It was about now I realised that I was sat directly behind Sarah Brown who was one of the main keynote speakers of the day.  I tweeted and facebooked my excitement in the form of a picture.

Lord Richard Allen - Facebook's director of policy for the EU was the first keynote speaker but I'm not sure he gave anything that I didn't already know.  He was very vague when someone asked the "Why do you expect people to opt out rather than opt in when you change your settings?" question.

Sarah Brown - "What a truly inspirational and engaging woman" was my tweet about two minutes after she started talking.  It is very obvious she is media-trained and that she has a book to promote but she had also taken the time to research her audience for the day and she spoke to us as a mum.  She opened with a story about her son bidding (and winning) on a cake at an auction and how she had to try and get it home in one piece on the train that evening.  She spoke about using your online voice and community to create positivity.  She also talked about the decision to keep her children out of the media's eye whilst they lived at Downing Street but also the fact that "living over the shop" gave her husband the chance to be with his children at those important family times such as bath time and meal times.  It gave even more power to that image of them leaving Downing Street as a family.

I regret not seeking Sarah out for a quick photo opportunity but I checked my emails during the coffee break to find that she is now following me on Twitter (she's @SarahBrownUK).  We'll see how long she puts up with my drivel and ranting.


"Do your hair differently and
pretend to be someone
When the agenda for Cybermummy '11 was announced I was very excited to see that Sophie King (aka Jane Bidder) was hosting a writing workshop.  I thought the workshop would be full of inspirational hints and tips that I could stash away until I was ready to attempt that novel that is whirling away in the back of my mind.  As you may or may not know, I was very disappointed with Sophie King's writing workshop and I have already written about my experience.  Within twelve hours of this post being published, it was third in the Google search results for "Sophie King".  I am still disappointed that it was such a negative experience but I was determined that it wasn't going to detract from the rest of the day and put it down to poor research on Ms King's part.


Picture Credit : Melinda Fargo
I opted out of attending the second round of workshops in the morning (a) because I was having such a good time regaling the story of  Workshop 1 to anyone prepared to listen but also I needed to find the other "Tweet Stars" as we were to be part of a Bloggers Calender (coming soon to a download near you) organised by Jay and Tara.  My first meeting with Jay was captured forever on digital display and looked a little something like this =>

All sessions were being live blogged and tweeted so I didn't feel as though I was missing anything by not attending them but, in an odd sort of way, I also wanted to attend almost all of them and felt that I was personally missing out by not going to them.  I think I would need two or three doppelgangers to attempt that though.

There was time to wander round the stands where I managed to snatch a couple of minutes with Tim Atkinson - the brains behind Tiny Acorns, the anthology which I contributed to for Children In Need.  I even signed a special copy of the book... my first autograph!.  I had a look around the recharge room (Oh. My. God. What a fabulous idea - more of that in a minute) and grabbed some lunch.  There was a serious lack of chairs in any of the networking and recharge rooms but I'm not proud.  I sat on the floor to eat my lunch which was chicken, peas, mash and orange segments (yes, dear readers - get your heads round THAT - there was also a sausage version too) out of a cardboard box with a metal handle.


Nick shows us how not
to make a rambling
9 minute vlog
Inspriational Bloggers
The afternoon workshops and sessions seemed to be very blogger-to-blogger orientated and, in my opinion, a better approach to the style of convention that this was.  I attended the Blogger-to-Blogger Inspiration workshop and listened to how bloggers in our community have become the "number one" blog in their field just by having a good idea that resonated with everyone else. Tara talked about "The Gallery", Maggie talked about her crafting blog and how she interacts with other blogs to a schedule and Rachel talk about the move from blogger to author.  I then joined the already-in-progress session with Nick from "My Daddy Cooks" which was talking about video blogging (vlogging). Nick had started his section of the session early due to technical hitches from another speaker and proceeded to give a fantastically funny and genuine talk about how to make decent vlogs using very simple equipment.


Due to the afternoon session finishing early, I had time to nip and get my make-up done by Caroline Barnes (she's Cheryl Cole's make-up artist, don't you know) and my hair tidied up by Michael Douglas (not "the" Michael Douglas - the other one from This Morning).  Now I hardly ever put my face on this blog but, hey, even I know a good job when I see one:


Rachel Johnson manages to enrapture
half of her audience whilst annoying
the rest 
I was really looking forward to the final keynote speaker of the day - Rachel Johnson, Editor of The Lady.  The room was definitely divided and the blog posts I've read about Cybermummy '11 already definitely confirm that.  She said that she didn't know anything about blogging but she was speaking more about how the things you write about can be taken in either a positive or negative way and, more often than not, come back to bite you on the arse.  She also said that she used to have twelve columns a month that she wrote and now she has none.  She believes that bloggers have taken that away from her - which links nicely into Sarah Brown's speech about the power of the written word and the online "voice" that we all have.  I did think that she was slightly rude checking her text messages whilst at the speakers podium and not really knowing how long she was speaking.  She also disappeared immediately after her speech but did say that her son was ill (gastroenteritis) and she feared that she was coming down with it too (note to Rachel: make your own sandwich instead of snaffling your son's half-eaten one).


It was time for my big moment - the crowdsourced keynote speeches where eleven of us read out one of our blog posts.  My mouth was dry, my hands were shaking and I felt sick.  I was on second and was grouped in with a number of fabulous writers.  I knew I had only ever read my post out once before and, as it was such an emotional and raw post, I had only got three-quarters of the way through it before I broke down in tears.

Jen introduced me and I climbed the step to the stage.  Being up there felt so different to when I have had to present a session in front of twenty or fifty people or danced in front of almost a thousand people.  That time it was someone else's work that I was demonstrating.  This time it was my own and I could fail spectacularly.

My post - "There are only so many perfect heads in the world" - is about finding out my 14-month old daughter had cancer back in 1992 and the following six months spent coming to terms with the fact that our lives would never be the same again.

I couldn't see out from the stage, I had no idea if people were bent over their phones/laptops tweeting or actually listening to me.  I couldn't work out whether I was talking too fast or too slow and I stumbled over my words on a few occasions.  Reading the post took about fifteen minutes and I don't remember much apart from rocking from side to side occasionally and gripping the podium for support.  I should really have enjoyed the moment but my emotions were bubbling just below the surface.  I got to the last two words of my post and cracked.  The only two words I wanted to say - "all clear" - and I couldn't get them out.  In my opinion, the two most important words of the experience and the reason that I needed to write the post in the way that I did and I couldn't say them.  I apologised and walked off the stage and back to my seat.  I have no idea if people applauded or not because my eyes were full of tears and I felt like I was underwater.  I remember Jen giving me a hug, Sian grabbing my hand and Paula looking over with a supportive smile on her face.  Manda told me that she'd managed to get most of my reading filmed on her phone and I will try and upload it to my YouTube channel at some point.

I listened to the other crowdsourced keynote speakers and tried to compose myself ready for the "after-party" - wine and good company, what more can a woman want?


Group Hug!
During the after-party, during which I was forced to drink free wine, I found out that the #cybermummy11 twitter stream had gone a bit mental during my speech and it had been well received.  I had to make many apologies for ruining make-up and tried to do a bit of networking but I was back on a bit of a hyper.  I have now answered over 100 tweets received during and after the reading, specifically about it, and I am extremely grateful for each and every one of them.

The best part of the after-party was the fact that the girls behind Blognonymous were all in the same room, at the same time, for the first time and we had a bit of an emotional group hug.


I found people I had been speaking to for a couple of years and consider to be amongst my closest friends and this was the first time I'd had the chance to give them a hug.  Meeting Paula for the first time was emotional, to say the least, and there are far too many people that I didn't get chance to spend long enough with and others that I just didn't find at all.

I had an absolutely fantastic day and would attend again without pause for thought.  I am eternally grateful to my sponsor, Your Baby Can Read, for making this possible because I seriously would not have been able to fund this myself had they not stepped up to the plate (and an even bigger thank you to Fiona for being the "middle man" and making all the arrangements for me).

Every time I try to edit this post I remember more about the day but there are some things that warrant a post of their own.  The after-after-parties definitely need a mention (and an adult warning really) but here are a few pictures to keep you going

Lugging seven bags of freebies to the
hotel is tiring work.  This picture does
not do my "OH MY GOD I'M SO
KNACKERED" face any justice!

Yes, it really did
Picture Credit : Tara Cain

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