MaWFest – MaWSIG’s first online festival

Materials writers, just like EFL teachers, are a dispersed bunch, so Sunday saw a first for MaWSIG (IATEFL’s Materials Writing Special Interest Group) — an online festival that could be attended by anyone, anywhere. Via three streams, participants were able to interact with editors and experts from Edtech, as well as ELT and mainstream publishing. Three webinars, a Twitter chat and a Facebook panel chat ran one after the other, with breaks in between for ‘switching rooms’. Only MaWSIG co-ordinator Nick Robinson had the hassle of moving himself between two venues — Liz Soars’ house and what must have been his kitchen (by the look of the fridge magnets in the background).

We briefly summarise it here, but the beauty of an online festival is that all of the events are preserved online, so you can attend whenever you like. Search for Twitter hashtag #askedit to see what editors Karen White and Lyn Strutt advised writers and freelance editors. Go to MaWSig’s Facebook page to read over the panel chat with Lindsay Clandfield (The Round), Mila Rendle (CUP) and Katie Nielson (Voxy). IATEFL members can log in to the IATEFL website members’ area  for web interviews (available soon) with Liz Soars, OUP’s Nick Sheard and HarperCollins’ Head of Events, Sam Missingham. Alternatively, you can check out a Storify version of the entire day put together by Sophie O’Rourke.

Fittingly for an ELT materials writing event, the webinars kicked off with an interview with Liz Soars, writer of the first ELT megalith coursebook, Headway. Liz talked warmly about the course, and how she is guided by an instinct for what’s interesting to write about. Over the years, she’s shared emotionally resonant accounts, such as her son’s experience of witnessing the first plane crashing into the Twin Towers on 9/11, and WW1 veterans reminiscing about the Christmas day truce in the trenches. While people might see such an established book as ‘safe’ or ‘bland’, Liz talked about how she seeks ways to tackle controversial topics such as immigration. Listen to what Liz had to say about the myths surrounding Headway, apps, and how she goes about writing new editions, by logging in to the IATEFL website.

A quick change of format and Karen and Lyn navigated a barrage of questions for #askedit. Writers, prospective writers and editors had questions about project management tools, writer/editor relationships and digital vs. print editing amongst others. Karen thoroughly enjoyed the chat:

I was amazed at the number of questions we were asked, on all sort of topics. We couldn’t have answered any more questions in the time available, so I’ll look forward to dealing with some more next time we do it.

And Lyn found it fun and adrenalin-fuelled:

The questions were coming in quick and fast, but great that so many people were interested, and good to be able to help by answering questions I had myself way back when I started out – and the thanks at the end made it all very worthwhile.

The Facebook panel chat looked more chaotic, but threads followed topics on the trend of personalised materials for learners, author teams and the future of mobile learning.

Nick Sheard’s webinar proved a scoop for MaWSIG with mention of OUP’s Oxford Academy for writers, something we can’t wait to hear more about. Nick also had a lot of interesting things to say about fees vs. royalties and the various combinations possible. Nick’s own journey from teacher to writer to editor to Head of Adult Publishing for OUP is a motivating story for anyone starting out in TEFL or further along in their publishing careers.

The final webinar of the day was Sam Missingham, who had actually provided the inspiration for MaWSIG’s online festival with the HarperCollins-led Romance Festival in May. Faced with a marketing budget of zero, Sam’s idea for an online festival for authors and fans was so successful that she has since done a Sci-Fi version that featured Margaret Atwood. She talked about how authors can build a platform: ‘Authors need to be hustling,’ she said, ‘even if that doesn’t suit every type of writer. But the reward lies in ending up ‘CEO of your own Kingdom.”

MaWSIG has run three extra events this year: a face-to-face panel-style conference in Oxford, a social event in London and now an online event, putting them in a great position to evaluate this latest venture. Sophie had this to say:

The format for the online festival seemed to work really well. It was great to be able to offer lots of practical advice and observations from really experienced speakers without needing to get everyone together in the same country and without the costs associated of hiring venues, etc. We had people from all over the world join in and the way in which social media has a longevity after the actual event means many more people will be able to engage with what we did on the day. As a committee we really hope the event was as fun for all the participants as we found it! We will definitely be looking to do more events like these next year.

There might be some tweaks to the format, though. For example, as Karen noted, ‘it gets a bit unwieldy with more than one panellist.’ And there is always the problem that free, online events have more sign-ups than attendees on the day. Perhaps the glowing reviews of some of the participants, many of whom followed all day, will encourage others to get involved next time.

Thanks to the MAWSIG team too for organising an inspiring event.


Great day. Thanks. The interview format worked very well.


Thanks to MAWSIG for this — I really liked today’s mixed format. There are some interesting points in here worth developing more. Perhaps at a future session?


MaWFest was organised with the joint efforts of Nick Robinson, Karen White, Sophie O’Rourke, Lyn Strutt, Jo Sayers and Rachael Roberts. If you’d like to see more events like this in the future, sign up to MaWSIG!

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