Meet the Boydell Team: Caroline Palmer

Our Meet the Boydell Team series continues! Caroline Palmer is well known to the medieval studies community – but as we see from her interview, there’s more to learn about one of the longest-serving members of the Boydell & Brewer team!

What led you to your current role at Boydell & Brewer?
After my degree, I vaguely thought about publishing as a career (isn’t there a Nick Hornby quote to the effect that it’s the arts graduates’ equivalent of being an astronaut?), and was lucky enough to be offered a month’s unpaid work experience at Boydell. And the rest is, well, history (and literature, and music, and art history, and….). I may have to accept that I have found what I want to do when I grow up. Also, I do get paid now.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a career in Editorial?
Don’t do it – it’s too late for me, but you can save yourself, young person…

In no particular order:

  1. Don’t go into it because you love books and reading. Eighteen months later, you won’t.
  2. Check your CV for typos/grammatical mistakes before making any applications/approaches. It’s a career needing an eye for detail, and it would be a shame to put yourself at a disadvantage.
  3. Don’t expect glamour – not in academic publishing, anyway. You won’t spend lots of time taking authors out to long lunches.
  4. Be prepared for the fact that an editor’s role is a sort of blend of diplomat/psychologist/sheepdog/midwife…
  5. …. And also be prepared for the fact that you’ll be keeping a lot of plates spinning simultaneously.
  6. The one single thing that will make your life easier is to learn to type quickly and accurately. You’ll be spending a lot of time writing e-mails…
  7. But if you’re not put off after all that – it’s great. See below.

What’s the absolute best part of your job?
There are so many! Telling an author their book has been accepted; making a successful case to our editorial board for taking a book on; and helping and coaxing our authors through the process. Also, I’m so lucky and privileged to read the newest research and findings in the field before practically anyone else: it’s hugely exciting.

And the worst – having to turn a book down. I can’t do it on a Friday (because it will ruin the author’s weekend) or a Monday (because it will ruin the start of their week)…

What’s the best day you’ve ever had at work?

Briefly outline a normal working day for you.
It always begins the same way, at least. Switch on computer. Gaze at number of incoming e-mails and wonder if they breed, overnight. Try not to despair, or swear too loudly, at least until 10.30am.

No, more seriously, one of the lovely things about this role is that there are so many aspects to it. A day could involve any and all of reading through an incoming script and giving the author/editor feedback; preparing a proposal for the editorial board; answering editorial queries; dealing with contractual paperwork; rewriting blurbs; following up on book proposals…. It’s incredibly varied. (It also includes struggling with the bibliographical systems, but we will draw a veil over this.)

What’s the best thing on your desk?
Firstly, the huge mug of coffee. Secondly, a small painted figurine of a medieval rabbit attacking a friar.

What are you currently reading?
In a slightly busman’s holiday way, Matthew Kneale’s Pilgrims is sitting on my bedside table…

What’s your beverage of choice?
During the day, coffee. Once the sun is over the yardarm (a moveable feast), I do like a good strong gin and tonic, or other refreshing adult beverage. I apologise to all those for whom this news will come as a shock and surprise.

What’s one Boydell book that you’ve worked on?
I can’t answer this – it’s like asking you to choose a favourite child! I love them all equally, even the problem children….

If you could choose a book for us to publish on ANY subject, what would it be?
Fish-weirs. Obviously. Next?

What’s your favourite historical novel, film or play?
The Knight’s Tale – isn’t it everyone’s?

You can choose up to four people from history to join your dinner party: who are they?
Can I choose some I’d definitely NOT want to be stuck at dinner with? Margery Kempe (it would all end in tears); Thomas Cromwell (we wouldn’t see eye to eye); King John (a nasty bit of work, and that’s that); John Lydgate would take a hundred words to say hello, and wouldn’t stop banging on about Chaucer (as my colleague Elizabeth acutely observed); and I can’t see Henry IV being a barrel of laughs…

I would though love to have a dinner party which would solve long-standing questions. I’d invite Shakespeare (and Mark Rylance, to see the look on his face when he realised he wasn’t Francis Bacon); Adam Pinkhurst (to ask if he really was Chaucer’s scribe); the Gawain-poet (to find out who he or she was); and King Arthur – because if he turned up, that would deal with the issue of whether he’s real or not, right?

Delia Smith would do the catering, but lampreys would not be on the menu.

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