On Monday, the 1st July, I welcomed summer by taking a train from the Jewel of the East (Colchester) to the Big Smoke (London) and then on to the Knightsbridge of the North (Leeds) to attend the International Medieval Conference. Having worked for Boydell & Brewer for just over 6 months now, I was excited to see the company in its prime, and I was definitely not to be disappointed.
For those of you not too familiar with the company, let me fill you in. Boydell & Brewer formed in 1969 through the merger of Boydell Press and D.S. Brewer. The respective founders, Richard Barber and Derek Brewer, were both scholars. Medieval studies came to form the core of the list, as Richard was a medieval historian and Arthurian and Derek a Chaucer specialist. Since its formation, the publications of Boydell & Brewer have expanded to embrace the humanities in all periods up to and including the present day. However, Medieval studies still lies at the very heart of the books we publish.
Therefore, the international medieval conference in Leeds, gives us a chance to showcase what we do best, and to meet the people who thrive off these titles.
During my days at IMC, I learnt 3 important things about the company:
- Richard Barber, our founder, is an absolute rockstar among the medieval community
- In medieval publishing, Boydell & Brewer is in a class of its own
- Medievalists come from all over the world, of all ages, and certainly do not care how heavy books are
I arrived around lunchtime on the first day of the conference, having been spared the unpacking and sorting that took place on Sunday. As I turned the corner in the Parkinson Building, I was greeted by a mass of people, many surrounding the Boydell & Brewer stand. That’s when I know this was going to be an eye-opening experience for me.
There was nothing else for me to do, but drop my bag and join in the selling of our books. I was amazed at the good spirits of our customers, how many different languages I could hear and how no book was left untouched. I even got the chance to use my native language skills, which, believe me, does not happen often.
The first day was a whirlwind of selling books, meeting authors and editors, and speaking to Boydell enthusiasts. We were truly many visitor’s highlight, and it felt good to be on the selling side of the table. Between the card machine acting up, noting down addresses for books to be delivered to and answering questions regarding our paperbacks, I realized that, for lack of better words, our books were very popular and highly sought after.
As the first day drew to a close, a sudden mass of people entered the opposite hall. The free wine had arrived. As I (gently) elbowed my way to the stand to provide my team with some wine refreshments for a very successful first day, it gave me an opportunity to truly appreciate the company I work for. The second hall was filled with other publishers and booksellers, most of them much larger than us, but not nearly as sought after for this event as we were. How incredibly special to have such a great reputation within medieval studies and literature.
On the second day I was on the look-out for our authors, editors and contributors. I was determined to fill our social media pages with them holding their books, to thank them for wanting to work with Boydell & Brewer. I was not disappointed.
As the second day came to a close (there was more free wine in the evening, and a rush of buyers to go with it) I had managed to spot several of our authors and editors, and they were always more than happy to be part of our social media. I always got the sense that they were proud to be affiliated with the Boydell brand, how exhilarating isn’t that, to see the fire in someone’s eye for the company you work for?
As Wednesday began to draw to an end, I set off back to Britain’s oldest town (Colchester) which I guess in itself, was a fitting end for a medieval week. What an extremely well-organised conference, with such happy and excited visitors from all ages and parts of the world, coming together to discuss and celebrate such an important part of history. If I get the chance to attend IMC 2020, I will be wearing my medieval gown that hangs in my closet and only gets to see the occasional day out, that is a promise I am confidently making today. I do hope some of our authors and editors will join me.