Michael Richards – Boydell & Brewer

We invited Michael Richards, International Sales & Marketing Director for Boydell & Brewer, to write a guest post for the CAP blog:

What do you love about working at Boydell & Brewer?

I was first attracted by the books. I’d spent some years in medical and scientific publishing in continental Europe, so the idea of working for a company that thought it could make a profit out of publishing a collection of letters by the composer Gerald Finzi was enticing. 

It’s very rewarding in so many ways to work for a smaller company where everything you do counts and working closely with other departments is essential for success. I do get a great thrill out of attending conferences, however, and hearing how important Boydell and its publications are to the academic communities we serve. Finally attending the medieval conference in Kalamazoo a couple of years ago was terrific, although I do wish our stand hadn’t been next to the one selling reproductions of medieval hunting horns… 

What is your favourite book? Why?

I sometimes feel I’m alone in admiring Henry James, but The Portrait of a Lady is, I feel, one of literature’s shining peaks. Listen to this:

She had long before this taken old Rome into her confidence, for in a world of ruins the ruin of her happiness seemed a less unnatural catastrophe. She rested her weariness upon things that had crumbled for centuries and yet still were upright; she dropped her secret sadness into the silence of lonely places, where its very modern quality detached itself and grew objective, so that as she sat in a sun-warmed angle on a winter’s day, or stood in a mouldy church to which no-one came, she could almost smile at it and think of its smallness.

Not only a beautiful piece of prose but a good way to deal with profound sadness, I’d say.

What are you currently reading?

I’ve just started Owls of the Eastern Ice by Jonathan C. Slaght, the surprisingly compelling story of  the author’s almost obsessive attempt to save the endangered Blakiston’s fish owl in a remote and inhospitable part of Russia. Slaght describes the bird as ‘clearly an owl, but bigger than any I’d seen, about the size of an eagle but fluffier and more portly with enormous ear tufts. Backlit by the hazy grey of a winter sky, it seemed almost too big and too comical to be a real bird, as if someone had hastily glued fistfuls of feathers to a yearling bear then propped the dazed beast in the tree.” 

Next on my list is actually a Boydell book, Lewis Lockwood’s wonderful survey of Beethoven biographies in Beethoven’s Lives. I know I won’t be able to resist Obama’s account of his first years in office either: a look back at what now seems like a golden age of reason and good judgement.

What is the best piece of advice anyone has ever given to you and what piece of advice would you give to someone starting out in publishing?

When my family doctor asked me, as a teenager, what I’d do after I left school, I said “Train to be a teacher, I suppose.” If you only ‘suppose’, she replied, you shouldn’t do it. I think the same applies to publishing. You have to love what you’re doing otherwise a third of your life is wasted. I’ve always loved the whole business of books, even when I was selling textbooks on gastrointestinal surgery. If you don’t love publishing, please do something else – you’ll anyway earn more money if you work in another industry!

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a successful artist and live in California, and I sort of still do! I’ll be retiring in a few months and I’ll finally be able to concentrate on drawing and painting. I have exhibited a couple of times in London with the Graphic Arts Society and even won an award for a series of drawings on a Farrow and Ball paint chart. Just lately I’ve started drawing dogs (such as a chihuahua called Moose, left) which I hope might soon supplement my pension, eroded by Brexit and Covid! 

What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?

A Cezanne still life. I could look at his apples all day and still find something new in them the following morning.

Who is your inspiration?

An eighty year old American Quaker educationalist called Parker J Palmer. He has more integrity, wisdom and kindness than anyone I know. He has a Facebook page which he actually writes himself and has written books about, basically, leading an undivided life which I find enormously inspiring.

Ambition or talent: which matters more?

If you look at our Prime Minister, this question answers itself, I feel.

Michael Richards is International Sales & Marketing Director at Boydell & Brewer