Michaela McDermott works in the Children’s Books section of Charlie Byrne’s bookshop. Our Literature Editor Megan Nelis asked her about her favourite aspects of bookselling, recent trends and upcoming opportunities for Galway’s literature community.
Hi Michaela, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m twenty one, and I’ve been working in Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop for almost two years. I was part-time throughout college but have been full-time since last May. I have a BA and an MA in Literature and Publishing. I run two of our book clubs in the shop, I share responsibilities with my colleague Ruth to do story time for young kids every Saturday morning and lately, I’m trying to improve my Irish as I like serving customers as Gaeilge who have the language.
What are your favourite things about working in Charlie Byrne’s bookshop?
My favourite things about the shop – honestly, the staff. As clichéd as it may sound, but the people I work with make the job so enjoyable. They make me laugh on a daily basis, they are so supportive and I know they will lend an ear if I need to talk (or rant for that matter!)
Can you tell us about the shop’s history and initial set-up?
Charlie Byrne’s is in its 27th year. It was set up as a market stall selling second-hand books by Charlie in ’89. It grew from there and Charlie then leased a small premise on Dominick Street. After 3 successful years, he then moved to Middle Street. The spirituality writer John O’Donohue, who was a regular customer, officiated at the opening of the new shop. Once again, the bookshop grew and was overflowing with books so it was relocated right across the road to Middle Street’s Cornstore, where it still is today.
What books would you recommend for us this month?
That’s a tougher question than you think! I’m always going to recommend Slaughterhouse V by Kurt Vonnegut, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. They have to be my top 3 books that I would love other people to read. But the books I’m after reading and loved are A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler and The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono.
If you could have a dinner party with any three authors (dead or alive) who would they be, and why?
A dinner party with 3 authors. Another tough question! Kurt Vonnegut is definitely one. I would love to listen to be able to sit down and talk to him about his philosophy on life and people. Oh Yeats has to be another! An interesting character, but I would love to hear him talk about his part in the Irish revival. He would also be my favourite poet. The last one? Maybe Oscar Wilde for his witty charm.
Can you tell us about any new trends in fiction/non-fiction?
I feel that fantasy and sci-fi will start to increase again. These genres sell well already, but I found that when Terry Pratchett passed away, the demand for his books increased. So with the release of the release of Star Wars, I feel that sci-fi will increase in demand because people may want more sci-fi and fantasy novels following the movie. If publishers saw this trend forming, then they may have already tried to pursue more ‘escapism’ fiction.
Do you think there could be more literary workshops in the west of Ireland for young people?
I think the West, Galway in particular, does accommodate literary events for young people. There’s a list of what’s available through the Galway Arts Festival website. The only problem is the time available for young people. A full-time student may find it difficult to find the time to join such events.
What are the main benefits of having an independent bookstore for the community of Galway?
There are lots of benefits to having an independent bookshop in Galway. It acts as a cultural centre for literature. Not just newly published best-sellers, but Charlie Byrne’s have always supported local authors and sold their work. This definitely gives a platform for growing writers while supporting local talent. The shop as well serves as a literature community around Galway. Because it’s a small and independent bookshop, customer service is important to us. But it’s also a fun aspect of the job! We have many regular customers and you get to know them personally. You get to know their taste in books and which books they might hate. It gives a relaxed environment in Galway city where customers feel comfortable enough to can come in and browse for a while instead of feeling rushed to get back out of the shop!
What cultural developments do you predict for Galway in the next 5 years?
I’m not sure if any of my predictions would come true, but I hope to see even more developments with the Irish language around Galway. More businesses are using both Irish and English signs and greetings, which I’m delighted about! Especially since Galway is about to be given a bilingual status – I think that this will expand even further in the future. It’s great to see and hear the language used more.
Can you tell us more about the book clubs at Charlie Byrne’s?
We run a total of five book clubs in Charlie Byrne’s. Two of those are general book clubs that are not defined by what we read as we don’t stick to one genre of books. There is a travel writing book club and now we are proud to say that we have two children’s book clubs for the ages of 9 to 11 years. There are absolutely no fees to join a book club – it’s a free service. The only cost associated is buying the book. The first book club meets on the first Tuesday of every month from 6 to 7pm. The second one is in the morning and meets on the second Wednesday of every month from 10 to 11am. I run these two. My colleague John runs the travel writing book club and that meets on the third Thursday of every month from 6.30 to 7.30pm. It’s not a classroom situation – if someone doesn’t finish the book (or start it even), it’s no problem. People still join us for the social aspect. The groups are so friendly! I was a bit apprehensive taking over the book clubs from Megan, but everyone has put me at ease and have been more than supportive and complimentary!
For March, the next Tuesday evening book club is on the 1st, the Wednesday morning book club is the 9th and the Thursday travel writing book club is on the 24th!
What literary events in Galway are you interested in attending in the near future?
I’m really looking forward to seeing The Dead School by Patrick McCabe. There’s a production on in the Town Hall Theatre and I’m going to go as a part of the book club. That’s another aspect of the book club – we don’t just meet inside the shop. We like to go to events like these as a group too!
To find out more about upcoming events, check out Charlie Byrne’s Facebook and Twitter pages at:
https://www.facebook.com/CharlieByrnesBookshop/ and https://twitter.com/charlie_byrnes
You can also visit http://charliebyrne.com/