‘Old wild place’ inspires debut children’s novel

Arts Week with Judy Murphy

The opening line of Méabh McDonnell’s debut novel, Into the Witchwood, came to her when she was stacking shelves in the children’s section of Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop.   “I ran into the office to write it down,” she says with a laugh.

‘Nana was doing magic again,’ is the inspired opening of this book that marks the arrival of a new talent in children’s literature.

Méabh is manager of the children’s section in the city bookshop, a job the Kilnadeema woman took up in late 2019. Before that, she’d worked for several years as a sub-editor and writer with The Clare People.

Its closure in 2019 upset her, “especially for all the great people who worked there, who were my work family”. It also gave her time to think.

“I was at a crossroads, wondering if I wanted to stay in media or do something else.”

Méabh loved writing and books, and she’d always had a special grá for children’s stories and fairytales, so when she heard there was a vacancy in the children’s section of Charlie Byrne’s, she applied.

She lacked experience, especially in book-buying, but they recognised her knowledge and passion. Méabh got the job.

And, as she stocked shelves and liaised with children’s writers, she realised that her own dream of  writing a book for young people was achievable.

“I was thinking, ‘these are all brilliant writers and I want to be on the shelf as well’.”  Méabh felt this would be possible “if I could find the right story”.

But it wasn’t all plain sailing.

“I was settling into the job and then Covid happened. That was a steep learning curve.”

Méabh continued to work, but from home. Before Covid, she had moved back to her childhood home in Srahaunananta, Kilnadeema, with her partner Niall. Their intention had been to stay with her parents for a month while relocating fully from Ennis to Galway. Lockdown meant staying on.

Pictured: Staff members of Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop celebrating the launch of Méabh McDonnell’s childrens book, Into the Witchwood. Pictured with Méabh (seated) are from left: Rachel O’Callaghan, Róisín Nic Dhonnacha, Katelyn McCarthy, Vinny Browne, Noreen Collins, Niall Donnellan, Clém Blét and Anna Heveran. Méabh is the children’s section manager at Charlie Byrne’s. PHOTO: JOE O’SHAUGHNESSY.

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