Catherine Doyle has fond memories of Galway City library, where she discovered Artemis Fowl
I grew up in a house powered by imagination. My mother had a very particular brand of whimsy. It took the form of balloon bouquets, impromptu face-painting and dress-up, letters to (and from) the tooth fairy, Christmas phone calls from Santa’s elves, and above all else, a deep respect for story time. Until I was four years old, I was convinced I would be a mermaid when I grew up. Then my older brother (financially savvy at only six years old) told me mermaids didn’t get paid and I’d be wise to hang that dream up.
The world was big and bright and glimmering with possibility, and all of it began with books. When we were barely out of nappies, my mother established a ritual of going to the library every week. Reading became the stuff of Saturday mornings, my brothers and I chasing each other between the endless shelves, sinking into big blue-cushioned chairs, looking for adventures that stretched far beyond Galway City. In the evenings, we squished shoulder-to-shoulder on the couch, with a book splayed across our laps.
Galway City library was a treasure trove that never seemed to run out of jewels. I can still remember the warmth of it on a rainy Saturday morning, the librarians smiling in welcome from behind long wooden desks. There was the unmistakable smell of well-thumbed paper and cracked spines, the faraway buzz of the children’s section tucked away in the back of the building. It was its own miniature metropolis, bright and colourful and full of promise. It was here that I discovered Enid Blyton, Lewis Carroll, Marita Conlon-McKenna, Siobhán Parkinson, Madeline L’Engle, Beatrix Potter and countless others. After reading Dahl’s Matilda, I spent hours staring at soup cans in my kitchen, willing them to take flight. From C.S. Lewis, I inherited a suspicion of wardrobes, often trawling through the ones in my grandparents’ house for secret doors to hidden lands.
It was in the library that I discovered one of my favourite books. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer peered out from a shelf, jacketed in gold and decorated with indecipherable symbols. It gripped me by my shoulders, pulled me in and swallowed up my afternoon. With glee, I discovered 12-year-old Artemis, a plucky Irish child, embarking on a magical adventure in an Ireland so full of intrigue and impossibility, it blew my imagination wide open.
Colfer’s story was so cherished, it travelled with me on a family holiday, where one afternoon, my older brother decided to perfect his front-flip. I was far more interested in the last pages of Artemis Fowl than his attempts to fling himself upside down off the diving board, while shouting, ‘Look at me!’ over and over again. In fact, I was so entranced that I wasn’t looking when he miscalculated his dive and hit his head on the board. Nor when he plummeted into the water, leaving a stream of blood behind him. I didn’t notice when he was pulled from the pool to the sound of my mother shrieking, or the furious patter of two young medics barrelling through the crowd to help him.
When I finally finished the last page of Artemis Fowl, I glanced up just in time to see my brother carted off on a stretcher. He had strategically placed his arms in an X across his chest to make me think he had died. He wanted me to know that I, a most neglectful sister, had failed to witness his valiant death because I had chosen to stick my nose in a book instead. But it wasn’t just any book—it wasthe book of my childhood.
Almost twenty years later, when I finished writing my first children’s novel, The Storm Keeper’s Island, Eoin Colfer read an early copy and supplied a glowing quote for the cover. The first person I rang was my older brother. ‘Well, it’s all come full circle then,’ he told me, good-naturedly. ‘I suppose I forgive you.’
Those childhood trips to the library taught me how to love books. Every week I left with the shadow of a story stamped on my heart, and returned the following Saturday in search of another. Looking back now, it seems only natural that my path in life would lead me to writing my own.
In January 2019 I returned to Galway City library for the first time in many years. I stood in the middle of the children’s section, the place that had cultivated my lifelong love of books, and helped launch the One Book, One Galway initiative. In a wonderful twist of fate, my own book, The Storm Keeper’s Island, had been chosen by Galway primary schoolteachers in the hopes that their students might fall in love with reading too.
Life really had come full circle.
First published in Books Ireland magazine, July/August 2019