am not sure
when exactly bookshops
became a place of refuge and recreation for me.
I first started reading comics, I was very young, maybe 4, and
Dad would just turn up with the requisite reads, all 'boys' comics,
mostly military and some science fiction. He would pop into Turners
newsagent and get my Battle every week, and at holidays
and Christmas he would turn up with the seasonal specials.
are well sought after today and are much more adult in content
than any American contemporary. Charley's War for instance
is currently being reprinted, in hard bound format, and is already
on volume III and is recognised for its true anti-war sentiment
but also for the harsh way the likes of the Somme are so realistically
Nana (maternal Grandmother) lives in Dalkey, which is an affluent
little town. Although it could be described as being in the suburbs
of Dublin has managed to feel more like a town, any post colonial
town actually, than the sprawl that is Dublin.
Dalkey is the Book Exchange. I am unsure when it first opened,
but I remember being brought in and shown the children's section
and focusing on the comic annuals. This was when it was a very
small shop, and it was nearly all second hand stock.
would waste all my pocket money and a hell of a lot of time,
browsing and buying a variety of books. The military section
was near children's and as I got older I expanded my areas of
interest. I spent many summers with my Nana, and weekends too
and it would be a regular relief to dispatch us, that's the various
grandchildren that would be in the house at Hyde Rd., to the
The shop moved, developed a New and
used section, but by this stage I was way too familiar with the
best bookshops in Dublin's city and the exchange waned in comparison.
In saying that, any time I am in Dalkey I always call in, just
in case you never know what Gem they might have.
I was 14 or15 I was brought round to Phantasia by Foggey, a school
mate, he liked 2000 AD, a science fiction anthology weekly
comic which is the home of Judge Dredd among many other characters,
and where great writers from Alan Moore to Neil Gaiman cut their
comic teeth. At this stage I was still getting the comic from
the local newsagent, via my Dad, who maintained the subscription.
At what stage I went from Military to Science Fictional themes
I am not sure. I know Battle finished in January 1988,
but I also know that I had been various science fiction stories
much earlier, and Eagle which returned in 1982, but I
know for sure I was reading 2000 AD comics and annuals
in 1985. In saying that, its just the military wasn't as important,
but still desirable, and even today, I flit from one genre to
I was unaware of the whole concept of the 'Comic Shop' but I
must have come to one of the best environments one could imagine.
The curator, for he was no employee, of the shop on a Tuesday
and Thursday was Mick O'Connor. Mick soon befriended me, and
eventually got me involved with the Irish Science Fiction Association,
and was a part of Irish Fandom himself. This comic shop also
sold SF books, and anything else, depending on what sort of frequency
the owner, Terry was on. The shop was in Temple bar, when the
area was full of old warehouses, and it was about 8 feet by 20
feet. It was part of a bigger building, and seemed at one stage
to have been an alternative entrance way, no longer used.
was a great shop worker, knowledgeable in comics, a reader himself,
a widely read in many of the great SF works, he was informative,
helpful and best of al rearranged the 2000 AD's into number
order, because he listened to his customers.
this shop, it was short walk to The Alchemists head, and this
was the first comic shop in Dublin, which opened sometime in
either the late seventies or early eighties. The shop imported
new comics, had a great selection of Books, both esoteric and
science fiction and was modern enough. Through Mick I met Jonathon,
and when I wasn't standing, or as time went by sitting in Phantasia,
with Mick on Tuesday and Thursday or Gerry on Saturday on a Sunday
I would meet Jonathon, who covered the shop. He was a decent
fello, and we would read and chat about comics.
I met many people through going to
the ISFA inclusing Padraig O'Mealoid, Rory Lennon and James Mason.
Padraig managed Dandelion books, and Rory and James were part
timers there. Dandelion prided itself on having the largest selection
of SF in the country. There was quite a length of books, about
7 foot in height, I would say the shelves ran about seven three
foot drops, so that's over 200 feet of book spines, which was
closed, and I gravitated to Dandelion and spent more time there,
and worked occasionally as the situation would have it, normally
when I would call in after school, when Padraig would be sick,
the owner Steven would be itching to lodge money or what not
and off he would go, leaving me in charge and with the promise
of books upon his return.
wasted a huge amount of my youth in these types of places, drinking
coffee, discussing books and comics, learning, getting recommendations.
I was a comic shop rat, and I loved it.
I was 23, I opened my own bookshop with Padraig. We then had
a huge amount of SF, more than dandelion, in a smaller shop,
but we were clever with stock. It lasted a couple of years and
then we parted company. It was a great experience, and I wont
in between this, I bumped into UK fandom. I was just 20 a few
days, saying I was nineteen would be better I suppose, a grand
age to encounter international fandom, but I had met many UK
fans, and hence my trip abroad to the UK. I went to Inconsequential
Here is part
of a report I wrote, back then, thirteen years ago:
is described as a Humour and SF Con by the Committee. In actual
fact, it should be described as a 'Fun 'til you drop Con'. This
was the second Inconceivable, the first being two years previous.
It was held in the Tudor Court Hotel, outside Long Eaton, Derbyshire,
in the middle of nowhere in reality. It was four days long starting
Friday 27th May and ending Monday which was the Bank Holiday
in Britain. It cost £25 to get in on the door.
was a fun weekend and that's what everybody intended it to be.
I attended the first panel on Friday, after the opening ceremony,
'Sex and the single fan'. It was very enlightening particularly
about the nostrils of certain cattle. I also went to the First
Disco on Friday, which was quite excellent.
Saturday, the bulk of the members arrived. The events were, bizarre.
I played 'Calvin Ball', went to a cocktail workshop for £2
and got £20 worth of drink, saw people invent religions
and sort out conspiracies, got drenched in a huge water pistol
fight, dressed from head to toe in cling film, got even wetter
in the 'wet Bermuda shorts' competition, danced 'til my legs
nearly fell off, laughed 'til my jaw ached, talked 'til my tongue
swelled and drank 'til I was incoherent.
thought things might slow down on Sunday, but not a chance. First
I attended the 'Church Service' at 10.30 a.m. where our newly
founded religions - vodka and chocolate - were ceremoniously
consumed. I tasted a variety of cheese for £1, saw people
make fools of themselves, laser tagged. We also played Live Action
Lemmings, which is based on the computer game but using real
people. The day ended with an excellent panel where Mr Garry
'I honestly don't have a thing for chickens. Really I don't'
Starr sat on a toilet in the middle of the stage and lectured
about the different kinds of shite people have. Also we witnessed
a committee member, ripping, tearing, gouging, electrocuting,
sawing, decapitating, blinding, torturing, sodomising with cucumbers
and crucifying a host of gentle, little furry stuffed creatures.
We then drank and partied 'til dawn.
also met a stalwart of British con going, Billy Stirling among
a huge range of people. This was an important turning point for
me, where I went from being an Irish fan to an Irish fan in foreign
parts. I eagerly got word of what UK fandom had to offer and
it was a lot. I soon made it my business to attend the ton meeting
and anything else where I could encounter these good folk, although
I avoided Eastercon for another six years, I absolutely went
mental at the Worldcon the following year.
arranged to meet me, at one stage, when I was over with Dad in
London. We had agreed to hang out and he was going to show me
some of London's better bookshops. It was after Incon, but before
Worldcon, so it could have been '94 or '95.
duly met my dad, and me and dad noted Billy's trousers. He noted
Billy's trousers at a later stage in 1997, and since then my
dad always refers or asks about 'Billy Trousers' now, as he somehow
remembers him as such. My dad although having no interest in
SF has gotten to know many a fellow drinker through fandom.
there I was with a Scots man, living in London, a man who had
attended dozens of conventions, a member of many societies and
defiantly a good sort and he showed me around a number of central
London bookshops, and it was great, and I thought that Murder
One with their SF basement was amazing, but I was warned by Billy
that it was early days.
London tube network is an amazing thing and at some late stage
I will write about it.
was staying in the Regent Palace Hotel, which has Piccadilly
at its front and Soho to its rear, appropriately, and I got a
tube with Billy, from Leicester square on the Piccadilly line
went to the Holloway Rd tube station. This is a deep station
and there are about 170 stairs or a lift on offer. Billy and
I took the lift and when we got to the front of the tube station
we found ourselves facing the Holloway rd and turned right,
walked down the Holloway rd., quite a distance, maybe 500 yards,
and we came to an unassuming shop front, that was mostly glass
and a cream sign with red writing stating: The Fantasy Centre.
I realised upon entering that I was walking into a very very
met Eric Arthur and Ted Ball, the owners, very different men,
and had a field day.
the years went by, I got to know the men and they were both very
good to me. I would often take trips to London, where I would
try and coincide a convention or trip with a visit to the TUN
and also to the fantasy centre.
completed my James White collection through their good offices,
and have filled many a bookshelf with their books. The first
time I ran a UK convention proper in the UK, in 2000, called
Aliens stole my handbag, Eric kindly took a dealers table, which
justified having a dealers room.
had a team of people, including Andy, who would attend conventions
with him, and I would reacquaint myself with him and a selection
of his wares at conventions.
what of the shop.
I have taken some pictures to help with the descriptions, but
I have also drawn a quick map, as this is perhaps the most comprehensive
SF bookshop I have come across.