Film Review | The DCEU Gets Fun With The Charming Heartfelt Shazam!

This review was originally published on HeadStuff.org on April 4, 2019. 

One of the most heartfelt statements made by veteran comic book writer Frank Miller is: “I don’t need to see sweat patches under Superman’s arms. I want to see him fly.”

Its meaning is apparent: Superhero fiction operates best when it leans into its inherent absurdity. That doesn’t mean such stories cannot be ‘serious’ or contain deeper reflections. Grant Morrison’s applauded miniseries All-Star Superman, for example, presents some of the more fantastical elements of the genre – super-serums, 50s-inspired monster fights; sublime science-fantasy – while simultaneously acting as a reflection on legacy and mortality.

However, from the late-1980s to the present, we have seen a slew of dreary superhero fables, to varying degrees of success. In order to distinguish itself from the competition (the hugely successful Marvel Cinematic Universe), the recent cinematic output from DC/Warner Brothers has attempted to emulate the darker aesthetics of books like The Dark Knight Returns, without the thematic gravitas or understanding that such stories were intended to be deconstructionist takes on well-established characters.


Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice were universally panned for being bombastic, heartless, confusing adaptations of the source materials upon which they are based. Consequently, in the case of BvS, negative critical reception led to a historic box office drop of 81.2% in its second weekend. In a bid to not lose money (a genius corporate strategy), Warner Brothers quickly overhauled the entire creative vision for the DC Movie Universe. Shazam! is the culmination of these efforts.

The film strips back the appeal of superhero adventures to its essentials – childhood wish fulfilment – and gives it a glossy millennial sheen. Shazam! centres around 14-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel) as he bounces from foster home to foster home while searching for his biological mother. He is granted magic powers by an ancient wizard known as Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), transforming him from a child into a (seemingly) grown-up, Superman-esque figure when he says the wizard’s name out loud. He shares his secret with his newfound foster brother, the paraplegic, superhero-obsessed Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer).

Shazam! is at its best when it joyfully explores what it would be like to see two kid brothers play around with superpowers: Freddy films Batson, in full Shazam mode, testing out his flight and lightning abilities, and he becomes a viral sensation. The two prevent a burglary in a petrol station (the boys having been in the store attempting to buy beer) and are boyishly delighted to find that Batson’s alter-ego is bulletproof. They pitch ridiculous superhero names to each other (“Captain Sparkle Fingers”) and attempt to get into a gentlemen’s club (but only to grab some chicken wings). Basically, they have fun.

Every superhero origin story has an extended scene where the hero plays around with their powers for the first time. But nowhere before have we seen this concept approached with such abandon, and for such a huge portion of the film. The audience is invited by director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) to share in the children’s joy, and for the most part he is successful.

This is down to the performances of Angel, Grazer and Zachary Levi. The latter, in particular, is perfectly-cast as Batson’s Shazam persona. He balances childlike wonder with traditional super-heroics, gracefully carrying both the comedic and more serious scenes he is featured in.

Shazam! is also a film conscious of its place in the DC Extended Universe, and this is carefully woven into the metatext of the film. The concept of the Shazam legacy, that it is handed down from generation to generation only to those who are worthy to carry the title, is met with scepticism initially by Batson: “Good pure people,” he says to his greying, haggard predecessor, “I am not one of them. I’m not sure anyone is.”

This world is inhabited by a Batman who murders people, and a Superman who levelled his home city without care. If these heroes are supposed to be represent the best of humanity, then it’s unsurprising that everyone’s moral compass is skewed. It’s also a slick reference to our obsession with angst-laden anti-heroes.

We never get the sense that Batson was right in saying he was undeserving of the title: There are no murderous rampages or long-winded monologues on the nature of heroism. He’s just here and he tries to do good. He’s a hero in the most basic sense, and this is honestly a breath of fresh air in a cinematic climate over-saturated with broody men in expensive costumes.

The film falters slightly due to its run-time. Clocking in at 132 minutes, you do feel it overstays its welcome. The second act’s playful superpower montage could be shorter, and the climactic final showdown could also have done with some editing down. Although, every scene with Mark Strong’s gruesomely over-the-top-to-the-point-of-camp villain, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana, is an absolute joy to watch.

There is no world-ending event here, either. The final fight of good-versus-evil is a personal one, and it contains a sweet twist with enough heart to warm over the most cynical of viewers.

By daring to be silly, and by presenting a morally unambiguous hero, Shazam! is a welcome change of pace for DC’s fledgling cinematic output. One can only hope that they inject future installments in this franchise with enough optimism to keep people like me interested.

Shazam! is out in cinemas now.

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These are the rumoured queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 12

This article was originally published on the Gay Community News (GCN) website on 2 AUGUST, 2019.

Following the announcement that Drag Race season 12 had officially begun casting calls, rumours have spread about who will be in the new cast.

The rumours suggest that the show has already gone into production. In a statement on the upcoming season, RuPaul said: “If you are a showgirl, if you are a drag queen, if you are a girl with the cha-cha heels and a pussycat wig honey, you better get up on this show!”

This season will air after All-Stars 5, which is rumoured to feature Blair St. Clair, Mayhem Miller, Miz Cracker, and Ongina, among others.

And if that’s not enough Drag Race to satiate the masses, RuPaul’s Drag Race UK will air in Autumn this year.

A thread posted on Reddit puts forward some suggestions as to who season 12’s contestants will be.

Brita Filter is a favourite. Brita is immediately recognisable to anyone familiar with the New York drag scene, having won the prestigious NYC Entertainer of the Year Award. She has been absent from social media since July 22nd, fuelling rumours of her appearance on the show.

Widow Von’Du also appears in the thread. A self-styled avant-garde rapper, she is associated with previous contestants such as Scarlet Envy, Willam and Aquaria. She recently did not appear at Drag Survivor, an event she hosts, which is enough for Drag Race superstans to posit her participation on the show.

Known for her cosplay, Jackie Cox is touted as another contestant. If she appears on the show, she will be serious competition in the Snatch Game.

GiGi Goode, a “Scandinavian fashion illustration come to life” is very active on Instagram, amassing a stunning 20,700 followers. Like Brita Filter, she has not posted since the 22nd of July.

Jaida Essence Hall is a regal queen: She sports gowns and has appeared in Cosmopolitan’s revered beauty series. She has been inactive on all social media since July 24th.

Nicky Dollanother viral celebrity, is known for her high-fashion looks and mesmerising stage presence. Like Brita and Gigi, she has not been active online since July 22nd.

The Los Angeles-based is also rumoured to appear. She has come to everyone’s attention in part because of her association with Drag Race stars Vanessa Vanjie Matteo, Silky Nutmeg Ganache and Brooke Lynn Hytes.

Crystal Methyd is the Missouri-based host of Get Dusted, a drag night held monthly in The Outland Ballroom. A diverse queen, she can do both comedy and looks.

Sherry Pie is a proud HIV/AIDS activist who has campaigned for awareness of the virus for years. A camp queen, she has not been online for over three months.

Dahlia Sin, a drag performer known for her association with former Drag Race contestant Aja (her drag mother), has garnered a following on Instagram of over 50,000 people.

Rock M. Sakura takes inspiration from anime and manga for her looks. A self-described “cartoon queen,” there is a video of her lip-syncing to All By Myself by Celine Dion. She has not been active on Instagram since July 23rd.

Jan Sport is a New York-based performer and member of the drag trio Stephanie’s Child. Not only has she been inactive on Instagram, she has also deleted her Facebook.

RuPaul’s Drag Race season 12 will air in early 2020, who are you the most excited to see on the show?

Image: Jonathan Porter/PressEye

DUP only party not in attendance at Northern Ireland LGBT+ rights conference

This article was originally published on the Gay Community News (GCN) website on 21 JUNE, 2019.

Four out of five of the main political parties in Northern Ireland attended a conference on Thursday to join in a unanimous call for marriage equality, anti-bullying legislation and gender recognition reform.

The conference was organised by UK-based LGBT+ publication PinkNews, as a part of their Belfast Summer Reception.

In attendance was Michelle O’Neill, leader of Sinn Féin in the Northern Ireland Assembly, who called for Northern Ireland to join the rest of Ireland, as well as the UK, in introducing Marriage Equality.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, you’re elected to represent all people in society,” she said. “The LGBT+ community is a valuable and integral part of our society and I’m determined to ensure that people are heard.

“I’m determined to ensure that you can enjoy the same rights, the same benefits that everybody else does. That’s not a privilege, that’s just your right. There’s absolutely no room for second class citizenship in our society.”

LGBT+ equality is currently blocked in Northern Ireland by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Marriage equality passed by a small majority in the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2015, but has not been enacted to date as the DUP used a petition of concern to prevent this from happening.

The petition of concern was designed during the peace process to prevent legislation from passing that would favour one community over another (in the case of Northern Ireland, Republicans and Unionists). However, the DUP has yet to clarify how the passing of Marriage Equality would be of detriment to Unionist communities.

The DUP was the only one of Northern Ireland’s main political parties to not attend the conference.

The blocking of Marriage Equality by the DUP is a contributing factor to a current political stalemate which has led to the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

DUP leader arlene foster speaking after death of Lyra McKee

Also in attendance at the conference was Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann.

Speaking directly to the LGBT+ community, he said: “it’s not as if there was an avalanche of legislation that benefitted you passing through this place in the past 10 years.

“If and when we restore devolution, Stormont must offer a platform and bring representation and legislation for our LGBT+ community,” he said.

Speaking on the topic of mental health in LGBT+ youth, he called for politicians across the political divide to “grasp the mettle and experience of those in our schools.”

He continued: “When I spoke here last year I reflected on the horrific statistics on LGBT+ youth in Northern Ireland, where two out of three do not feel that school is a welcoming environment. Where three out of five say they have had suicidal thoughts because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

His sentiments were echoed by Colum Eastwood, leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), who called the LGBT+ Rights Movement “this generation’s civil rights movement.”

The politicians in attendance paid tribute to Lyra McKee, the journalist and LGBT+ rights campaigner who was killed while reporting on riots in Derry in April.

Alliance MLA for South Belfast, Paula Bradshaw, opened the event by noting the contributions of McKee and other “absent friends” to the fight for equality.

Recently asked why they had denied Lyra McKee equality in her lifetime, DUP leader Arlene Foster said: “We have a long-standing policy which hasn’t changed. That remains the position of the party.”

Pride in the family: Irish LGBT+ siblings share their experiences

This article was originally published in the Gay Community News (GCN) Pride issue #355, dated July 2019. It was later published on GCN‘s website.

In post Marriage Referendum Ireland, LGBT+ issues are no longer discussed in hushed tones, and the likelihood of someone knowing an LGBT+ person in their family has increased tenfold.

In fact, a huge part of the campaign for Yes saw activists reach out to their families to have frank conversations about how a Yes vote would affect them. The hashtag #RingYourGranny caught on like wildfire.

For many LGBT+ people, this was a turning point: To ensure equality in civil marriage, they had to make their lives, and the lives of their friends, the focal point of conversation. They had to tell people, ‘This is about me’. Some had never had to do that with their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles before.

The stories of LGBT+ people and their families (biological or otherwise) have been documented in everything from books and TV to YouTube videos and podcasts.

However, it’s rare to hear stories from LGBT+ people who grew up with LGBT+ siblings. How do their stories differ from the expected narrative?

 

Luke and Declan Faulkner

At first glance, Luke and Declan Faulkner are very similar: They are funny, eccentric, and expressive. Sitting in a café in Rathmines, they bounce off each other rapid-fire like a queer comedic duo and seem to have a common understanding of each other’s personality quirks.

This was not always the case, as Declan informs me: “[Growing up], I didn’t really like Luke and he didn’t really like me either.”

According to Luke, this was due to the pair’s age gap: “My sister is two years younger than me, and Declan is five years older. When you’re a child, there’s a bigger age gap. Me and [my sister] were loud and annoying.”

Maturity is one reason for their newfound rapport. Another links the two in a bigger way. “I didn’t come out until I was 18, even to myself,” Declan says. “I could even pick the date on the calendar where I said it to myself.”

“I came out to myself, and then Declan came out,” Luke says. “And I was like, ‘oh I’m going back into the closet now’ [because] I felt like there can’t be two […] Then around 15 or 16 I went, ‘ah, no’.”

While Luke had no qualms about acting ‘different’ with his family and in school – by way of having a friend circle exclusively comprised of girls – Declan felt a larger pressure to conform to the norm. “I was more sociopathic. You have all these coping mechanisms to get you through, to avoid the shame.” He continues, “When [Luke] was a child, I would say that he didn’t like football, and we lived in a little GAA suburb, and that’s as good as saying, ‘I want to murder 10 million people. [He] didn’t really care about social suicide, whereas I was like, ‘what tools have I got to get through this’?”

“Declan said that I was in the closet with the door open,” says Luke.

The pair’s watershed moment came when Declan threw a house party while their parents were away. Luke had just turned 18 and was finally allowed to stay up with his brother.

Declan recalls, “I asked you if you were bisexual because I thought that might be a way to get you to open up, just to confirm it, even though I knew. It was up to me to open that dialogue.”

Once the brothers had both come out, it began to feel like their family came closer together.

“That was when the family could really begin,” Declan says. “It felt like this tiny little drawer that needed to be pulled open.”

Luke elaborates: “It’s a lot more united.”

Although Declan has always felt a degree of responsibility towards his younger brother, he always knew that he would be okay: “It was clear that he was mature enough. I admire him.”

Family photo of a new born baby on a bed, his brother beside him. A VHS tape between them
Luke and Declan

Mike and Naoise Dolan

In their youth, brother and sister Mike and Naoise Dolan had a nebulous sense of feeling different.

“The earliest signs of non-straightness were kind of on the gender-conforming side of things,” Naoise says. “Not so much wanting to do traditionally coded masculine things as not wanting to do traditionally coded feminine things.”

Mike agrees: “Where it would be different for LGBT+ siblings growing up who are the same gender, for us it was experiencing gender variants towards the other person’s direction. I think, to go back into that mindset, there may have been some latent jealousy that Naoise was able to access forms of experience and expression that I wasn’t able to.”

Naoise came out in her third year of college, when Mike, who still hadn’t told his family, was in his sixth year of secondary school.

“Naoise just randomly slipped it into the conversation, like, ‘oh, by the way, I’m gay,’ and just kind of moved on,” he remembers.

“It was a very disarming moment because obviously, in my mind, I had coded my story as being ‘the only one’ and feeling isolated, so it was really strange to discover that, not only was there one other one I knew, but they live in the same house and are my sister.”

Although Naoise’s coming out paved a path that Mike would soon follow, he says the five years between him realising he was gay and Naoise opening up about her sexuality still weighed on him. “I think a lot of the damage tends to be done when you’re a lot younger,” he says. “And I was still in a secondary school environment that was no longer as actively homophobic as it used to be, but was still a place where I did not feel comfortable sharing that about myself.”

Naoise attended the same school as Mike and outlines the difference a few years can make. “It was a mixed school, and even in the three or four years above mine it was still actively homophobic then. I feel like it has changed pretty precipitously in that sense.”

Mike and Naoise, self-defined private people, have never shared a watershed moment where they addressed both of them being LGBT+. “We had a lot of the same friends in college, so he just never needed to come out to me,” Naoise says.

“I think we just started talking about it without realising,” Mike elaborates. “I think we started talking about the cultural aspects of our identities more… so it was probably something about RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

When asked if both of them being LGBT+ has brought them closer together, she responds almost instantly with an enthusiastic – “Definitely.”

Mike continues: “I definitely feel like it’s something that’s a defining feature of my personality. If it wasn’t something we were able to discuss at all, that neither of us knew about each other.“

“It would just feel insane,” Naoise interjects.

Family photo: a toddler holding a football and a little girl with a guitar, both sitting on the ground
Mike and Naoise

Maria McGrath

Maria McGrath is currently working towards a degree in Creative Music Production in NCAD. She is originally from Galway. She is LGBT+ and older than her sister, who is bisexual.

“We’re very lucky to have a father who does not give a fuck as long as we don’t kill someone. He’s very vocal on his belief that you should not be homophobic, he is very vocal on his belief in gay marriage. He has never given me a reason to think he would never accept my sister or accept me.”

When Maria was a teenager, her mother passed away. Her sister was 10. “I don’t want to say I was a mother to her,” Maria says. “It was more so that I had to parent her a little bit more.” She did not feel concerned about her family knowing her sister was bi: “I don’t think either of us experienced homophobia in the way that other people do if they’d grown up in a conservative family.”

Although only five years older, she has noticed striking differences between her coming out experience and that of her sister’s: “When I came out, I was rejected, and I had people who said, ‘I don’t want to be your friend.’ By the time she came out, the referendum had passed, Glee was on.”

Kate Butler

Kate Butler is 25. She grew up on a farm in rural Roscommon. She is the middle child of three and currently works in Dublin. Kate is younger than her brother, who is gay.

“I came out as gay to my parents on Saturday, October 11, 2014,” says Kate. “I only realised after the fact that this is National Coming Out Day. They were very open minded and my mam does a lot of work with and around LGBT+ young people.”

She continues: “I was still insanely nervous, as I think most people are, because even when you know your parents haven’t a problem with these things, you are kind of challenging the idea of your future that they had in their head and sometimes
I think that can be the part some parents struggle with.”

Kate, who came out before her brother, feels her open minded family environment may have eased the pressure on her sibling. “In a way I can imagine that it made it a little easier for him because he could see that our parents would be okay with it; but, I’m sure he still had his own concerns. My parents were always going to support us no matter what [but] he was experiencing it as the eldest and only boy in our family, and there are underlying societal expectations for boys in rural Ireland.

“Growing up he carried more of the stereotypes of being gay whereas I think I was kind of lucky because I coasted along in the background and I got to work everything out for myself in my own time. I think there was a lot more pressure for him. 

“I think sometimes people think that because you’re born gay you always know you’re gay but it’s hardly ever that easy and it can make the coming out process very difficult when people are pushing their own opinions and expectations on you.”

Coming out in the country: Growing up LGBT+ in rural Ireland

This article was originally published on the Gay Community News (GCN) website on .

I still lived in rural Ireland when I came out. I was 18.

The fifth person I told was my counsellor. We were sitting facing each other in an old renovated house in Gorey, a small market town near the Wexford/Wicklow border. After a strained silence, she spoke: “Be careful,” she warned, “gay people are promiscuous.”

This is a prime example of the micro-aggressions that typified my teenage years; the sometimes-coded, sometimes-overt language that denoted otherness, difference, queerness. I didn’t have the words then – the emotional language necessary to navigate how that comment made me feel – but I could feel the gulf between my chair and hers widen in that moment.

For the first 15 years of my life, I lived in a village called Coolgreany. Coolgreany, also in Wexford, is neatly positioned between Gorey and Arklow, a town in south County Wicklow. To suggest that Coolgreany is humble is an understatement: It contains a national school, a shop, two pubs, a prayer group, and a garage. It has more potholes than people.

Main street of a town in rural Ireland

It was here that I discovered my gayness. I was 12 years old when I looked across the classroom and caught the eye of my classmate. We had known each other five years, and we were never close, but when we locked eyes something inside me exploded. It felt like fireworks. Suddenly I wanted to spend every day with him. I wanted to know what he liked to watch on TV, who his favourite football player was, whether he preferred GAA or hurling.

My nascent queerness was developing at the same time as my school colleagues’ homophobia. Although I had no idea I was gay, I was still targeted as ‘other’ for a variety of reasons: I didn’t like sports of any kind, bar swimming. I liked comic books and reading, and was a tad sensitive. I couldn’t join in on their gentle teasing, nor could I fight (at least not physically). This was enough to mark me as a target for bullying. When I discovered that I like men I buried that part of myself so deep so as not to exacerbate the emotional and physical violence that had already found me.

By the time I started secondary school I felt lonely. I would develop crushes and hide them, and date girls to maintain a cover. I was a young gay spy. The homophobia became more overt. I was still a target, and words like faggot came as naturally to some students as breathing. Sometimes teachers even joined in.

I went to secondary school in a farming town in Wicklow called Carnew. It was a clear upgrade from Coolgreany, but had very few outlets for me outside of local drama clubs. LGBT+ issues were rarely discussed, and if they were, they were met with sneers.

A teenager in rural Ireland lying back on his elbow looking at the camera, a group of young people in the background.

My teenage years in rural Ireland were typified by suppression. I would fall in and out of love and would have to stifle my desire to reach out for intimacy. I longed for someone to love me in the way I needed them to, but could never show it. By this time I had moved to Gorey town, and there were no supports available (at least to my knowledge) for young LGBT+ people. We didn’t have the south-east equivalent of Outhouse in Dublin city.

My eventual coming out (six years after realising I was gay) was timed almost concurrently with my moving to Dublin to attend college. For me, it marked the beginning of a new chapter: to begin afresh, make new friends, build a life and find a community. I was successful. I cut ties with my home, slowly and quietly, and looked to the future. But when you move anywhere in life you carry your past with you, and if I was to ever find peace I needed to reconcile with this.

I contacted former teachers. My secondary school now has a gender-neutral bathroom policy. They fly both the Pride flag and the trans flag in their main social area alongside the nations of the world. There are LGBT+ students who exist in that space more openly than I could. There is even now an LGBT+ support service for young people in Gorey town. They convene every Wednesday on St. Michael’s Road, a short distance from where I came out to my last girlfriend. Kids in rural Ireland now have an outlet if they need help.

This is post-Marriage Equality society. Straight, cisgender Irish citizens have begun to view LGBT+ people less in the abstract, and more as people. They are our children, friends, family and teachers. It would be naive to say that all is healed, but there are more supports available now in rural Ireland than there ever was before.

Although I just missed the boat on this change, I am not bitter. I see the change in young people’s live, people who are like me, and I am heartened. I now see less fear, and less suppression.

What Is Gay Panic Defence And Where It’s Still Legal

This article was originally published on the Gay Community News (GCN) website on 3 MAY, 2019.

James Miller had developed a passion since leaving the Austin Police Department: Music. He had acquired a guitar and propositioned fellow musicians at a bar about setting up a jazz band. His 32-year-old neighbour, David Spencer, shared in his passion, and the two would play music late into the night.

On one of such nights, after a round of drinking, Spencer moved in for a kiss. He was stabbed in the back two times by Miller, and bled to death.

Miller was charged with murder, but three years later claimed he was sent into a blind “gay panic” by his neighbour. The defence was successful: Miller only served six months in jail, with a decade to be spent on probation.
This sentence was passed in April, 2018.

Although seemingly a defence from decades past, the gay panic defence is still employed with alarming regularity worldwide. It is a workable defence in all but three American states (it is not applicable in California, Illinois and Rhode Island), and South Australia (where it is set to be repealed by 2020). It was still legal in New Zealand up until 2009.

The “gay panic defence” stipulates that same-sex interactions are so repulsive to cisgender, heterosexual individuals that it sends them into a rage that culminates in murder. It reinforces our second-class status: That our inherent sexuality is grounds enough for our deaths. That non-straight sexuality and existence is of less value than straight lives. It propagates the dated and offensive idea that we are sexual predators who need to be expelled.

The defence first attained recognition in the 1960s, when homosexuality was still defined as a mental illness. Californian man Joseph Rodriguez beat another man to death with a tree branch. His defence attorney called the incident, “an acute homosexual panic brought on him by the fear that the victim was molesting him sexually”.

Other such incidents have attained greater critical examination: The 1998 murder of 21-year-old Matthew Shephard by two older men received worldwide condemnation. In Ireland, the murder of Declan Flynn in 1982 by a crowd of youths – who received minor suspended sentences – was the impetus for growth in our national LGBTQ+ movement.

A troubling offshoot of the gay panic defence is the “trans panic defence.” Last year 265 trans people were reported murdered in 29 countries, according to the Trans Murder Monitoring.

While stringent strides have been made in the development of LGBTQ+ rights both at home and abroad, it is impossible to feel fully-accepted by society at large while our siblings are slain in incidents that are justified by archaic laws. When legislation is on our side, only then can we begin the process of feeling safe.

A Woman Remembers Her Rathgar Bookshop, Closed a Year Now

This article was originally published in the Dublin Inquirer on 16 January, 2019. 

Liz Meldon had been nervous about coming back, she says.

We are leaving the road in Rathgar where her bookshop used to be. She had spent more than a decade of her life working here, but she hadn’t come back for quite a while.

“I couldn’t put a finger on exactly why,” she says. “It’s always the people you miss the most, about anything. I mean think about it.”

She takes one last look in the window to wave goodbye to old friends, customers, and pulls away. Through the windshield is a wet winter morning.

***

Meldon worked in publishing for eight years before she got a chance to open her first bookshop in Dundrum. “I went for it,” she says.

“I had no experience of retail, so that was a total novelty. I did it as I went along and I have no regrets.”

It was 1990. Dundrum Books was in the old shopping centre. It was simple, on the first floor, and became a special place, she says. “Because of the people,” she says.

Customers behaved differently, then. “It was before online selling, Amazon, discount selling,” says Meldon.

The old shopping centre was later sold. The shop closed. Meldon moved the shop to 100 Rathgar Road in 2005.

The Rathgar Bookshop ignored the bestseller lists, and talked a lot to their customers about what there were interested in, what they wanted to read, she says.

She didn’t want loud offers. Four books for the price of three. “What I call ‘sticker bookshops’,” she says. She wanted to share the authors she liked with those she thought would like them too.

***

The shop is now home to the Fat Cat Café, which serves light food.

Earlier in the day, Meldon parks the car outside. She suggests visiting a butcher’s next door, and locks the car door.

In the butcher’s, a customer greets her. “They would text me when a book came in. People came from a good deal around because of the service that they gave,” the woman says.

“I used to come up with my grandchildren and get something out the back, and if you didn’t have the name of a book when you went in, they’d say ‘God have you got nothing to read? Come over here and have a look at this, I think you would like that.’”

Meldon goes next door to the café where her bookshop used to be. “It’s weird being in here,” she says.

In her day, the bookshop had a small bakery. Meldon baked scones and cakes for it. Each morning, she would get up at 6:10am and go for a swim in the Forty Foot, an 18-minute drive, while her baking cooled.

Photo courtesy of Liz Meldon.
There was a small garden out back. She sold the plants she grew there. The shop felt like a home. It felt like a community. “There was a whole mixture of things that drew different people,” she says.

The Rathgar Bookshop closed in December 2017. Meldon says this was due to a change in the buying habits of customers. “It was no longer financially viable,” she says. “I was forced to close the shop, and yes I regret that it had reached that point.”

“Buying online is easy-peasy,” she says. “Everything has to be done in a hurry, and it was palpable – ‘Do you have that book now?’, ‘I can get it in in two days,’ ‘It’s okay, I can get it online.’”

***

Meldon hopes there will be a turnaround in bookselling. People need communication, she says.

“With Amazon, there’s just no experience. If you bring it to its logical conclusion, you can sit on your couch, you can do all your shopping online, you can do all your banking online.”

These days, Meldon works as a consultant for the Books@One foundation. She oversees the development of community bookstores across the country, teaching others how to foster the same sense of community she did.

“It took some time to get used to the day taking on a different shape,” she says. “But I have to say, I really like the new shapes.”

The hardest part of closing the Rathgar Bookshop was losing the community she had helped build, she says. “If you want to ask me why people minded when I closed, it was because of that total community. Human interaction, people need it.”

***

A family arrive into the café. Meldon talked to them for 20 minutes. She greets each child with a hug.

On Christmas morning of December 2017, the last Christmas that the shop would entertain customers, Meldon threw a small party in the store for friends and family.

“I said to everybody here that they could just go around and pick whatever book they wanted as a keepsake. We were here for about three hours.”

This family came. They lived behind the shop. They were regulars, who became friends. The children would come through the laneway behind the store to visit, bringing friends for hot chocolates and reading. Meldon watched them grow up.

“We miss Liz a lot,” says Fiona Brennan. “The shop had a good open-door policy.”

Meldon had a wonderful dream when she closed: “that I would be filled with inspiration and creativity and start writing my first best-selling novel, and at last my gas bill wouldn’t have to be paid in instalments.”

“Needless to say, the last year has been different to how I imagined,” she says. “I did pay the gas bill though.”