Interning with the Dublin Book Festival: My Experience
This autumn I interned with the Dublin Book Festival as an Administration and Marketing Assistant for their 2023 program. With over a hundred events taking place in various locations around Dublin, the festival is a daunting, but incredibly worthy task. This is only the second year of the internship, and I had the lovely opportunity to work with a repeat intern from last year’s MALP cohort, Isabelle Gahan, who was infinitely helpful, not only in the internship but in understanding the masters. Over the course of the six-week internship, I wrote blog posts, assisted audience development, website development, organized children’s craft projects, conducted interviews, and communicated with authors, publishers, and industry professionals. That was all before stepping foot in Dublin. I did a lot of pajama writing with my big cup of coffee and a dream.
Coming into Ireland, I was unfamiliar with the local literary scene, but as a frequent attendee of book conventions and events in the United States, getting involved with the festival seemed the perfect way to dive in headfirst and test the waters. The Dublin Book Festival is unique in that it celebrates Irish writers, and there is a whole host of amazing talent on the island. It was also intimidating. When I started the internship in September, I had barely been in Ireland a month. While, admittedly, I felt completely out of my depth, the Festival Director, Julianne Siron, the Marketing Lead, Róisín Russell, and Production and Administration Lead, Mathilde Murray, made me feel at home so quickly, which is spectacular because we hit the ground running, and the race to the festival was a well-coordinated, flat-out sprint.
Because of my background working with children and in art and science marketing, most of the preparation work that I did was with the Children and Family program and with Science Week events. When the festival came this focus did not stop. When people talk about internships, they talk about blood, sweat and tears—there was none of that here. It was blisters (from sharpening pencils for children’s illustration events, which, for the record, is a hilarious injury), shivers (I was working in a gorgeous but just slightly chilly tent the weekend of the festival) and face breaking smiles. It doesn’t mean the work was any easier, but it was a joy, a puzzle box of considering new angles of event promotion and inspiring audiences. After attending a variety of events and festivals in the states as a spectator, getting to peek into organizing events behind the scenes put into perspective just how much work and careful consideration goes into every decision. From the tiniest detail, Julianne, Róisín, and Mathilde had considered everything. I was in awe of them and the attention to detail I saw them put into every element of the festival, and I was honored to be even a small part of it.
The quintessential fear of an intern is deleting something you’re not meant to—and I cannot count the number of times I sat quadruple checking blog posts and emails to make sure I hadn’t written something horrifically offensive instead of the nice text I’d drafted, or updating the website, wondering if one normal but secret button would suddenly delete the entire thing by accident (I should preface, I have WordPress experience and I know it doesn’t work like that, but I’m also dramatic and it felt like a wild amount of power to be behind the scenes of a complicated webpage). That said, I made frequent mistakes. The website was (thankfully) safe, but I once accidentally deleted all the relevant information out of a spreadsheet…and then couldn’t get it back. It was a five-minute fix. I sent emails without signing off because I discounted my own presence in the process. During the festival, I spent fifteen minutes preparing an introduction for an event I had written about, for authors I had met, an event I was incredibly excited to attend, and I got nervous and fumbled over my words in a tent full of people. And you know what happened? Everything was okay. The event went incredibly well. The audience enjoyed themselves, the festival went on, and the world kept turning.
On several occasions, I remarked to Irish course mates that it surprised me just how encouraging and patient Julianne and Róisín were, how involved they let me be, how surprised I was at the opportunities to reach out to authors and publishers when it would be easier to send messages themselves, expressed shock at the responsibility of placing me in charge of a venue and allowing me to attend the events that interested me most. My interests mattered, and my opinion was sought outside of just accomplishing the essential tasks. I was asked what I wanted to learn and where I wanted to put my energy, and my voice was heard. This sort of open, encouraging work environment was outside of my expectations and a complete culture shock, but it was not a surprise to my Irish friends. “Yeah, that’s normal” or “that’s just how we do things here” were the frequent refrains. It completely blew me away.
While I was ready to learn more about the Irish literary scene, I learned so much more about its working environment. In the master’s, during visits from Irish publishing professionals, and again at Trade Day, we’re told just how small and how kind the industry is in Ireland, but every time I see it in action, I sit, mouth open, surprised Pikachu meme incarnate. It hit hard walking into the annual Irish Publishers Conference Trade Day and realizing that because of the opportunities of the masters and the internship, there were a surprising number of familiar faces in the audience. Though I have not been in Ireland long, the industry is no longer a foreign place. From every level, the sheer consistency of kindness and friendliness that radiated from everyone was so lovely; from the volunteers to The Printworks staff, to the authors and publishers, the festival directors, and of course, the guests in attendance; everyone was genuinely so excited to watch others succeed. The biggest victory was seeing audiences engaging with events that had taken months of wading through minute details, and leaving after the hour was up with bright smiles and their stories, and their community just a little bit bigger.
The result of weeks of planning was a breathless weekend (and not just because of all the balloons I inflated). Aside from events hosted in my tent domain, I was able to attend launches and celebrations and get a taste of the Irish Publishers Conference. It was a blast to be involved with. I’m leaving the internship, not only more familiar with the Irish literary scene, but passionately invested in its future, and I cannot thank Julianne, Róisín, and Mathilde enough. I would happily jump back into the crazy rush in a heartbeat.