Originally from Antrim, Aimee Johnston had been working for Penguin Random House Ireland before taking on a dream opportunity to relocate to the Maldives to sell books. She tells IMAGE.ie what made her take the plunge to take some temporary time out.
Have you ever wanted to work in a pop-up book shop? Specifically, have you ever wanted to work in a pop-up book store in a luxury resort, where you can feel the sand beneath your feet during the working day? This is what Aimée Johnston, who works in a busy publishing house in Dublin, decided she wanted to do. Taking this sort of career break is never the easiest of decisions but once she discovered Barefoot Bookseller project, she says she knows it was an opportunity too good to pass up.
"The way it works is that a company called The Ultimate Library teamed up with the luxury resort Soneva Fushi to design, build and launch a bookshop in the Maldives, run by the Barefoot Bookseller," Aimée explained after beating thousands of applicants to get the job. "I originally saw the job posting on Book Brunch, a publishing industry trade magazine and decided to apply - the chosen applicant gets to sell books for three months in the Maldives."
She explains that she felt lucky in the sense that her employers gave her the time out to go for the dream opportunity.
"Projects like this don’t come around too often, or at least not for me! When I found out I got the job as Ultimate Library’s Barefoot Bookseller it felt too much like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pass up. Luckily my employers at Penguin Random House Ireland felt the same way, and have been incredibly supportive in allowing me the time to do this."
I’m still convinced [getting the job] involved an awful lot of luck! There were a few interview stages and I was set some creative tasks along the way but overall it was just another opportunity to talk about books that I loved.
Throughout our talk, Aimée says the biggest push for her to do it was her love of books - and especially physical books - and finding the right stories for those that want to buy books from her.
"My preference has always been for physical books. I just love them. The feel of them, their smell. So much love and care and passion goes into making a book, that they just feel like wonderful things to have," she said.
"I know this is going to sound a little mad considering I was literally travelling to work in a bookshop, but I actually brought quite a few books with me, including an outrageously heavy collection of Joan Didion essays! I maintain it was totally worth the risk of fees from overweight luggage."
"If ever you were considering doing something similar, Aimeé's day-to-day routine might sway you! "My day starts in the staff canteen where Anan, our resident host chef, makes the most amazing omelettes. Honestly, they’re incredible and so worth waking up early for," she explained.
"After that I’m in the bookshop, talking to guests, recommending books. There is nothing better than taking time with a reader, establishing their reading tastes and finding just the right book for them. I love knowing someone is leaving the shop with a book that they’ll love. My day also includes the slightly more practical tasks of restocking shelves, unpacking boxes and then breaking them down. You can’t escape those jobs, even in paradise!"
"At lunchtime - and you’re going to hate me for this, but my lunch time is three hours long – I go to the beach and swim. There are these hammocks hidden just a little way into the jungle and I’ll lie there and read the afternoon away. Then it’s back to the bookshop for the evening!"
And asides from all of the above, she says her experience comes with many more highlights, including mixing with locals and their culture - as well as taking some more needed time out.
"For International Women’s Day, I attended a swimming gala with women from neighbouring islands Maalhos and Eydafushi," she continued. "I met really amazing women and after our race, we all went for food. It was just such a gorgeous way to celebrate the day."
In terms of my personal life, it’s quite nice to be moving at a slightly slower pace than normal. I think there’s a lot of pressure to always be seen to be really busy, and I’ve definitely been guilty of that in the past.
Her advice for anyone wanting to do the same is to trust your instincts, think of what you might gain in terms of expanding your skill set to employers when you get back home and if you want it, talk to your company as early as possible to get your plans in motion.
"It’s a bit of a cliché, but I think my biggest piece of advice would be to trust your gut," said Aimée. "Change can be scary and uncertain but if it’s the right project and the right time, you’ll know. I’d also advise speaking to your employers as soon as possible to discuss your options." "
"I’m really fortunate to work for a company that cares about the development of their employees and you never know, your job might just view your career break as a brilliant opportunity for you to grow and gain different skills. The earlier you have those conversations, the less daunting things become."
Photographs: Ultimate Library