Movie deal for my books would be 'happy ending' says Cork teacher

Writer, teacher and mum of five, Caragh Bell is planning her sixth book for September. CHRIS DUNNE catches up with her to talk about her inspiration, juggling family life and dreams of a movie deal
Movie deal for my books would be 'happy ending' says Cork teacher
Caragh Bell and her husband John and children

HOW does a mum of five, who has a full-time job teaching English and French to fifth and sixth year pupils, find the time to write and publish her sixth book?

“There’s a lot of coffee involved!” explains Caragh Bell.

Even with her jam-packed schedule, Caragh, 39, gets to make dinner for the family every evening at 6.30pm into the bargain!

“We have Dolmio days too like everyone else,” says the author, who was also a master baker, creating fabulous wedding cakes for friends before she began teaching.

Caragh has two girls, Fódhla, 17, and Aoibhe, 13, and three boys, Lughan, seven, Oscar, five, and 15 month old Feidhlim.

Does she have a fairy godmother to help out with her busy household?

“I’m not your typical mum!” says Caragh, from Skibbereen, who landed a six book deal with Poolbeg. She started writing in earnest in 2011, self-publishing the first book, Indecision, in the Follow Your Heart Trilogy, in 2015, featuring the love story of Luca and Lydia.

“And my kids are very independent,” she adds.

Caragh is married to John, a carpenter, who, she says, is a typical man.

“He has never changed a nappy!

“Nagging is futile!” she adds. “I think the majority of women do most of the household chores. When men get married, wives pick up where the mums left off. And we conveniently do just that! So it is not entirely their fault.”

“To be fair, John does cook once in the blue moon!” she says.

“The kids love it when he deigns to make his world-famous chilli con carne.”

Caragh is a good multi-tasker. “It is easier for me to organise things,” she says. “After all, I work fewer hours than John does. He works long hours in his workshop, so I do most of the household chores.

“If the kids are hungry or thirsty or if they want a glass of milk and they are all yelling at once they call for mom. When they want an ice-cream or a fizzy drink their dad doesn’t say ‘No’.

“When you ask them who is the best? They say dad!”

What does John say?

“He says, ‘Shur, they’re only kids once!’”

Caragh wasn’t much older than a kid herself when she started teaching English and French at 22, after her first daughter, Fódhla, was born.

“I was subbing, teaching, gaining as much experience as I could,” she says.

“When I did my HDip in UCC, five years later I approached Sr Eilish to do my hours at my old Alma Mater, The Sacred Heart Secondary School, Clonakilty. Sr Eilish kept me on and I’ve been there ever since.”

Caragh continued to write despite the heavy workload, rising at 5am to work, even after the birth of her fourth child, Oscar.

Writing is in her genes.

“My great-grand uncle, James Burke, was a well-known journalist and he was a former editor of the Southern Star,” says Caragh.

James also topped the poll for Fine Gael in West Cork in the 1933 General Election.

“Yes, writing is in my genes,” says Caragh. “I seem to be writing forever; seriously since I was 16.

“My dad, John, was a Geography and History teacher. He loves the arts too.”

He is also a romantic.

“I’m called after a lake near Killorglin, Co. Kerry, where dad is from.”

The West Cork work ethic is in Caragh’s genes.

“My mother, Ann, was a GP, and so was Mary, her mother before her,” says Caragh.

“They were great women, working full-time, raising their families and being a big part of the community.”

After self-publishing Indecision, Regrets and Promises followed.

“I did some research into self-publishing,” says Caragh.

“And I read about E.L. James, who self-published Fifty Shades Of Grey.”

Caragh began to build up a loyal fan-base following her characters, Luca and Lydia. The love story, including an intriguing love triangle set in Cork and New York, captured her readers’ imaginations.

What is the appeal of her romantic novels?

“You know, we are saturated with bad news,” says Caragh.

“Every news-feed brings us bad news in some shape or form.

“My books are light and fluffy, providing escape from bad news and from every-day routine. They are not Tolstoy; but they are engaging.

“I promoted my books online and I even had a couple of enjoyable book launches,” Caragh adds.

Then Lady Luck came along.

Promises was reviewed favourably in a national newspaper by a well-known journalist and that’s when Poolbeg took notice,” says Caragh.

“I signed a deal with Poolbeg Press in 2017.”

How did that feel?

“Like a dream come true!” says Caragh.

“All I want now is the movie deal. Then I’ll be all set!”

The signing with Poolbeg wasn’t all fun and games.

“The hard work really started then, editing the books,” says Caragh.

“I had new deadlines to meet other than my own. Before, I could choose when I wrote. I didn’t have a fifth child then either!” Caragh adds, smiling.

She put in the hard graft required to be a successful author.

“When I was self-published it was easier,” says Caragh.

“This year is particularly busy, because I had to edit my trilogy for re-release, as well as Echoes of Grace, a proper romantic novel, just published by Poolbeg, which is a three-book contract. Gabriella is almost completed and it needs to be edited as well.”

Caragh doesn’t believe in resting on her laurels.

“I’m planning a sixth book for September. I’m 20,000 words into it. The book is set in the music world, and the familiar characters make a cameo appearance.”

Where does the inspiration for her books come from?

“Being an English teacher, I get to study classics like Wuthering Heights and The Great Gatsby.

“I’m also a big Game of Thrones fan, and I was fascinated by Jon Snow’s story — how his dying mother begged her brother Ned to look after her son. Jon had no idea about his noble birth. So secrets and legacies and all that jazz.”

Carragh likes happy endings.

“Everyone loves a happy ending,” says Caragh.

She is enjoying her level of success.

“I am really happy with my lot,” she says. “If it all ended tomorrow, it would still be as sweet.”

Does John read her books?

“No, he has never read any of my books,” says Caragh.

“John is very proud of me though! Often, pals who read my books mention they recognise a character that we both know.”

Back to family life, Caragh reflects on raising kids in a busy household.

“They are good boys, very laid back. They often clear off the kitchen table for me. Sometimes the washing seems never-ending!

“My eldest, Fódhla, is very focused on her studies. I teach her English. She’s a great girl. Both my girls are my best critics.”

Caragh says that the summer holidays teachers get are a Godsend.

“Having the whole summer off work is brilliant,” she says.

“I always get a lot of writing work done during the long summer.”

And she recently acquired a valuable asset.

“I employed a cleaning lady! I can’t live without her. She is amazing!”

Does Caragh rise at 5am in the school holidays?

“No. It is more like 9am during the summer months,” she says.

“I work then until noon. I work in a little room and I totally focus on what I’m doing. It’s the same when I’m correcting essays.”

It’s not all work and no play for the mum, author and teacher.

“We all enjoy cycling together on Sundays. And I do a 3km walk every day listening to my music. It clears the cobwebs.”

Neither herself nor John are bogged down with cobwebs.

“I can block everything out when I’m writing,” says Caragh.

One day, she hopes she’ll be a world-famous author.

“And I‘ll get the movie deal,” she says.

Wouldn’t that be a very happy ending?

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