AUTHOR, teacher and mother-of-five, Caragh Bell, is one of life’s busy multi-taskers who says she thrives on a certain amount of pressure.
Based in Skibbereen, her fifth novel,came out just before the coronavirus lockdown. During that time she was also teaching fifth year and Leaving Certificate pupils from Sacred Heart Secondary School in Clonakilty, from home.
Teaching online, with young children in the house, was “challenging.” She said: “The Leaving Cert is a delicate subject. But we’re all professionals.”
She feels that the calculated grades system will work out.
“We’ll do the best for the students. It wasn’t easy for them either. But we got loads of work done.”
While Caragh always wanted to write fiction, she says it doesn’t pay the bills. While at UCC doing a Bachelor of Arts, she became pregnant with her daughter, Fódhla, who is 18 now.
“I ended up doing everything backwards. I got married to Fódhla’s father (a carpenter) when she was two. Then we had another baby, Aoibhe. I kind of blossomed later and went back to college and trained as a teacher. I also did a Masters in Education.”
Caragh and her husband, John, went on to have three boys. The youngest, Feidhlim, is two. There were a few occasions when he sat on her lap while Caragh taught her pupils from her computer, during lockdown.
“It’s hard but it’s great too. I’m just so glad I have all this company all the time. I think lockdown is very tough on people who are living alone, feeling isolated.
“As bad and all as the children are, with their Cheerios on the floor, it’s not actually the worst. They’re gorgeous and they all look after each other.”
She said writing was always “an itch that I wanted to scratch”.
“I didn’t ever think I’d write a book but when I did, I really found it easy.
“Another book came and now it’s just part of my life. Initially, I self-published and learned a lot from that.”
Caragh self-published a trilogy, featuring the love story of Luca and Lydia. Journalist, Sue Leonard, give her third book a good review in the Irish Examiner.
“Poolbeg took notice and the rest is history. They took on the first three books, edited them, rebranded them and put them online. Poolbeg published my fourth book,, traditionally followed by .”
Caragh’s six-book deal with Poolbeg will see the final book published sometime next year.
Caragh and John spent a few days in New York in February, 2019, so that she could do some research for, which is set in the Big Apple.
“The book is about a girl called Gabriela who is of Puerto Rican descent. Her wish is to transcend the class divide and try and make money. A working class girl, her mother is a maid in a house on Long Island. They struggle but they’re very happy. They have lots of love. Gabriella becomes an apprentice to a famous fashion designer. She gets a scholarship to Parsons School of Design which is on Fifth Avenue. It’s a very famous place where Donna Karan and other designers went.”
As part of her visit to New York, Caragh called to Parsons for research purposes and the people there were very helpful.
“It was amazing to walk in the footsteps of Gabriella. I had written some of her story at the time and it was just fab to visualise what was happening in the book. We went on the Staten Island Ferry and we went to the Bronx where Gabriella lives.”
Caragh says that her objective in writing is to provide a little bit of escapism “in a world which is such a gloomy place. We’re bombarded with bad news all the time. What I try to achieve with my books is a light, easy read that allows people to switch off. There’s a place for that in the world.”
Caragh’s taste in reading is eclectic.
“I don’t have time to read at the moment but I love the classics such as Jane Austen and F Scott Fitzgerald. From a contemporary point of view, I love to read Jilly Cooper. We write to each other and she’s lovely.
“My books are not bonk-busters like hers but I emulate her in the sense that her books tend to be linked, although you don’t have to read them all.”
Like Jilly Cooper’s books, Caragh’s novels can be read as stand-alone stories while having links to each other.
“A year and a half ago, I decided to write a letter to Jilly. I had just published Echoes of Grace and I thanked her for giving me inspiration. I used to read her a lot when I was younger. I got a proper letter back from Jilly. She was so delighted that anyone would bother to write to her. We continued to write to each other. I sent her pictures of my kids and she sent me pictures of her dog. She gave me lovely quotes which my publisher put on the cover of.”
Clearly, Caragh’s novel struck a chord with the best-selling English writer.
Caragh is ambitious for her work and would like to write a screenplay. She rises at 6am every day to write.
She recently also launched Network West Cork’s book club and, happily for Caragh, Gabriella was the inaugural book for the club.
The Network are passionate about supporting local women and it was out of a suggestion to support a local writer from Skibbereen that the book club idea was born.
Caroline Murphy, president of Network Ireland West Cork, said: “It is so important for us as a branch to stay connected with our members to support them socially for health and wellbeing and the book club was a really fun way of doing this.”