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Cork Profile

Caragh Bell, author and English/French teacher

Wednesday, 16th January, 2019 4:55pm

Name and position: Caragh Bell, author/teacher of English and French

Age: 39

Lives: Skibbereen

Family: Husband John and children Fódhla, Aoibhe, Lughan, Oscar, and Feidhlim.

Pets: My mum has a blind dog called Toto. Will that do?

Favourite thing about Cork: No one is allowed to have ‘notions’ in Cork – I love that. Corkonians will cut you down to size in an instant. They say it how it is.

Least favourite thing about Cork: Nothing. I love it.

One thing you’d change about Cork: Bring Wagamama back! We loved that place. It was perfect for big families.

When you were small, what did you want to be as a grown-up?

A princess. I used to watch ‘Jim’ll Fix It’ and dream of being selected and wearing a big pink dress like Glenda in ‘The Wizard of Oz’. I imagined myself riding around in my carriage pulled by four white horses and, of course, getting my medal at the end.

I also thought Grace Kelly was the most beautiful woman in the world and watched ‘High Society’ a million times. I think I still know every word. The fact that she was a princess made her even more wonderful. So my life goal was to marry a prince and live in a castle.

Tell us about your career progression to your role today:

I started teaching at the age of 22, just after the birth of my eldest, Fódhla. I subbed in different schools teaching subjects from home economics to technology, gaining as much experience as I could.

Then, five years later, I did the HDip in UCC, my alma mater. I got a job in Sacred Heart Secondary School in Clonakilty teaching English and French, and I’ve been there since.

In 2011 I started a masters in Education in UCC again, the same year I started writing ‘Indecision’, the first instalment of the ‘Follow Your Heart’ trilogy. I continued to write, despite the heavy workload and the birth of my fourth child Oscar, and self-published in 2015. Then ‘Regrets’ came along, followed by ‘Promises’. I promoted my books online and had lots of book launches, even one in London.

Then Sue Leonard, a fantastic journalist, reviewed ‘Promises’, Poolbeg Press took notice and I signed with them in 2017. My new book ‘Echoes of Grace’ is the first of a three-book contract, so there will be more to come.

This year I was asked to lecture part-time in UCC, which was a fantastic. It was so different teaching adults, and I hope to publish an article soon about using social media in second language classrooms.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of what you do?

Teaching? Working with my students. I’m mad about them. I’m constantly learning myself, which is amazing. I teach French so I spend half my day babbling on in another language. I love languages. I find them fascinating.

Writing? Creating characters that I would love to hang around with! Playing God with said characters’ lives and writing about worlds that are dramatic, glamorous and exciting.

What motivates you?

My children. I’m blessed to be their mother and I want them to be proud of me.

What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

You don’t know everything and your parents aren’t out to ruin your life. Eat enough calcium and don’t worry so much about what people think. Oh, and that grunge look isn’t the most flattering fashion choice…

If you weren’t in the job you have, what would you be doing?

A curator in an art museum in Paris.

What is your greatest life or career achievement to-date?

Getting a first in my masters and of course, getting published with Poolbeg.

Who has had the biggest influence on you in your life?

My mother, Ann. She’s a legend. She’s kind, supportive, generous, funny, honest, loyal, and everything I want to be. She’s my best friend. I ring her every day. Sometimes I get really tired, what with work and the kids, and she notices straight away. I’ll arrive home to a home-cooked meal, all ready to be put into the oven. There is honestly nothing nicer than that.

Mum was a GP in Skibbereen when I was a child. As a result, she was always busy, but this didn’t stop her being a fantastic mother. Her own mother Mary was a GP too, back in the fifties, which was rare. I still meet people who remember ‘Doctor Mary’ with real fondness.

Mum was held in the same regard as her mother. She worked hard all her life and gave her children an amazing upbringing. Her patients still miss her (she retired a few years ago). She showed me that women can do both – they can have great careers and still raise a family. 

The independence and strength of both my mother and grandmother was inspiring when I was a child, and it has shaped who I am today. Mum always tells me never to rely on anyone else – to work hard and be able to look after myself. I am adamant that my own daughters will carry this on.

What is the life dream now?

Oh, the movie deal so I can put my army of children through college. Of course, it would have to include Leonardo DiCaprio and a trip to the Academy Awards. Oh, did I mention Leonardo?  

How do you switch off?

I love watching ‘The Chase’ as I’m obsessed with quizzes. I’m also partial to a glass of red wine. I also walk a lot. I love listening to my iPod and clearing my head as I trek around the River Road in Skibbereen.

What is your favourite Cork memory?

Walking up past St Finbarre’s Cathedral as a student and staring at it in awe. I think it’s up there with Notre Dame in its magnificence. Stunning. I lived close by when I was a student and I passed it every day. For some reason, the sight of it always made me smile. It still does.

What is your favourite place in Cork?

The English Market. The variety, the bustle, the life. Sitting upstairs in The Farmgate, watching the world go by. Eating a scone with rhubarb jam and reading the paper.

Do you have a favourite quote or motto?

‘Pride comes before a fall.’ It’s so true.

When are you at your happiest?

Out near the Beacon in Baltimore on our little boat. Listening to the call of the gulls as the sea sprays on my face. All your troubles fade away and you feel so close to nature.

Any regrets?

No. I have led a wonderful life. It’s had its up and downs, believe me, but each crisis has made me appreciate what I have even more. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It really, really does.

What is your hidden talent?

Cartwheels. I was a cheerleader in school and I haven’t lost it.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

I was born with a caul around my head which is an extra membrane. It’s quite rare actually and is seen as lucky in many cultures. Maybe I’ll get to meet Leo after all.

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

I love my iPhone. It is like my sixth child. I can’t live without it.

I also love baking. My pièce de résistance? Chocolate fondants with the gooey middle.

My dream is to see Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He’s my favourite artist.

Even though I write romantic novels, I hate romance. It’s like Enid Blyton reputedly disliking children. All that chocolates and flowers and lovey dovey stuff makes me uncomfortable.

Finally, I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else but Skibbereen. It’s a brilliant place to call home.

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