Writer, full-time teacher and mum of five, Caragh Bell tells Jackie Keogh how she juggles her jam-packed schedule
A West Cork mother of five - who works full time as a secondary school teacher - is about to start writing her sixth book. And when people wonder how Skibbereen author, Caragh Bell, juggles it all, she admits there’s a lot of coffee involved, adding that she wouldn’t describe herself as a ‘typical mother.’
She has two girls, Fódhla, aged 17 and Aoibhe, aged 13; and three boys Lughan, aged seven and Oscar aged five along with 15-month-old Feidhlim.
Aged 39, she started out self-publishing her fiction and is now published with the prestigious Poolbeg.
‘When I was self-published it was easier,’ said Caragh. ‘I got to choose when I wrote and I didn’t have deadlines, or my fifth child either. Now, this year, it has been particularly busy because I had to edit my trilogy for re-release, edit my fourth– Echoes of Grace, which has just been published by Poolbeg – and write my fifth which is finished but needs to be edited.’
Caragh has also been working hard promoting her novels, doing interviews, attending publishing meetings in Dublin, and writing articles for magazines, including a feature in Women’s Way that certainly had people talking.
In it, she asks: ‘Why is there still a gender gap in the household?’ Despite the fact that Caragh has a full-time job as a teacher of English and French at the Sacred Heart Secondary School in Clonakilty – she says the majority of housework falls to her.
‘I don’t blame men,’ she said. ‘It is almost our fault because we don’t change it. We get complacent and allow it to happen. I believe it would take a serious revolutionary soul to change it because it is so entrenched in society.’
But she admits that sometimes it does annoy her because she works really hard too, as does her husband, John, who is a carpenter.
‘We are each as tired as each other: my job is a mental job, which can be stressful and draining but there is an inference that because I work for less time than he does that naturally the housework falls to me.’
Caragh, who has conducted the entire interview with a smiling and burbling Feidhlim, aged 15 months, bouncing on her hip, takes pause for a minute and sees the silver lining.
‘Once Echoes of Grace is up and running, I will be able to devote my time properly to writing the sixth book. And I am very lucky to have my job because, as a teacher, I do have the summer to work.’
Last summer, she said she did work hard but it took ‘serious discipline. I had a childminder too so I could write for three or four hours a day.’
Before Feidhlim, Caragh would be at her writing desk by 5am but now – during the summer – she said she ekes out three hours from 9am to noon.
‘I am fresher in the morning, more creative,’ she said. ‘But, whatever the time, I find coffee the best writing aid in the world. In my head something triggers when I am drinking coffee and I now associate that with writing.’
Caragh explains how she manages to fit in everything – including a sit-down meal cooked by her every day at around 6.30pm – saying: ‘I am not a typical mother.’
‘My kids are quite independent. They are very sociable and they are able for any situation. They’re great.
‘And I am not happy when I am a stay-at-home mum. I get bored. We are all happier when I am working because when I am busy the time I do have to spend with the kids I make it jam-packed and it is more beneficial for all of us. If I was at home for nine hours in the day I would crack up.’
Caragh has a couple of passions in life: Game of Thrones is one of them, but she is also a foodie, hence the sit-down meals, although she does say they have Dolmio days, just like everyone else.
She also loves baking. ‘I make wedding cakes for people. Before I was a teacher, I really got into it.’
Given her rather hectic schedule – and her daily 3km walk – Caragh said writing gives her a sense of personal satisfaction. ‘It is also exciting. It lifts your life out of the mundane every day.
‘It is exciting to go to Dublin and to meet people in publishing.
‘But I am a realist and I know that only very few make it, but while I am doing it I am going to enjoy every minute of it.’
There is one saying that keeps Caragh motivated: ‘A lot worse has done well.’ And she firmly believes: ‘You just have to be lucky.
‘If I make it, it will have to be luck, luck, luck. And if nothing comes of it, so what? I am blessed. I have a really fulfilling life.’
And, if all of that is just a tad too upbeat, Caragh laughs and confesses: ‘Sometimes, I go to bed at 9pm!’
The clocks have gone forward and the longer evenings have finally arrived which can only mean one thing – the lawn mowers are out. A wealth of knowledge is on hand at Bandon Co-Op’s three stores in Bandon, Enniskeane and Kinsale thanks to each of their in-store experts who are there to share their vast experience