Alumni Spotlight – Caragh Bell, Author
Readers of romantic fiction will be familiar with teacher-turned-author Caragh Bell, whose riveting Cork and New York-based trilogy, ‘Follow your Heart’, has been a smash hit with fans of lightweight, entertaining escapism. The Skibbereen native signed a six-book deal with Poolbeg Press, who recently published her latest novel, ‘Echoes of Grace’. A ‘Game of Thrones’ fan, Caragh admits the book was inspired by Jon Snow’s back-story with its tale of family secrets and legacies. We catch up with the mother-of-five to talk Seamus Heaney, defending ‘freshers’ and getting lost in the Boole.
It is not surprising to hear that Caragh Bell’s first novel ‘Indecision’ was influenced by her time at UCC - the main characters, Luca and Lydia even attend a university in Cork, complete with a West Wing and Old Bar! Caragh says that “alumni who read it will recognise a lot of places, but bear in mind, it is ALL completely fictional”.
The university certainly worked its magic on the West Cork author. After completing a degree in English and French she went on to study for a postgraduate diploma in Education and later, a master’s in the same subject. She admits the lure of the quad is strong, “no matter how many times I say goodbye to UCC, I somehow end up back there”, and does not rule out the possibility of returning to campus in the future to tackle a PhD.
“I would love to continue my studies eventually and do a PhD. My brother Ian who is also a graduate of UCC, is a GP and I would love to tease him about being the ‘real’ doctor in the family!”
One of Caragh’s most treasured memories from her time at university is sitting in a packed Boole lecture theatre, listening to Seamus Heaney reading his poetry to a captive student audience. “I remember him reciting ‘Bone Dreams’ in his soft voice. I tell my students that story now, when I’m teaching his poetry at Leaving Cert. It really lifts my street cred”.
Her days as an Arts student stood her in good stead and laid the foundation for her work as a teacher and writer. “English was particularly wonderful – I remember studying ‘Hamlet’ with Ger Fitzgibbon and our lectures were down in The Granary Theatre. He was a brilliant man, asking us to direct scenes and engage actively. I submitted a few articles to the University Examiner too as I always loved to write. One was called ‘In defence of freshers’ when I was in first-year, inspired by the prejudice my peers and I endured from the older, more worldly students. Of course, when I reached second-year, I inevitably started to complain about ‘those bloody freshers’ with their big folders and earnest-looking faces”.
Caragh’s time studying at UCC’s School of Education would also prove instrumental to her career. It was here that she met Dr Brian Murphy and Dr Kevin Cahill, two “absolute legends” as she calls them. Of Dr Murphy, she says, “he is brilliant at his job and I now call him my friend. He helped me to reach my full potential and I’ll be forever grateful to him for that”. While she acknowledges the help of Dr Kevin Cahill in guiding her through her dissertation with patience and encouragement admitting that, “he brought out the best in me”.
In between drinking beer in the Old Bar, getting lost in the Boole (“Q-minus-where again???”) Caragh also found time to attend Philosoph lectures and protest outside the Kane Building against an appearance by David Irving. However, there is one recent addition to campus that she is sorry she missed out on.
“I’m so gutted that the Harry Potter Society didn’t exist in my day. I think that’s amazing! The Quad is so like Hogwarts. My daughters want to go to UCC, just to be sorted into a house and attend the Yule Ball”.