Claregalway-native Caoilinn Hughes is author The Wild Laughter (2020 ) which was shortlisted for the An Post Irish Book Awards’ Novel of the Year and the RTÉ Radio 1 Listener’s Choice Award 2020. Her first novel Orchid & the Wasp won the Collyer Bristow Prize 2019 and was a finalist for four other prizes. Her short stories have been awarded The Moth Short Story Prize, an O.Henry Prize and the Irish Book Awards’ Story of the Year 2020. She is the 2021 Writer Fellow at Trinity College Dublin.
What advice would you give your 16-year-old self?
My sixteen-year-old self had just finished secondary school and didn’t have the grades to go to university in the republic of Ireland. Adult me has a PhD and is teaching at Trinity. So there, CAO system! I loathed the rote-learning school system in Ireland, but I had a good time at school because I had good friends and a loving family who didn’t pay much heed to grades. Later, at university (Queen’s University of Belfast ), I met great teachers: the kind who know how to bring out the best in individual learners (we learn in different ways ); the kind of teachers who help to foster will and motivation, who demonstrate genuine enthusiasm for what they do, and who point you in the right direction (a direction unique to you ). So: don’t let yourself feel inadequate or overly anxious. It doesn’t really matter if you’re “doing well” in school, I don’t think. What matters is that you’re doing well as a human being. To do well as a person involves quite a lot of luck, and some things you can control: try to foster good and varied friendships, bring good vibes to your family and social circles, share your troubles and thoughts with people you trust, pay attention and give time to the things you care about, and stand up for them.
Schooldays were the best days of my life. Agree/Disagree and why/why not?
I’m 35, so it would be weird to already know what the best days of my life were or are! All I can say for sure is that this past year hasn’t been the best one, because I miss people and live culture. And when I think back to my school days, the best thing about them was the people. I laughed myself snotty every single day. I laughed far more than I cried, which seems like a good indicator. It wasn’t nice to be told that I would improve at [INSERT SUBJECT HERE] if I repeated the year ... but I had enough social support and self-belief not to feel too blue about that. I hope that any young person reading this feels supported. Because you might not be seeing your friends in person, make the time to phone them regularly. Remember that hearing a voice is very different to texting. Sometimes you can be texting with a dozen people, but you can be really lonely. Pick up the phone. A friend might really need to hear your voice.