I remember the day I got the news that a publisher wanted to publish my first book. I was twenty nine and working as a full time teacher. A few days earlier I had received a letter from the Education Authority offering me a post as a part-time Advisory Teacher. I should have been delighted. It meant that one day a week I would be released from the classroom to work on developing areas of the curriculum that I was particularly interested in. More importantly, it was a foot on the ladder that might hopefully lead one day to a full time job as an English Adviser, a job that had always appealed to me. But it would mean a great deal more work. And I was already working very hard as a teacher while trying to be a writer in my spare time.
I was sitting in the staff-room at lunch time one day considering my future. In a minute, I told myself, I will get up and go to the ancient old typewriter in the Resources Room and write a letter accepting the part-time advisory post. Just then, however, someone told me that there was a telephone call for me. It was my wife. She didn’t normally call me at work so my first thought was that one of our children was ill. But in fact she had called to say that there was a letter from Oxford University Press.
Oxford University Press had had my novel for more than four months. A month earlier I had plucked up the courage to phone and enquire if I was ever going to hear anything about it. I’d spoken to the Commissioning Editor who had said, ‘Brian Keaney. Let me see. Oh yes, your manuscript was sent out to a reader and I believe it came back with rather a good report. So that means I shall be reading it myself shortly.’
I hadn’t known how to react to this news. Obviously I was thrilled that it had been given a good report by the reader, but I also realised that the man who made the actual decisions hadn’t even read it yet. So I had put the phone down with mixed feelings.
Now the letter containing the editor’s verdict had arrived on my doormat. ‘Open it!’ I said.
‘Are you sure you don’t want to wait until you get back?’ my wife replied. ‘If it’s bad news, you’ll have to carry on working while you’re feeling miserable.’
I thought about this for a moment. She was right. Waiting until I got home was the sensible approach. But I’ve never been particularly sensible.‘Open it!’ I repeated.
‘Oh my god! They want to publish your book!’ she said.
I felt dizzy.
‘Are you still there?’
‘Yes,’ I whispered.
‘Are you pleased?’
It was all I could manage.
I put the phone down and returned to my seat in the staffroom.
‘Bad news?’ one of my colleagues asked.
‘No, good news.’ I told her about the letter.
‘So what are you going to do to celebrate?’ she asked.
‘I think I’m going to resign,’ I said.
‘When?’ she asked.
With that I got up, went into the Resources Room and typed a letter of resignation. Then I came back into the Staff Room and sat down in my chair once more. I hesitated. Did I really have the guts to do it?
I showed the letter to my colleague.
‘What are you waiting for?’ she asked, eager for a bit of Staff Room drama.
I explained about the offer of the part time Advisory Teacher post.
'So you're not going to resign, then?' she said.
There was something about the way she said this and the way she looked at me. Maybe it was all just in my head but I read her response as saying, ‘You’re full of bullshit, Brian. You’re never going to leave here.’ That decided me. I got up, walked quickly to the school office and put my letter in the Head Teacher’s tray.
It was one of the stupidest thing I have ever done (and I’ve done plenty of stupid things, believe me). I had not even waited to find out what kind of advance I had been offered. It turned out to be derisory. I had two young children, a mortgage and no job. The next few years were going to be very hard.
But it was also one of the best things I ever did. I had thrown myself into the deep end of the pool. Now it was sink or swim.