Tales from the Chalkface; Philip Key Meets Brian Jones, Building a New Career as an Author after a Lifetime in Teaching

Article excerpt

Byline: Philip Key

IN A NEW book on schoolboy life most of the characters swear, cheat, drink, smoke and try to avoid work. And that's just the masters.

Nine Till Four is a first novel by Birkenhead-born Brian Jones, 58, a former Wirral teacher who five years ago took early retirement.

It's a comic novel but Jones suggests that it has a basis of truth - he has wisely set it in the early 1970s and a fictional Burns Secondary Modern Boys School.

His anti-hero is English teacher Trimble who - between nipping off to the local pub for passionate sessions with the landlady - is desperate to get the job of head of English.

It doesn't quite go to plan but, in between, the novel bubbles with classic comedy capers involving the indolent masters and equally indolent boys.

Typically Trimble tells his landlady lover: "I could sweat blood with these kids and they'd still be pig-ignorant."

It has taken Jones a lifetime of teaching to write the book. As a young man planning a career, he had "some vague idea to do some writing." Then he discovered teaching.

"I was not intending to stay in it but found I enjoyed it so I just carried on."

He trained in Nottingham - the only occasion in his life when he lived away from Wirral - and returned to teach at a primary school. He felt he wanted to specialise - "at the primary school you taught all the subjects" - and turned to secondary education.

He moved a few times "for promotion" and eventually ended up as head of English at Bebington High School. It was from there that he took early retirement five years ago.

In his final school years, he had turned to writing fiction. "There were some short stories which appeared in writers' circle magazines, none of them to do with teaching."

The breakthrough came when the women's magazine Bella published one of his stories Be Prepared.

It was a magazine read by his teacher wife Pam and Jones had spotted that each issue had a mini mystery on the last page.

His story with a twist was about a man who is bullied by his boss and discovered one day standing over his prone body. It seems the bullied man has strangled him, the twist being that he had actually saved the boss's life after he had had a heart attack.

"I needed someone to tell me that what I was writing was good and when someone was prepared to publish my work and pay me money, it showed I was not deluding myself and that I could write."

In fact the story was successfully sold elsewhere, South Africa, Canada, and used at a Cheltenham writing college to explain how to construct a short story.

The story is now framed in Jones's study at his Prenton home, complete with an uncashed cheque for $50 from one publisher. "It was in dollars so I never got round to cashing it."

He had already started working on his comic novel at the time, with some chapters written. In fact it was to be seven years from writing to publication.

"It took a long time because I wanted to get the structure right. It was a few years before it came to be in anything like the form it is now."

At one stage, he sought professional guidance and was told it was no good.

So he scrapped the manuscript and started again.

It was rejected by a number of publishers until one expressed an interest but wanted changes. By the time Jones had made them the publisher had lost interest.

Then a small publishing house said it would publish. …