Bernard O’Keeffe teaches at St Pauls’ School, where he was Head of Sixth Form for many years. He graduated from Balliol College Oxford and worked in advertising before becoming a teacher; he was Head of English at Radley College before he moved to St Paul’s. He has reviewed for The Oxford Times and Literary Review and is an editor of The English Review. He has few claims to fame, but counts playing football with Nick Hornby, having lunch with George Best, teaching members of Mumford and Sons and Noah and The Whale, embarrassing himself on TV with a very stupid quiz show answer, giving Clare Balding interview practice, and nearly being recruited as a spy as amongst his most significant. He lives in Barnes with his wife and two children.
Your debut novel is called ‘No Regrets’, please could you tell me about it?
It’s about a man who takes on a bet to accept every invitation he receives for a year.
‘No Regrets’ is about Rick, please could you tell me a bit about him?
Rick’s a man who’s letting things drift by as he hits middle age. His wife has walked out on him to live with a PE teacher, his kids are at University, and one New Year’s Eve his best friend suggests that maybe he’s become boring. It’s this accusation that triggers the bet. To show that he’s not boring, Rick will accept, for one year, every invitation that comes his way. Any Invitation. No Excuses. No Regrets.
Are any of the characters in ‘No Regrets’ anything like you?
The idea for ‘No Regrets’ came when I realised that I had stopped going out as much as I used to. It had always been difficult when the kids were young, but I seemed to have somehow got stuck – whenever I received an invitation the first question I asked myself was not how to get there but how to get out of it. I started to wonder what it would be like if I had no choice in the matter and if I simply had to accept every invitation that came my way. From there it was easy to construct the character of Rick who is definitely like me in that respect. In other respects he’s not, and none of the events I describe have actually happened. I have never joined a runners’ club, all my games of Scrabble have been perfectly innocent, I am happily married and, although I have often embarrassed my children, I have never subjected them to anything like Rick’s absurdities. My son does stand-up comedy, but at the time of writing he hadn’t done any at all and was a long way off being at university.
If ‘No Regrets’ was to be made into a film, who would your ideal cast be?
I think Rick and Jerry could be played by Hugh Grant and David Mitchell. They would both be very good as pair of old friends who get themselves into ridiculous situations.
They say the journey to being published is one of the hardest an author can take, please can you describe the journey that you went on?
Very much a long-haul flight with a good deal of turbulence. It’s not a journey to be undertaken lightly, but when you reach the destination and enjoy being there it’s easy to forget just how long it took.
If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?
Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite. It’s only one piece of advice, but it’s worth repeating.
What can we expect next, any future books in the pipeline?
I’ve just completed my second novel and have started working on my third. I’m susperstitious about revealing what they’re about – sharing the idea too early can make you lose confidence in it. There’s nothing worse than telling someone the title or pitching a one-line summary only to be greeted with indifference, a puzzled face or a slowly shaking head.
Was there any book you read as a child that convinced you that you wanted to become a writer? If so, which one was it?
My decision to become a writer came quite late – so there’s no book I read as a child which had that effect. There’s one I read to my children when they were very young, though, that definitely made me think about it. It’s called ‘Not Now Bernard’ – a great tale about a child-eating monster. Every time I read that repeated line – ‘Not Now Bernard’ I realised I’d spent too much of my life saying it to myself, and it was about time I did something about my ambitions before I too was gobbled up by a monster.
If there was one saying that could sum up your life, what would it be?
I think the title of the book says it all – ‘No Regrets’
If you could choose one book that you think everyone should read, what would it be and why?
I’d choose ‘Great Expectations’ because it’s about growing up and looking back. After reading it you realise that the trick is to live your life in such a way that you can look back with no regrets.
What is your all time favourite book?
It’s a tie between ‘Great Expectations’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’ – they’re both great.
Thank you Bernard for talking to Love of a Good a Book