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Chuckle test is a winner for memoir writing sensation

Everyone has a story to tell…and some tell it better than others.

English teacher Brendan Heaney has become a surprise best-selling author in recalling his adolescence in New York state.

It’s Okay! A Memoir not only appears at the top of many memoir charts, but it’s also listed in a growing number of critics’ favourite books of recent years.

But what makes Heaney’s recollections of growing up any different or better than other coming-of-age biographies?

Well, humour is perhaps the obvious answer.

And testing the funny anecdotes out on his students allowed him to edit down what appealed and what didn’t.

He explained: “I guess I began writing the book long before I ever set pen to paper. 

“It’s Okay! is a personal memoir and it’s very much about the odd and funny things that happened because of the colourful characters I grew up with. 

“It’s really a collection of stories that detail the joy and the pain of growing up.  

“In using my stories and bringing them into the classroom, I’ve gained an appreciation for the humour of the students and the value of them as entertainment. 

“I wrote the book because an awesome student asked me to – simply, he gave me a homework assignment and I did it.”

While not all budding biographers have classrooms of students to run their chapters past, most can find an audience through friends and family, or even a writing group.

It’s Okay! A Memoir’s first draft was surprisingly written within a month of Heaney putting pen to paper.

But the refining and editing process continued for several years before he was confident that he was giving his story the justice it deserved.

His blend of the hilarious and the heartfelt struck a chord immediately with readers – and It’s Okay! quickly became a word-of-mouth phenomenon.

Heaney’s characterisation, pacing and ‘tried-and-tested’ humour led to reprint after reprint being ordered.

The praise for his debut book – much more so than the sales – has convinced Heaney that a dual career of teaching and writing is the way forward.

He added: “I love writing and have discovered the joy of people telling me that my stories have made them laugh and cry. 

“That’s really all the praise I need. 

“I tell my students that good writing makes you think and makes you feel – that’s my goal. 

“I’m positive I have more stories in me that need to be told. 

“I’m looking forward to outlining a new book – I’ve got a lot of ideas swimming in my head.”

It’s Okay! A Memoir was described by the New York Times as ‘a celebration of life’, yet it could also be described as ‘a celebration of running your stories past an audience first’.

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