Serendipity, audacity… and bloody hard work. Becoming a published writer.

Every time I think I’ve responded to all the messages about the book launch, I blink and there are 15 more. I’m realising that, like the messages, the memories of the event warrant a lot more time. Time to linger, to reflect, and to express gratitude, appreciation and sympathies for the broken down cars, the locking out of the house, the horrible germs, the wrong date, the flight to Beirut, and the wounded children. I could quite happily write a book about all the things that prevented people from being at the book launch on Friday – people who I know really wanted to be there, but over whom the gremlins of fate asserted their authority. I could also quite happily write a book about the numerous precious moments during the launch itself. I could also do with a thesaurus with synonyms for ‘thank you’.

So there will be many more blogs to come to reflect on the triumphs celebrated and the tragedies remembers, and the young people I was lucky enough to show off. But for today, I’d like to address one question: ‘How did you do it? And why?’

A while ago, I wrote about what I did – and didn’t –  do to complete my doctorate. Exactly the same rules apply. A patient, generous and long-suffering army of friends and family. An absolute dedication to getting plenty of sleep. An inability to do anything productive after 7.30 p.m.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to celebrate the 30th birthday party of Nel Hedayat, one of the former students I’m still proud to be in touch with. ‘This is Emma,’ she said to a colleague of hers. ‘She’s got a PhD!’

‘Oh no,’ said I. ‘It’s not a PhD – not a proper doctorate. It’s a Doctorate in Education, a bit like the BTEC equivalent of a GCSE.’ She gave me the biggest rollicking I’ve had in a long time. ‘Don’t you dare say that!’ she said. ‘How can you not be proud of what you’ve achieved?’

This particular rollicking is not the first of its kind, but coming from someone who I saw through the turmoils of adolescence, it had an ice-bucket effect. I thought about the book as well. I generally don’t talk about it at work – and this is as it should be. When I’m at work, my entire energies are focused on the job in hand. So, having the launch there involved some quite tricky merging of boundaries.

Q: Will my colleagues imagine I’m profiting from selling the book in their midst?

A: Bloomsbury and I funded and organised the launch and all preparations were done outside school time. I was meticulous in ensuring that my day job was done to the best of my ability throughout

Q: Will my colleagues imagine I’m not committed, with an eye on fame and glamour and an innate sense of superiority?

A: Hang on a second. I don’t need to justify myself. Watch me do my job. Watch me apologise when I mess up, resolve issues as they arise, and commit myself to our young people.

And then there’s the question of working hours. If teachers are already snowed under, what on earth am I doing spending precious weekend marking time indulging myself with writing a book?

Here’s the why:

It’s been about giving voice, something I read a lot about for my doctorate. Giving voice to the wounded, the disaffected and those who have turned their back on teaching because they Just Couldn’t Cope Any More.

Giving voice to the visionaries, the optimists, the teach-meet organisers, the champions of women and minority group, the researchers who seek the very best for our young people.

If almost 4,000 had given their time up to share their stories with you, would you not have felt a duty to make them heard?

The words privilege and responsibility feature heavily in the introduction of the book, and I still rate these very highly.

And here’s the how:


When I joined Twitter, I wanted something out of it. Namely, parent-teachers to complete my survey for my doctorate. Guided by my journalist husband, I was wildly cheeky and audacious, seeking retweets and support from anyone high profile who I imagined might support my cause: Stephen Fry, Ken Robinson, Gordon Brown, and Vic Goddard, who I am proud to say has since become a valued friend. It worked. I ended up with a really exciting range of responses.


This one’s up there with moments I’ll never forget. I was in the car park of the surgery after a check up at the doctor’s when this message popped into my inbox:


Like any sensible human being, I assumed it was a wind-up and immediately forwarded it to Rav to find out who was getting a rise out of my gullibility this time… And then I said YES.


This is a bit like when someone says they like your dress and you tell them it was only five quid from Asda. It’s one of my Mum’s pet hates (sorry, Mum – I still do it).

You see, I have a confession to make. I worked VERY, VERY hard on How to Survive in Teaching. I organised holidays with military precision, blocking out chunks of time in which to distance myself from all distractions and write for a few hours. In 2016, I gave myself Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve off and worked most other days. I drafted and redrafted, cut and shaped, reviewed and rewrote. I experienced frustration, was frequently overwhelmed and more than a dozen times concluded that I wasn’t up to the task. I was lucky: my editor, Holly, was wise and emotionally intelligent – she knew when the best times were to get me on the phone (usually mid-holiday or around 11 on a Sunday); when to be strict with me and when I needed a boost. But there were many, many hours of very hard work – of rejected social events, of time away from the family or locked behind a door, of 8 a.m alarms on a Sunday.

‘Was it worth it, Miss?’ asked one of my students on Thursday. We’d talked about my 20 years in teaching and the book, and I wasn’t sure quite which one he was referring to. Either way: the answer was, and remains:

‘Without a doubt. Every second of it.’

The practical bit: you can buy the book here:

If you like it or want to discuss the issues (healthy debate welcome) you can write a review on Amazon:

Alternatively, join us on Twitter, @thosethatcan.

Thanks for all the support.



2 thoughts on “Serendipity, audacity… and bloody hard work. Becoming a published writer.

  1. Pingback: ‘How to Survive in Teaching’ published by former doctoral student – CERS

  2. Lovely to read this, Emma!

    Honestly, a Professional Doctorate IS a proper doctorate! It’s differently structured from a PhD but it isn’t in some way a lesser/easier qualification. Don’t sell yourself short!

    Congratulations on the book, and glad the launch went so well. Feel proud and please don’t ever feel the need to apologise for or justify it as some kind of indulgence! It was obviously a labour of love!

    Hope to see you again soon.

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