Keaney, Brian 1954-

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Keaney, Brian 1954-


Born January 10, 1954, in London, England; son of John (a boiler operator) and Kathleen (a homemaker) Keaney; married Rosemary Brownhill (a teacher), August 21, 1976; children: Emily Jane, Kathleen Maeve. Education: Attended St. Ignatius College London, 1965-72; University of Liverpool, B.A. (with honors), 1975; Liverpool Institute of Education, postgraduate certificate in education, 1976. Politics: "Left of center." Religion: "Cultural Catholic."


Home and office—London, England. Agent—A.M. Heath & Co., 79 St. Martin's La., London WC2N 4AA, England.


Educator and fiction writer. English teacher in London, England, 1976-86; writer-in-residence in Redbridge, England, 1988-90, and London, 1990-91; freelance writer, 1991—.


Society of Authors, National Association of Writers in Education.

Awards, Honors

South Lanarkshire Book Award nomination, 2006, for Jacob's Ladder.



Don't Hang About (short stories), Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1985.

Some People Never Learn, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1986.

No Need for Heroes, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1989.

(Editor with Bill Lucas) Girls' Talk, Boys' Talk (short stories), Macmillan (Basingstoke, England), 1989.

(Editor with Bill Lucas) Class Rules (short stories), Macmillan (Basingstoke, England), 1990.

If This Is the Real World, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1991.

Boys Don't Write Love Stories, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1993.

Family Secrets, Orchard Books (London, England), 1997.

The Private Life of Georgia Brown, Orchard Books (London, England), 1998.

Only Made of Wood (with teacher's guide), illustrated by Patrice Aggs, Forest Education Initiative (Cambridge, England), 1998.

Bitter Fruit, Orchard Books (London, England), 1999.

Balloon House, Orchard Books (London, England), 2000.

No Stone Unturned, Barrington Stoke (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2001.

Falling for Joshua, Orchard Books (London, England), 2001.

Where Mermaids Sing, Orchard Books (London, England), 2004.

Jacob's Ladder, Orchard (London, England), 2005, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2006.

The Hollow People ("Promises of Dr. Sigmundus" series), illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli, Orchard (London, England), 2006, Knopf (New York, NY), 2007.

The Gallow Glass ("Promises of Dr. Sigmundus" series), Orchard (London, England), 2007, published as The Cracked Mirror, Knopf (New York, NY), 2008.

The Haunting of Nathaniel Wolfe, Orchard (London, England), 2008.

The Mendini Canticle ("Promises of Dr. Sigmundus" series), Orchard (London, England), 2008.

Also author of beginning readers for Oxford University Press, including Every Picture Tells a Story.


(With Bill Lucas) Making Sense of English, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1987.

(With Bill Lucas) Talking Sense, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1987.

(Adaptor with Bill Lucas) Marjorie Darke, A Question of Courage (stage play), Oxford University (Oxford, England), 1990.

A Kiss from France (short play), Thornes (Leckhampton, England), 1990.

The Fat of the Land (short play), Thornes (Leckhampton, England), 1990.

Boycott (short play), Thornes (Leckhampton, England), 1991.

Between Two Shores (short play), Thornes (Leckhampton, England), 1991.

(With Bill Lucas) Sharing Experiences, Nelson (Walton-on-Thames, England), 1991.

(With Bill Lucas) Taking Shape, Nelson (Walton-on-Thames, England), 1991.

(With Bill Lucas) Taking Sides (short stories), Macmillan (Basingstoke, England), 1991.

(Editor with Bill Lucas) The Outdoor Classroom, Scholastic (Leamington Spa, England), 1992.

(Compiler with Bill Lucas) Poetry in Practice, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1993.

(With Bill Lucas) Looking at Language, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1994.

(With Claire Wright) English Grammar, Pearson (Cambridge, England), 1995.

Contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals, including Times Educational Supplement. Author of curriculum and testing materials.


Brian Keaney is the author of young-adult novels as well as short stories and teen fantasy fiction. His novels such as Falling for Joshua, Bitter Fruit, and The Private Life of Georgia Brown introduce contemporary heroines as they deal with typical adolescent problems with friends and family. With No Stone Unturned, Keaney turns to mystery in his story of a young woman hoping to escape a violent husband, and he explores fantasy in his "Promises of Dr. Sigmundus" series and his standalone novels Jacob's Ladder and The Haunting of Nathaniel Wolfe.

Keaney's story collection Don't Hang About centers on the author's experiences growing up in East London during the 1960s. In this work, he shares with young readers his own teenage problems, including conflicts with peers, parents, and teachers, as well as the prejudice he encountered as the son of Irish-Catholic immigrants. "The author speaks with a direct voice to his teenage audience and avoids any hint of patronising his readers," maintained School Librarian contributor Julia C. Marriage. As the critic added, "the strength of the book lies in the fact that the author writes from his own experience … in an imaginative manner." In Junior Bookshelf a contributor concluded of Don't Hang About: "If you want to know how it felt to be a minority in the 'Sixties, here it is."

If This Is the Real World offers teens "a mirror of contemporary life," according to a Junior Bookshelf reviewer. The novel details the plight of Danny as he searches for the father who abandoned him and his family some eight years earlier. "Keaney is excellent with colloquial conversation," maintained the Junior Bookshelf reviewer, commending the author's "skill … at detailing the domestic/school/urban community life-style, and … communicating a young person's emotions/hopes/fears." The reviewer also had high praise for the novel's "expertly envisaged" school settings and the "similarly genuine" scenes of home life depicted in the book. "The most attractive element" of If This Is the Real World "is in watching Danny grow," noted Robert Dunbar in School Librarian. According to the critic, in the course of the novel Keaney's teen hero "comes to appreciate the essential differences between the easy escape offered by dream worlds and the increasingly tough realities to be faced in having to accept some of life's harsher aspects."

The issue of a father's absence is also addressed in Family Secrets. Here Kate and her single mother Anne travel to Ireland, where Kate's grandmother has suffered a stroke. There, Kate finds her father, experiences her first love, and gains an understanding of the grandmother who, for years, had nothing to do with either Kate or her mom. Val Randall, writing in Books for Keeps, maintained that, in his story, Keaney "strenuously avoids the glibness of tying all ends neatly together but gives positive indications of a brighter future for all the protagonists." Calling Family Secrets "enjoyable," School Librarian contributor Audrey Baker also cited the optimism pervading the work, writing that "there is no complete resolution but there is a note of hope" at novel's end.

Thirteen-year-old Matthew writes to an imaginary female confidante in Boys Don't Write Love Stories, another of Keaney's well-received novels for young adults. The teen's narrative reflects on his frustrations with tensions at home and problems at school: Matthew's parents are confined to a loveless marriage and seem to prefer being away from home; his school-skipping older sister is an animal-rights fanatic who is threatening to do something criminal to advance her cause; and the teen himself is struggling with a bully at school. In School Librarian, Robert Dunbar claimed that in Boy's Don't Write Love Stories "a young teenager's awareness of an adult world which is hurtfully unfair and frequently absurd, is presented with some sharpness" through Keaney's "pared dialogue." A Junior Bookshelf contributor offered a commendation frequently voiced by critics in assessing Keaney's books, noting that "the school bits are well done."

Keaney continues to focus on the lives of contemporary teens in Balloon House and Falling for Joshua, but in Jacob's Ladder he shifts to a mélange of science fiction, fantasy, myth, and literary allusion. The novel begins as Jacob wakes up in the middle of a vast field, with no recollection of how he came to be there. Jacob can only recall his name; his past is gone. Woven in with classical myths and vignettes from Dante's Divine Comedy and the Bible, Jacob's Ladder follows the teen as he is taken to a city called Locus, where he and many other teens live a mind-numbing existence while working at repetitive physical labor. Together with a girl named Aysha, Jacob attempts to escape from this waking nightmare and his adventures result in a compelling read. In School Library Journal, Beth Wright called Jacob's Ladder an "intriguing" and "engrossing" novel, noting that Keaney's novel is "a good choice for struggling and proficient readers alike."

Also dark in theme, The Hollow People is the first novel in Keaney's "Promise of Dr. Sigmundus" series. The story takes place in a world called Tarnagar, where inhabitants agree to drug themselves with Ichor and live a placid life rather than take risks that might result in their future unhappiness. A young, uneducated teen named Dante, whose mother was reportedly insane and a suicide, works at a menial job when he meets Bea. Although she is taking Ichor, Bea still dreams, and she also begins to question the way of life on Tarnagar, where Dr. Sigmundus controls all. Soon Bea and Dante meet another free-minded person, the supposedly insane Ezekiel Semiramis, and together they escape the con- fines of the controlled community to join a group of rebels who value free will. Noting the novel's philosophical themes, Claire Rosser noted in Kliatt that Keaney "creates a suspenseful plot as he also helps readers think seriously about what it means to be free." Although Denise Ryan wrote in School Library Journal that the second half of the story seems "hurried," The Hollow People "will captivate readers with a taste for suspense or psychological thrills." The story's "brisk pace" was praised by a Kirkus Reviews writer, the critic noting that Keaney's "simple, sometimes terse sentence structure" provides momentum for the "heady" novel. The adventures of Dante and Bea—characters from the Divine Comedy—continue in The Cracked Glass and The Mendini Canticle.

Describing his own process of becoming a writer, Keaney recalled to SATA: "My parents were Irish immigrants. When they came to London in the 1940s there were signs in lodging houses that said ‘No Irish Need Apply.’ There was nothing for them but hard work and the support of their own community. As a consequence, I was brought up in a cultural bubble in the heart of London, and I grew up feeling slightly at odds with my surroundings. This was one of the factors that made me a writer.

"The respect my parents had for books and learning, though they themselves were largely uneducated, was another important element. Equally influential was the spoken language I heard all around me every day. My mother was and is a great natural talker and storyteller, and hearing the priest's thundering sermons each Sunday in church also had its effect.

"Mine was an intense childhood, and not entirely carefree. My father held very strong opinions on most subjects, and there were often dreadful clashes of will between us. I sometimes think that I write for children because I am trying to return in my imagination to my own childhood in order to work out those conflicts."

Discussing his work as a young-adult novelist, Keaney commented: "My books are about young people who face problems that seem to them insoluble and the ways they find to deal with those difficulties. I believe the strategies we devise as children for our own survival create our identities, and it is identity above all that interests me." "I love what I do and, in my opinion, it's very important," he added on his home page. "Without children's authors there would be no new readers and the whole community of literature would slowly begin to collapse and die. That's why writing for young people is one of the most important jobs on the planet."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, November 1, 2007, Debbie Carton, review of The Hollow People, p. 40.

Books for Keeps, November, 1997, Val Randall, review of Family Secrets, p. 27.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April, 2007, April Spisak, review of Jacob's Ladder, p. 333.

Junior Bookshelf, April, 1986, review of Don't Hang About, p. 77; December, 1991, review of If This Is the Real World, p. 264; June, 1993, review of Boys Don't Write Love Stories, p. 105.

Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2007, review of Jacob's Ladder, p. 120; August 15, 2007, review of The Hollow People.

Kliatt, September, 2007, Claire Rosser, review of The Hollow People, p. 14.

Magpies, November, 2006, review of The Hollow People, p. 11.

School Librarian, September, 1986, Julia C. Marriage, review of Don't Hang About, pp. 269-270; February, 1992, Robert Dunbar, review of If This Is the Real World, p. 31; August, 1993, Robert Dunbar, review of Boys Don't Write Love Stories, p. 122; November, 1997, Audrey Baker, review of Family Secrets, p. 213; autumn, 1998, review of Only Made of Wood, p. 152; winter, 1999, review of Bitter Fruit, p. 213; winter, 2000, review of Balloon House, p. 212; spring, 2005, Ann G. Gay, review of Where Mermaids Sing, p. 47; winter, 2005, Andy Sawyer, review of Jacob's Ladder, p. 214; winter, 2006, Jackie Oates, review of The Hollow People, p. 208.

School Library Journal, November, 1997, review of Family Secrets, p. 213; February, 2007, Beth Wright, review of Jacob's Ladder, p. 120; January, 2008, Denise Ryan, review of The Hollow People, p. 120.

Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 2007, Mary E. Heslin, review of Jacob's Ladder, p. 162.


Brian Keaney Home Page, (March 25, 2008).

Brian Keaney Web log, (March 17, 2008).

Jubilee Books Web site, (March 25, 2008), "Brian Keaney."

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Keaney, Brian 1954-

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