All Stories is an initiative that offers free opportunities for underrepresented children's book writers to develop their work. The second programme began in October last year and ended in June '23. Jane Brydon, our final mentee of this programme, introduces herself and tells us about her experience so far.


I’m sure most writers have at some point doubted themselves, wondered why they don’t just give up and stick to the day job.

Self-doubt is something I grew up with. Brought up in an affluent area of Nottingham I was surrounded by children whose parents were well educated and wealthy. But unlike those other children, my parents weren’t doctors or lawyers and my life was very different. Money was in short supply and home life was tough. One of seven children, my dad had grown up in a working-class mining family and though his teachers said he had the academic ability, he had been forced to abandon any ideas of attending grammar school. Instead, at sixteen, he was working and handing over his wages every week to put food on the table for his younger siblings.

When I was born, he was working long hours as a painter and decorator. As I grew older, with my dad often working away from home for weeks at a time and mum having to pull shifts at the local pub, I became a typical 1970s latchkey kid. It wasn’t uncommon back then for me to spend hours alone in an empty house. It might have been worse but for one thing. Books!

I owe my love of books to my dad, to the countless hours spent teaching his only child how to recite her alphabet. My dad taught me the magic of books. By the time I started school, I was already able to read well enough to sail through the Janet and John books the teachers presented me with. By the end of my second year at primary school, I’d read every book in the school library. I read everything and anything I could get my hands on. Joel Chandler Harris’s stories of Brer Rabbit, the wonderful Sagas of Noggin the Nog by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin, Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach and of course, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

The stories and characters within those pages were my escape into an alternate reality. The changes in children’s literature we’ve seen since then are amazing and should be applauded. Today’s child has more opportunities than ever to see themselves, their lives and their experiences reflected in the books they read, but I don’t feel I missed out. For me, it wasn’t ever about characters I could identify with. In fact, I craved the opposite of that. I wanted books to help me forget who I really was, to escape my childhood experiences. I wanted characters who had a very different life. I wanted magical worlds and crazy adventures. I wanted characters that made me laugh. I wanted to see myself as someone entirely different; a more confident, less awkward child, and for those moments when I was absorbed in a story, I could have that golden ticket, sail away in a giant peach and make lots of new friends. I was no longer in a place where I didn’t fit in. I was no longer lonely.


Later, I would see myself riding my black horse in Anna Sewell’s story of Black Beauty. I sat by the fire and giggled with my sisters in Louisa Alcott’s Little Women and solved mysteries with Nancy Drew in the series written by Carolyn Keene. I even ran away to join The Circus. In fact, this latter book by Enid Blyton, handed down to me from my mum, still sits on my bookshelf today, its pages dog-eared and worn.

By the time I’d left primary school I’d started to grow bored with the reading material at my disposal, and inspired by my English teacher, I began creating my own stories. I’d spend endless hours in my bedroom at home, creating unique characters and elaborate worlds for them to exist in. At the age of eleven, my English teacher pulled me aside and told me the local newspaper would like to interview me. They were going to publish one of my stories!

The self-doubt never went away and I never did pursue that writing career. But life is full of surprises and sometimes that golden ticket can come along. After years working in health and social care and bringing up a family of my own, my chance may finally have come thanks to Catherine Coe and the All Stories Mentorship Programme. The doubt is still there. Can I really do this? What if I don’t have ​ what it takes? The difference now is that I have people around me who believe in me enough to offer me this chance. I have the support of a wonderful mentor and if I can believe in myself just enough, maybe one day one of my books will be the inspiration another child needs to never stop dreaming of that golden ticket.

 *Header image: in-house collaboration by Ell Rose & Tita Berredo



Jane Brydon was a pre-retiree. Having spent the last forty years supporting people with additional support needs and bringing up her own family she decided that life is too short to retire. Despite having a children’s story published in her local newspaper at the age of eleven, she has only recently embarked on a writing career. Last year she started a BA (Hons) in English Literature and Creative Writing. Her short fiction has featured in a popular UK women’s magazine. Her debut children’s book was chosen for the 2022–2023 All Stories Mentorship Programme. She currently lives in Scotland with her husband. When she hasn’t got her head stuck in a book, she’s busy writing her own creations or walking the Scottish hills. Twitter: @Jane42774183


Ell Rose is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures.
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Tita Berredo is the Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI British Isles and the Art Director of Words & Pictures. She has a Master's degree in Children's Literature and Illustration from Goldsmiths UOL and a background in marketing and publicity.
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1 comment:

  1. I can relate in some ways to Jane Brydon’s experiences but having sent 4 of my 5 rhymed, bedtime stories to nearly 100 publishers, I am still looking for a truly useful critique that tells me why they “enjoyed” my stories but did not offer to publish them. I have a BA degree in Eng Lit & Art History and I was an art critic and art editor for Surrey and London luxury lifestyle magazines. Thus, my stories were very polished but featured me (“Grinny”) and our caring Labrador dog (“Brilliant Baxter”) having fun times with our granddaughter while her parents worked - a common, contemporary situation. Nobody offers advice on why they are unworthy of publication and what needs to be improved.


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