IN THE SHOES OF… Jan Dunning

What's life like in someone else's shoes? This month Deputy Editor Françoise Price invites 
author Jan Dunning to tell us about her day.

Jan Dunning



I’m not really an early riser but I’d like to be. I have a grudging respect for people who get up at the crack of dawn to write. Having said that, on most weekdays I’m awake by 7:30am because I have two starving cats and a school run to do. And on Tuesdays I’m up at the unearthly time of 5:30am because that’s the day I teach. I can’t afford to be a full-time writer so I travel into London, (where I used to live), from Bath, (where I live now), to work as a primary art specialist in a Camden state school doing creative projects with children. It’s fun and full-on; the perfect contrast to the solitary world of writing.

For the sake of this article let’s assume today is not Tuesday. No need for an alarm clock: Rosie, one of our cats, jumps on the bed to demand breakfast! I drag myself out of bed, grab something to eat, shower and take my youngest child to school.

'No need for an alarm clock: Rosie, one of our cats, jumps on the bed!'



I try to exercise before I start work. It makes me feel less guilty about the time spent at my desk. Some days I run. I’m NOT a natural runner – I don’t enjoy it and I’m not good at it but often it’s all I have time for. What I LOVE is swimming and being in water so, if I have more time, that’s what I do. 

I will swim anywhere – inside, outside, river, lake, local pool! I can’t set foot on a beach without going in the sea. I find swimming gets my thoughts in order. There’s something about being in that blue bubble, with sound muted and the outside world far away. It’s amazing how many times I’ve surfaced to find a plot-hole fixed, a synopsis sorted out.

'I will swim anywhere – inside, outside, river, lake, local pool!'



I try to be at my desk by 9am. I work in a studio at the bottom of the garden and I love it. I know I’m lucky to have it. It’s the kind of space I’ve dreamed about having since I was small. My studio is quiet and calm – if a little messy – but as soon as I step inside, I’m in the zone, ready for a creative day.

'I work in a studio at the bottom of the garden and I love it.'

I don’t start writing straight away. There’s always ‘life admin’ to get out of the way. I have a ridiculous to-do list and cross things off with a highlighter as I go. It makes it more satisfying! 

Sometimes I write ‘morning pages’, a technique described in The Artist’s Way. The idea is that by clearing your mind of the banalities of life, you leave space for creative thoughts to flow. I think there’s value in this; I wrote morning pages while redrafting my first novel, Mirror Me, and it definitely helped my clarity and focus.

'I have a ridiculous to-do list.' 

10:00am – 1pm


Every day is different depending on where I am in the writing/publishing process. It would be amazing if being an author was simply sitting down and thrashing out 5000 words a day – more like 1500 in my case! Sometimes it is but sometimes it’s editing – a whole different mindset. If I’m editing I follow my editor’s notes, working on my manuscript in ‘passes’. I might develop a character arc, tweak a subplot… whatever the story needs. 

In my new book, The Last Thing You’ll Hear, I needed to build the tension leading towards a sinister music festival at the story’s climax, so I spent a week threading in a heat wave, trying to capture the suffocating humidity and exhausting all synonyms for ‘hot’, (scorching, boiling, roasting, baking, blazing, sultry, sweltering…) Copyediting or proofreading is another mindset again, one requiring copious cups of tea and the queen of biscuits: the custard cream.

Misty, my other cat, will often join me in the studio, curled up on a chair. She may look cute but she is not. She’s a vicious miss who will draw blood at the smallest provocation. I love her deeply but if I should stroke her when she’s not in the mood I’ll be typing one-handed for the rest of the day.


'My other not-so-cute cat, Misty'



When writing is flowing I often forget to have lunch. On the other hand lunch breaks become indulgently long when the words refuse to come…

2pm – 5pm


Back at my desk, though I’m fairly unproductive in the afternoon. I’d rather curl up and read but I try to be professional and use the time for other writing tasks. Close to publication there’s promotion to do so I might update my website, make graphics on Canva or draft a few social media posts. It's taken a while to get comfortable promoting my books on social media – it can feel like showing off – but it’s important and we have to do it. I try to balance it by promoting other writers, writing reviews or reposting their good news – ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ mentality. We need to support one another.


'I enjoy speaking to teens – they’re fascinating, brilliant young people.'

Sometimes I make slides or prep resources for school visits. I’m trying to do more of these because it’s true that the best part of this job is meeting readers. I enjoy speaking to teens – they’re fascinating, brilliant young people – and since I cover subjects like toxic masculinity, social media, authenticity and perfection in my books there’s plenty to talk about.

Catching up with fellow writers is a treat. I couldn’t do this job without my network of author friends and checking in with them keeps me sane. My writing ‘wife’ is Ali Clack, YA author of Lie or Die and we regularly video chat to celebrate, commiserate and pick apart plot problems.

'My writing ‘wife’ is Ali Clack, YA author of Lie or Die.'

5pm – 7pm


My family are home. The cats are starving (again). I give up working. We all need to be fed.


7pm – 10pm


My creative juices pick up in the evening so I sometimes sneak out to my studio to put in a few more hours before bed. There’s something about the silence and stillness that helps me focus.

'I read quickly, voraciously – usually fiction, often YA.'



Time for bed but I can’t sleep without reading first. It’s the only way I can unwind and turn off my brain. I need to escape to a different world so I’m not mulling over my own. My partner prefers watching films but only black text on a white page can spirit me away and bring peace. Some writers can’t read when they’re drafting or editing; I’m not one of them luckily. I read quickly, voraciously – usually fiction, often YA; it’s a genre I love. I’m still a teenager in my head. I love that I get to fill my mind with these amazing coming-of-age stories at night then wake up and write them myself.

*Header image by Shannon Ell & Tita Berredo; 
All other images courtesy of Jan Dunning


Jan Dunning studied English and art at university where she set her heart on a career with words and pictures. The plot took an unexpected twist however when she was scouted at Glastonbury festival and became an international fashion model instead. Jan spent the next decade striding down the runway, flying around the world on photo shoots and startling her friends and family on billboards for Gucci, Garnier and Gap. 

Finally realising she had more to say behind the camera Jan trained as a photographer and art teacher and began writing fiction. She now lives with her family in Bath, dreaming up ideas in the studio at the bottom of her garden with help from Misty, her cat.

IG: jandunningbooks
X: JanDunning1

Françoise Price is Deputy Editor of Words & Pictures magazine. 
Find her on Twitter (X) and Instagram

Shannon Ell is Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures
Contact them at

Tita Berredo is the Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI British Isles and Art Director of Words & Pictures. Contact her at

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