Biography

Janet Marjorie Brisland was born on 22 June 1943 in Welwyn Garden City, though her family home was in Kent. At the age of 15, she was a runner-up in a Daily Mirror short story competition. Several of her childhood pieces of writing survive – mainly libretto and plays.

After studying for a National Art Diploma at Canterbury College of Art she began working as an English and Art teacher in Gravesend. During this time, she married Neil Mark and their daughter, Isobel, was born. In 1971 the family relocated from Kent to the Norfolk village of Ingham, following Neil’s appointment as a computer operator.

In 1974, their son, Alex, was born, and Jan wrote Thunder and Lightnings in response to the Guardian/Kestrel competition to find new contemporary writers of children’s fiction. Upon winning in 1975, Jan embarked on a career as a full-time writer, spending eight hours a day generating a backlist.

Penguin Books publicity poster, 1979

From 1982 to 1984 she was Writer in Residence at Oxford Polytechnic (now Oxford Brookes University) and moved permanent to Oxford in 1986. From there, she travelled widely across Britain, visiting schools and teacher training centres, and, in time, Australia, Canada (visiting many times, culminating in a travelogue, Great Frog and Mighty Moose [1992], and with great frequency Belgium.

Among her many accolades, Jan won a second Carnegie Medal for Handles (1983), the Observer Teenage Fiction Prize for Aquarius (1982), which also won the Angel Award for Fiction – as did her adult novel, Zeno Was Here (1987). They Do Things Differently There (1994) was shortlisted for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize – for which The Eclipse of the Century (1999) was later shortlisted – and the Whitbread/Costa Award. Turbulence was posthumously shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in 2006.

Jan travelled widely to talk to children and teachers about the craft of writing. She was always in demand a reviewer and judge of literary awards. She was a magnificent and generous host who relished visits from friends. And cats.

Jan Mark died unexpectedly on 16 January 2006 at home in Oxford.