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Chester author returns home for book signing

IF YOU’RE a long-time reader of the Chronicle, chances are you mayalready have read about Jane Bailey Bain.

Back in 1979 when she was just 18, the A-level student, then known as Jane Bailey, was featured in her local newspaper when she gained a place at Oxford University to study experimental psychology.

Though she now lives in London, she’ll be paying a visit to her home city this weekend after an extraordinary journey.

Born in America, Jane grew up in Chester the eldest of five sisters, and was part of the first comprehensive year to enter the new Queen’s Park High School in 1973.

After graduating from Oxford, Jane travelled to India on a trip she describes as ‘inspiring’, and she came back determined to help the people she met there.

“In India, hospitality is an obligation,” Jane remembers.

“We travelled to some very remote places, trekking in the Himalayas and when I came back I began studying economics at night school so I could argue with businessmen in their own language.”

Shortly afterwards she won a scholarship to read anthropology at the London School of Economics and was awarded a distinction for her degree before getting a job at the Department For International Development (DFID) as a social development consultant.

There, Jane planned and evaluated international aid projects involving issues such as gender, caste and ethnicity.

“All too often, development projects are only evaluated in terms of economic returns,” she explains. “My job was to look at their impact on poor communities.”

“For example, if we build a school we have to consider cultural customs, and when we consider these at the planning stage, such as whether girls can attend or what happens to children from farming families at harvest time, we can ensure that one of the teachers is a woman, and schedule school holidays to coincide with busy agricultural periods.”

During this time, Jane became interested in stories of people’s lives.

“Often, poor people are embarrassed to tell you about their lives,” she says. “They may feel that their circumstances are a result of karma, or be afraid of retaliation if they complain.

“But they will happily tell you a folk tale that reflects their own experience. You just have to learn to read between the lines.”

Since 2003, Jane, now 50, has taught mythology at Richmond College in London.

She draws on psychological and anthropological approaches to the study of myth and saw her first book, LifeWorks, published in January this year, which she will be signing copies of at Waterstones in Chester on Saturday.

The book is all about stories, and how they are used to to make sense of our lives and contain re-tellings of myths and folktales from around the world. It also includes questions and exercises that can help the reader develop their own life stories.

“I’m very happy to be in Chester to sign my book; it is such a beautiful city and I always love coming back.

“My parents still live here, as do many old schoolfriends and I’m looking forward to seeing some familiar faces,” says Jane.