Alumna celebrates 10 years of landmark Olly the Brave series


A BCU alumna is reflecting on 10 years since her first book in a landmark series was published.

Diane Maybey is the creator of the Olly the Brave book series, which are children’s story books designed to help their emotional wellbeing when faced with life-threatening illnesses like cancer.

Diane, who graduated from BCU in 2015 with a Master’s degree in Visual Communication specialising in Illustration, has since added five more books to the series to help children and their families navigate living with a life-threatening illness.

The first book in the Olly the Brave series, Olly the Brave and The Wigglys, was published in 2014, and guides children through having a central line fitted, called ‘wigglys’ in this book, and preparing for treatment.

The first three books in the series were individually shortlisted and highly commended, the first two in 2017 and the third in 2021, at the Patient Information Awards, by the British Medical Association (BMA) Awards for Patient Experience Design, which Diane calls “a real compliment”.

Speaking on how the opportunity to write these books came about, Diane said: “It was a chance meeting before my Master’s; one of the founders of the charity approached me as I was drawing and started chatting to me, which evoked a conversation about children and loss.

“A year later, when I was on my Master's, the charity contacted me and asked if I would help them to create a children’s book for children needing support during chemotherapy treatment. I wanted to help in any way I could.”

“The books explore very sensitive themes of childhood illness, intense treatment and loss. The charity defined the theme for each book and then trusted my process of delicate yet thorough research, creative thinking processes, concept design, iteration, testing all the way through to final creation.”

Alongside the book series, Molly Ollys offers a therapeutic toy lion, also called Olly the Brave, on which the book series was based. You can choose from a variety of mane colours, which can be removed to help children process hair loss, and Olly can have either a central or Hickman line or a portacath (port).

There have been over 17,000 Olly the Brave toys and books distributed to over 70 hospitals and community nursing teams around the UK since 2014, including in all the principal children’s cancer treatment centres.

Nowadays, Diane is a children’s Author and illustrator, with her most recent book ‘Dream Animals’ being published last year, as well as working in her studio on a nature-based project and working on a new series of children's books.

Diane is also a trainee Child Psychotherapist, who has been working with children and families with emotional and mental health difficulties in an NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) clinic. When she qualifies, she will be working in a school for children with autism.

She was also the lead Artist at Woodland House, a therapeutic centre for pregnancy and baby loss which has recently opened at Birmingham Women’s Hospital.

What made Diane decide to study for a Master’s in Visual Communication was the desire to illustrate her children’s stories. She’d already worked as a teacher and artist, and then when working with the charity The Book Bus in Africa, she was inspired by the illustrations of trustee Sir Quentin Blake on the mobile children’s library.

She said: “I appreciated the diversity of skills on the Master’s course; I was studying alongside photographers, animators, graphic designers, product designers and typographers; the collaborations brought chaos, discomfort and great creativity. I valued learning about creative thinking techniques.

“My experience of studying at BCU was extraordinary and exceeded my expectations. I absolutely loved it.

“My advice to anyone considering at BCU would be to be open to the possibilities to work in ways that you may not have imagined. Make the most of every single second, the time goes so quickly.”

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