Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Writing for CBeebies and CBBC – David Thorpe

This month I attended the launch of the BBC WritersRoom Wales office, a packed, all-day affair held at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff.

The highlight for me was the two sessions featuring Andrew Davies, veteran book adapter for many BBC series, but there were also sessions on Doctor Who and writing for children.

If you are looking to write for television one of the easiest ways to break in is to write for children, whether it is very young children who are catered for by CBeebies, or middle grade kids who would watch CBBC.

Various BBC bods had been shipped down from Manchester and one by one outlined all the possibilities. They included cBBC Head of Development Laura Conway, Cbeebies executive producer Vanessa Amberleigh, and show runner and writer Emma Reeves who has to be one of the most prolific writers anywhere.

Emma Reeves

Emma has written for just about every series you can think of including The Worst Witch (Lead Writer) Eve (Lead Writer and co-creator) The Dumping Ground, Young Dracula, The Story of Tracy Beaker, Belonging, The Murder of Princess Diana (Lifetime Channel), Spirit Warriors and Doctors.

She has also written for the stage such as an adaptation of Jacqueline Wilson’s Hetty Feather, Carrie’s War, Little Women, Cool Hand Luke and The Snow Child.

Emma has won Best Children’s TV Episode at The Writers Guild Awards twice – in 2016 for Eve and in 2017 for an episode of The Dumping Ground.

She turned out to be enormously approachable and likeable, someone who just enjoys coming up with stories and writing them.

Some of these series are very long-running – including the Dumping Ground, which is about children in a care home and a spin-off from Jacqueline Wilson's The Story of Tracy Beaker (not to mention Tracy Beaker Returns, another spin-off). This has had over 150 episodes.

With such a demand, there is also more interest in trying out new writers than in other areas of television.

Many of these key dramas' episodes deal with gritty issues and need to treat them in sensitive ways. They have to be very carefully researched.

We were shown a clip from The Dumping Ground, where some children in the care home discuss how to support one of their number, a Sudanese refugee threatened with being deported. One of the kids, a black guy, opposes this on the grounds that "the country is full, there are no jobs".

The team discussed how this episode was written and researched, and how it had to avoid being "issues by numbers", so to speak.

Again and again, speakers said what we on this blog already know: that children are the most demanding of audiences.

Laura Conway said that they are particularly looking for new series ideas, not just for middle grade, but for the age group 12 to 14, very rarely see themselves reflected on television.

If you haven't considered writing for television before, now might be the time.

[David Thorpe is the writer of Marvel's Captain Britain, the sci-fi YA novels HybridsDoc Chaos: The Chernobyl Effect and the cli-fi fantasy Stormteller.]

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