Urban and gritty I'm not
I'm more chocolate and snot
But stories need bite
So I'm never trite
Because children matter a lot.
My name is Jayne Kirkham and I am a writer with over thirty years experience working with and writing for children and young people.
I’ve written for theatre, film, television, radio and online. I’ve worked on projects ranging in size from small conservation films in Africa to international feature films. My most recent credits have been here in the UK for BBC’s Cbeebies: Tee and Mo, Bing and original poems and stories for radio podcasts. For more information about what I’ve done, click on “What I’ve Done”.
Growing up on Exmoor gave me a lifelong love of nature, adventure and the mysterious. It also, surprisingly, nurtured a love of cinema, theatre and poetry. Having studied Film, Drama, English Literature and Screenwriting to Masters level, my first commission was a play for Radio 4. But having worked with children all my life, and having never grown out of watching kids TV, I decided to write for children and families.
Commissions include original feature films, adaptations of novels, shows for preschool, and older kids and online. I still write for grown ups (for example adapting Marina Lewyka’s novel Two Caravans, into an animated feature) but please don’t ask me to be all urban and gritty. I don’t do gritty but I do do muck.
Ha! I wrote do-do! Do-dos! I always like to squeeze out something earthy. But it has to be done with finesse, aplomb: I’m on a mission to put the art back into fart.
I’m also on a mission to put the grr back in girl. And boys actually: getting kids outdoors in stories and for real. I’m a canoe and kayak coach. I love the whoosh and wah-hay of white water. But I really love the woohoo of someone realising they are so much more than they ever imagined! I think stories should empower as well as entertain. Whether it’s explaining Armistice Day or exploring what it’s like to need a heart transplant, or simple whimsy and fun, I write stories that give kids a hug.
I do this because children’s media plays a powerful role in the development of our kids. This is also why I volunteer for the Children’s Media Foundation and spend a lot of my free time going into Parliament. I promote the need for diversity, quality and safety in all media for young people. As Baroness Floella Benjamin says, “Childhood lasts a lifetime.” That’s why I say children deserve the best media.
Stories with action about
Girls that can fly,
Ostriches, bunnies and apes.
War stories, more stories,
Comedy, drama and tall stories
Of doctors, detectives and grapes.
Show Town, The Museum of Fun and Entertainment
Blackpool’s side-tickling, eye popping, toe-tapping, mind-boggling museum of fun and entertainment. Who knew my childhood collection of saucy postcards would ever come in handy! Working with the curators, I have written the terribly important bits (no, not the fire exit signs) that tell the story of how a sandy seaside became the international home of showbusiness. Coming soon in 2021.
Treasure Champs, Three Arrows Media
Mixed media preschool show exploring moral values common to different faiths and cultures. Produced for CBeebies by the excellent Three Arrows Media.
Little Roy – Jam Media, CBeebies/CBBC
Little Roy, Jam Media, CBeebies/CBBC. I can’t say much before transmission but, it’s going to be “Grand!”
Tee and Mo – Plug-in Media, Cbeebies
Based on the delightful Plug-In Media/Cbeebies games, this interactive story tells how Tee, an adorable and unstoppable baby monkey and his first time mum, work together to solve the small everyday problems they face through creativity, play and collaboration. It is aimed at 2-4yr olds AND their parents as they learn to be kids and parents together.
CBeebies Radio – CBeebies
Listening to the spoken word, enjoying the rhythms and rhymes, help children develop their own language skills as well as being great fun. CBeebies Radio commissioned me to write poetry and short stories for the very young on subjects as varied as athletics (the Teddy Bear Games), Remembrance Day (Poppy’s Day and Remembering) and the BBC Proms (Prokofiev’s Grumpy Cat and Little Mouse).
Bing – Acamar, CBeebies
Acamar Films, Brown Bag Films, Tandem Films. First broadcast 9 June 2014 on BBC CBeebies.
Based on Ted Dewan’s remarkable books, Bing Bunny explores the wonder, mishaps and mess of a very young person’s world. Told in real time these are small stories (finding your shoes, playing nurse). But told from 3 year old Bing’s point of view, these little moments are full of big emotion. The resulting drama is affecting, compelling and fun.
One of my stories, Looking after Flop is now available as a sticker book.
Ajani’s Great Ape Adventures – Nature for Kids
Filmed in the Ugandan rainforest, using local children and their communities, these three films by Dutch charity Nature For Kids are part of a pan-African educational programme. Given that poverty is both the cause and consequence of many environmental problems in developing countries, Ajani’s Great Ape adventures demonstrates basic green solutions to empower 7-13 year olds and their communities to prosper. I provided additional dialogue and worked on the marketing material.
There is evidence that having seen the films, villagers refused to deal with poachers again.
Olive The Ostrich – Blue Zoo Productions, Nick Jnr
Blue-Zoo Productions Ltd. First Broadcast September 2011 on Nick Junior.
While Dad runs around, Mum lays eggs and brother eats sand, Olive prefers to bury her head in the sand and go on ‘amazing adventures’. I got to consider the throats of crocodiles and melt chocolate, lots of chocolate – research you understand; research!
Narrated by Alexi Sayle, drawn by school children and animated by the brilliant Blue-Zoo.
Roze and the Robots – Gravy Media/Passion Pictures
NOKSU – Evergreen Films/Epidem, YLE TV1
Evergreen Entertainment Ltd, Epidem Finland. Based on the Finnish preschool books by Mikko Kunnas.
With his favourite playmate, Betty B, and a handful of other colourful characters who help them along the way, NOKSU is in the complicated business of growing up. He learns something new all the time: how to cope with the dangers of crossing the road; how to avoid too much junk food; how to treat everyone with respect. All those life-skills which have to be mastered as children grow up, and which the series shares with the young viewers through humorous and engaging storylines.
One of my episodes, The Harmonica was preselected for Prix Jeunesse 2012.
View the NOKSU IMDb page HERE >
Bowerbird – Artemisia Films
Adapted from Ann Kelley’s award winning novels, supported by the Welcome Foundation and Great Ormond Street Hospital, and set in the sunlit haven of St Ives, this beautiful movie tells the story of Gussie and her mum. Determined to live each day as if it may be their last; it just may be. You see, Gussie needs a heart transplant. But how do you cram a life time into a few years? How do you get your first kiss? And what’s the point of a new heart when it might just break? Life is beautiful. Objects shine from hidden corners, laughter bursts from the unexpected, new discoveries, familiar things. Nature is as kind as it is cruel and life as raw as it is wonderful. A film about living life for today. (Produced by Anne Beresford, Artemisia Films Ltd.)
Last Night – Deadline Films/Irish Film Board
Writer/Director. Conor Morrisey, New Grange Pictures/Irish Film Board 2006.
A supernatural tale that unfolds in an Irish country manor. A couple’s marriage falls apart under the canopy of a much darker secret. I worked extensively with Conor to tighten this script. As a director, he had a strong idea of the feel and look that he wanted to achieve. I helped him develop character and find the appropriate pace. The completed film had a successful run on the international festival circuit, and was selected as a finalist at the Manhattan Short Film Festival 2006.
Watch the film HERE >
The Deadline – Deadline Films/Metrodome
Starring Brittany Murphy, Thora Birch, Writer. Sean McConville, Deadline Films LLC, Metrodome. 2009.
I first met Sean McConville at the London Institute where we took Phil Parker’s Screenwriting MA together. Sean is one of those brilliant people that don’t give up on their dreams. He left everything here in the UK and headed for Hollywood. Knowing the kind of budgets he could expect, and a director rather than writer, Sean shrewdly developed Deadline so that, rather than languish on a shelf somewhere, the script could actually be made. I worked with him on the screenplay. He secured finance, cast and the resulting movie got distribution and moved him on to the next stage of his career. I’m proud to have been a part of this project and wish Sean continuing success (especially as I know about his next project and love it…)
View The Deadline IMDb page HERE >
Fei – Peach Blossom Media/Evergreen Entertainment
A feature length anime for Peach Blossom Media, Singapore and Evergreen Entertainment, UK. In pre-production.
Have you ever wanted to fly? Have you ever wanted something so much that it was all you could see? When Fei fights the odds in pursuit of an impossible dream, she not only loses sight of what’s important, she loses the use of her eyes. But where her eyes fail her, Fei learns to see… with her heart.
The film is set in Malaya 1941 when England abandoned the country to a brutal Japanese invasion. In a world where everything can be broken, sometimes it takes a little blind girl to see how to mend the wings of nations.
6.6.04 – The Film Council
A small but perfectly formed short film that screened at Edinburgh Film Festival, was nominated for a BIFA and won something else. Made on a budget of some fish and chips for the crew and completion funding from The Film Council (R.I.P), it involved a sneaky trip to Durdle Door where we threw the director over the cliff. Guerrilla Filmmaking with the National Trust.
Watch the film HERE >
Where The Skylarks Nest – BBC Radio 4
A radio play about dementia set against key moments of the 20th century and told using the melodies of songbirds. At least that’s how I remember it. TX July 2002 or was it 3?
The Children’s Media Foundation
Having never known a world without Doctor Who and having discovered Persian poetry thanks to a Rocky and Bulwinkle cartoon (The Ruby Yacht of Omar Khayyam), I have always valued children’s media, as a window on the outside world and a mirror to our own. Its impact is often misunderstood and rarely valued. So much so that, in an increasingly competitive international market, our young people are in danger of losing something precious. That’s why I volunteer for the Children’s Media Foundation, making politicians and opinion formers aware of the value of good screen based media to young people both developmentally, educationally and socially.
As a parent I hated seeing my ten year old daughter beginning to worry about make up when she watched back to back episodes of Mary Kate and Ashley but it was hard to find an alternative. We found some, but it was a struggle. It shouldn’t be: UK kids should be able to see UK stories that reflect UK sensibilities as well as enjoying imported ones. And variety. The BBC is brilliant but it is not enough. Would adults put up with just one editorial voice? It all takes money though. In short supply at the best of times but we have to think about our priorities: our children are our future – don’t they deserve the best?
Working with Young People
“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing, absolutely nothing half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply nothing. Messing.. about..in boats; messing…” I agree with the Rat. But it is more than messing really: the self belief that develops from learning to navigate an elemental force like a river is stunningly uplifting. There’s a similar buzz to be had from climbing and other adventure sports. I think it’s to do with discovering that fear is not the end; that you can overcome it and use it. The only bigger buzz is when you see someone else discovering the same. Working with the Scout Association, The Prince’s Trust and West Berkshire District Council, I have met many people, young and old who have to varying degrees spent their lives imprisoned by their fears and failings. At the very least, outdoor education gives people some attention, which is always in short supply. However it usually achieves much more as each little success on the water or up a crag sees those failings and fears recede to make room for self belief and respect.
News, views, stories and stuff
No piffle or waffle, flimflam or guff
All things considered and not off the cuff
No more of this rhyme scheme: enuff is enuff!
Some people live online, they breathe it, eat it, drink and for all I know, poop it. But that’s not me and about this time every year I realise it. Again. For this is the time of year when people like me prepare for the Children’s Media Conference in Sheffield (only its not in Sheffield, its online). People like me polish their pitches, check out what delegates they want to pitch to and make sure they have their business plans for what they’re going to pitch all ready. And of course they probably have a fantastic online presence: Instagram, maybe a YouTube channel and definitely they TikTok and tweet. I set up these things with the best intentions and then, well things happen. Things that I should tweet about and tell on TikTok but somehow talking about the things isn’t nearly as exciting as doing them and so suddenly its six months since I was here. Believe me, I have not been doing nothing.
I’ve written a novel. I’ve rewritten a novel. And that isn’t a writer’s way of saying they’ve been unemployed.
In between writing my novel and rewriting my novel, I have been writing for Toniebox. 10 minute stories for little ones to listen to about all sorts of wonderful things: springtime, going to sleep, big bad wolves and if you love Steiff bears, you’ll love their Soft Cuddly Friends.
I’d tell you more but I’m already onto the next thing – the Olympics and a tiny toad who takes on the world.
Maybe, one day I’ll remember to announce all these things in the moment they happen but until then, I have canoes and ducks and dragonflies to see to, oh and a snare drum that needs some attention. And of course, the novel needs some more work.
Best Night of Christmas.
No pressure to be perfect, in fact the very opposite – the decorations are falling down, the chocolates that you thought would last until Easter have all been eaten, there’s a bit of cake left and half a ham and other less identifiable things in the fridge that need using up. Nobody has to give anyone any presents or put on party frocks or not be naughty and everyone can let their waist bands out and relax.
In the Christian calendar 12th Night falls on Epiphany which, back in the day was as important as Christmas Day. In fact one half of the Church, either the Eastern or Western orthodoxy (I would need to look up which but I have things to do, so I’ll leave the looking up to you), celebrated Epiphany rather than Christmas Day. Then they decided to meet in the middle, celebrate both events and the days in between. Well, it was winter and there wasn’t much else going on.
Anyway, enough of the history lesson. The upshot is that by the time I was a kid, 12th Night had become a thing that Shakespeare wrote about and, in the West Country where I grew up, a thing before you packed Christmas away for another year.
Not that we did much other than eat up the left overs, play games and get the decorations down because Mum said it was unlucky to have them up.
I can’t remember when Ian and I started having 12th Night parties. Probably when our children were small and I found a recipe for a Twelfth Cake. I read about the Lords and Ladies of Misrule and decided we’d have some of that. Twelfth Night, is all about turning things on their head: the youngest member of a cathedral choir becomes bishop for the day. Yes I know that’s done on another date in Advent somewhere but folk traditions evolve thanks to people like me not paying attention to historical evidence. The important thing is that the servant becomes the served.
This turvytopsing is randomised with the Twelfth Cake, which includes a dried bean and/or a pea. Whoever finds the bean and/or pea (hopefully without breaking their teeth) becomes lord and/or lady of misrule. I can’t remember the whole decree (it’s in the attic) but if you’re Lord/Lady of Misrule, you get to shout ‘Hear Ye, Hear Ye..’ in a very loud voice and command all locks be broken, especially those around the heart, and insist that everyone become as little children and have a jolly good time. I was Lady of Misrule for the Stroud Wassail once and I bloody loved it: strutting into all the pubs and round the streets with my retinue of mummers, wassailers and …others, demanding fun be had. The power.
Sadly, no public wassailing this year. And no 12th Night Party. But if we were having one, we would have gone to the local brewery and got a firkin of their finest, would have cooked the Twelfth Cake (mine’s a layer of shortcrust pastry, then almond paste, with bean and/or pea secreted, topped with puff pastry and decorated with crowns and is in fact called a King Cake and is French. We would have eaten all the Twelfth Cake already, because it’s what we now call a Christmas Cake).
We would have invited EVERYONE from near and far (finding beds, pitching tents and finding space for campervans round the village), put up tarps and lit firepits for the overflow of people, figured out how to feed everyone without plates (mail order pasties are just the best), told everyone to bring a party piece (musical instrument, joke, interesting talent), dug out my old Brunhilde helmet (no reason other than I like wearing it and the dress code is, ‘What You Will’- see that clever allusion to Shakespeare there?), and made some sort of playlist to fall back on.
From about midday, people would have started to arrive (mostly those from a long way who want first dibs on beds) and stuff would happen. Not sure what stuff, usually involved tapping the beer keg and baking potatoes and catching up with old friends I think.
Once most people had arrived, we would get the King Cake cut and the new Lord and/or Lady of Misrule, checked for broken teeth and then led to their throne and crowned. The decrees made, anyone that fancied entertaining the Lord and/or Lady of Misrule would do it, with songs and stories and displays of double jointed elbows and belly fluff as appropriate. Which all sounds rather orderly but it was not, because not everyone is into belly fluff. There’d be a whole lot of things going on in different rooms and bits of the garden. And every now and then wonderful things coming out of the kitchen or from the drinks shed. And the musicians would jam and there would be singing and dancing and re-enactments (St George and a dragon turned up once), other nonsense and, if there was room, games. Sadly we have never had enough room in this house for Slipper Olympics. Anyway, it would have all carried on until the last person fell down and then whoever made it to the morning would stabilize their stomach with a big bacon butty breakfast (veggie options available). And that would be our 12th Night.
This year will be quieter. Just us. Not much misruling then. But we do have the Obama Llamas game to play and several bottles of mead. And I’ve just had an epiphany: we will have enough room to hold a Slipper Olympics!
Kids hankering for the seaside? I expect a lot of us are. But can you remember the first time you ever saw the sea? Imagine what it was like a hundred or so years ago when going to the beach was not just a thing, it was a really big thing- new, exciting, I mean NEW.
Those lovely people at Showtown, the brilliant brand new museum about Blackpool (you do realise it is the most influential holiday resort ever, don’t you) are giving a whole gallery over to celebrate Blackpool’s seven miles of golden sand. I know, I can’t wait either. Which is why they are posting fun activities, snippets and stuff on social media (links below) to give you a taste of the fun things to come.
Judy on The Beach, a 15 minute story read by… me (I know!) is based on some of my favourite facts, discovered while I’ve been working with them. Haven’t I told you about that? Were you wondering where I’ve been? It’s fantastic, it’s ace, such a brilliant project – I’ll tell you all about it… another time. Back to the Beach- one hundred or so years ago and the train just chuffing into Blackpool Central.
You can watch Judy on the Beach on Twitter,Facebook , YouTube,Instagram – choose whichever is your favourite and I’ll see you there. Or rather you’ll see me. And discover the delights of The Penny Lick.