My first radio interview will be broadcast tomorrow Tuesday 26th July, 1530hrs BBC Radio 4. What’s the aural equivalent of ‘blink and you’ll miss it’? Probably ‘poke your finger in your ear to scoop the wax out’. Although if your ears are fairly clean you won’t miss it all as my bit was going to be about five minutes long.
It came as a big surprise. That tremendous journalist, comic and role model Timandra Harkness got in touch to talk about how incongruous cinematic moments can throw us out of the film’s story world. We’ve all groaned at plot holes and continuity errors but what about when a filmmaker does this sort of thing deliberately? What’s going on and why? And why was the tremendous journalist, comic and role model Timandra Harkness asking me these sorts of questions?
The Human Zoo looks at current events through the lens of psychology. This episode is called News of An Atrocity, the Psychology of Rare Events and looks at why we are more attuned to the dangers of exceptional situations, such as acts of terrorism, than to more everyday threats such as a car crash.
Part of the programme looks at how we use stories to make sense of the world around us. How the patterns, rhythms and themes of a constructed world help us deal with the fears and uncertainties of real life and contribute to our well being. That was where I fitted in although I will have to listen to the programme myself to remember exactly what I said. I know there was talk about Doctor Who, and the importance of getting the right breed of cow in your costume drama and I may even have said “Verfremdungseffekt”. ‘m pretty sure I mentioned Gumball, Ned Stark’s death and David Lynch, although possibly not in that order.
And we came up with the title of my forthcoming Screenwriting manual: “Bury the Wizard.”
Thing is, I didn’t know I had a forthcoming screenwriting manual. Another example of how life is full of plot holes.
If you don’t know Tee and Mo, they are a delightful monkey mother and son combo who get up to all sorts of collaborative fun in the forest. They collaborate together and also with you, the preschool child/care-giver in their Bafta nominated games (also found on the Cbeebies website).
Narrated by BBC6 Music’s Lauren Laverne, Tee and Mo is the brainchild of Plug-In’s creative director Dominic Minns. I love the way he and the other clever people at Plug-in have devised the games to encourage children and their adults to play the games together, to have fun and enjoy each other’s company.
Who Did the Footprints is my first interactive story. I want to say very clever things about extending the reading experience and kinesthetic learning but that would sound terribly dull and I’d much rather you and your Cbeebie went together and gave your Cbeebies Storytime app-watching device a good shake (You’ll understand once you’ve downloaded the story) so I’ll just say that it was enormous fun writing it and I hope that you have enormous fun reading it.
Me! I had a brilliant evening at the Sandford St Martin 2015 Awards last night. OK so I didn’t win an award, but then I wasn’t up for one: I was a juror. But I came away from Lambeth Palace feeling like a winner. The evening had celebrated some of the best, most thought provoking, meaningful and, in some cases, uplifting media content of the past year: radio and TV documentaries, sit coms, murder mysteries, period dramas, bio-pics and everything in between. Some of the programmes had flown under the mainstream radar – the winner of the children’s award for example (Fettle Animation’s ‘Children of the Holocaust’ BBC 2) had first been broadcast at 4 in the morning as a teaching aid for schools! – so there were loads of titles that I came home wanting to seek out, others that I wanted to watch again.
The best thing though was being in the presence of some quite outstandingly wonderful people. Award ceremonies are always full of outstanding people, we’re there to celebrate the most talented after all. But this room was full of people who were not only talented and not only nice but really rather wonderful: men and women who clearly care about their work beyond personal ambition.
The winners of the Sandford Awards are can be found at http://sandfordawards.org.uk/the-awards/2015-awards/2015-award-winners/ I think you can also view the programmes there. Definitely worth it.
So why did I feel like a winner myself? Because:
But the best bit?
The best bit, the bit I enjoyed most came right at the end when fellow juror Tim Herbert and the winners of the Children’s Award, Producer Kath Shackleton and Director Zane Whittingham of Fettle Animation and I were about to leave. Standing in the hallowed hall, the home of the head of the Church of England, with its oak paneling and Tudor fireplace, surrounded by oil paintings of all the Archbishops that have gone before, surrounded by history and the host of unseen witnesses, the cry went up, “Anyone coming for a beer?”
Like I said, I was in the presence of some quite outstandingly wonderful people.
Earlier this spring, the Children’s Media Foundation was invited to take part in the jury for a new Children’s Broadcast Award. Having recently joined the CMF’s board, I took great pleasure in this my first official duty; as if I ever need an excuse to watch lots of children’s television programmes and discuss them over lunch.
The organisation giving the award is the Sandford St Martin Trust, an independent and non-profit organisation that seeks to promote and encourage excellence in religious programming and religious literacy amongst policy makers, journalists and individuals. To this end it has been making annual awards for the best programmes about religion, ethics and spirituality since 1978.
This year the trust has introduced a new award for children’s content. It was championed by Sandford trustee and broadcaster Roger Bolton who, like the Children’s Media Foundation, recognizes the importance of children having quality and variety in programming made especially for them: “It is critical that children and young people are exposed to imaginative works that open their eyes to the world they share and the beliefs people hold.”
There were ten programmes on the shortlist. Submissions were for radio, television and online broadcasts and came from a range of producers; from broadcasting behemoths such as the BBC to small religious charities and producers of teaching material. As a writer of fiction, I usually gravitate to drama but there were some brilliant documentaries too. There were some programmes, both fiction and non-fiction, that left me cold: a little too preachy and putting the ‘die’ into didactic. But the ones that really worked, that made me think and feel and consider in new ways, had one thing in common: people, real people’s experiences at their heart. Even the fictional ones. Their testimonies needed no explanation, no editorial interpretation. Of course there was editorial input: duh! But the programmes that worked best were constructed to let the stories, the ideas, speak for themselves.
But how can you compare a preschool radio show with a fluffy Christmas special or a hard-hitting teen documentary? That’s where children’s programming differs from the grown up stuff: it’s so much about the audience. Programmes have to be age appropriate; giving or considering a child’s perspective, and the best did just that.
Having watched the shortlist and decided which was the most fabulous and worthy winner of the award, I hied me to Westminster to meet with the other jury members: independent producer and children’s author Hilary Robinson, National Geographic Kids editor Tim Herbert and Senior Lecturer in Media Practice at Salford University Beth Hewitt.
It was a fascinating process: we each brought different perspectives and expertise and there were biscuits. We were pretty unanimous in the way we shortened the shortlist but then it got …difficult as we tried to tease out the best of the best. Like the Mole in The Wind in the Willows, we “scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged and then we scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped” until at last – “pop!” we had a runner up and a winner.
And the Winner is….
To be announced this evening at Lambeth Palace….
You expect me to tell you now? I’m off to get ready for tonight’s ceremony!
I wish you a Christmas full of joy, love and hope,
With laughter and peace, but no time to mope.
I hope you feel loved and can share that with others,
Like strangers and friends, aunties and brothers.
But the wish I wish most while I have this one chance,
I hope you don’t get pine cones in your pants.
I’m saying nothing about needles.
Today, Friday 28th November, and Monday 1st December, I have episodes of “Bing” screening on CBeebies. Today’s episode is called “Jingly Shoes” and goes out at 9.10am and 1.10pm. If, like me you were doing something this morning and missed it, it will also be on BBC i-player.
“Looking After Flop”, goes out at 9.10am on Monday and then repeated at 1.10pm (and then also on BBC i-player.
I loved writing for these delightful characters; each one is full of raw emotion, wonder and real love, reflecting the lives of the very special people this show is aimed at, three to six year olds and their carers. I hope you and more importantly, any little ones you know, enjoy watching them. I’d love to hear what you think.
As I watch the setting sun,
I see the shadows getting long.
Shadows are like memories of the day we’ve had.
Some shadows happy, some are sad:
The things we did, the people we met,
The ice cream van, the girl at the vet.
I’m very little and my shadow is short.
Yesterday is far away
And I don’t remember before today.
But when I climb on Grandad’s knee,
It’s funny how much more I see.
Grandad’s long shadow shows all sorts of things:
People and places,
And long ago faces.
He shows them to me in photos and books.
And in the pictures I’m surprised to see
Some of the children look like me!
Grandmas and aunties on a trip to the zoo,
And my grandad’s grandad, and his grandad too.
Grandad can tell me about long ago;
His friends, his toys and the things he did.
But Grandad is old and forgets things today,
Like his glasses and the things I say.
So I help him find the things he forgets
And he helps me meet the people he met.
He shares them in the stories he tells.
And when my shadow’s longer, I’ll share them as well.
You can hear this as well as my short story Poppy’s Day read by Falklands War veteran Simon Weston at www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/radio
You thought Prokofiev’s famous Dance of the Knights was all about Lord Sugar and his apprentices didn’t you? No? Men in ballet tights? Or maybe if you’re a Star Trek fan, Romulans in ballet tights?
Well before you start parading round singing “Romulans and Capulets” let me put you straight because no no no. As the lovely people at CBeebies Radio, a lot of children under the age of 6, Robert the Robot and I all know, this piece of music is, in fact, all about a grumpy marmalade cat and a teeny tiny mouse… in the rain.
Did you see the CBeebies Prom on television on August 25th? (still on BBC i-player) Those lovely people have an extra special treat for you to freely download at http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/prom/radio/cbeebies-prom-extra Your little ones (and you) can do-si-do and round up imaginary cattle on imaginary horses, thanks to the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra’s special recording of Aaron Copland’s Hoedown before settling down to hear their recording of Prokofiev’s famous march and Robert The Robot’s beautiful telling of a story it inspired me to write; a thrilling tale of life and death excitement in the back garden: “Past the pond, round the rockery; round the rockery, past the pond.”
Hear the cat “Slink and prow-wl,
And pounce and grow-wl…” in the music.
And can you hear the young mouse showing off?
“I’m so fast,
The orange thing
With clawy paws
Won’t catch me!…”
While overhead a blackbird cries in alarm “Run! Run! Run! Run!”
Goodness I had fun writing this story. I hope that you and your younglings have fun listening to it.
My short story Poppy’s Day is available as a free download from CBeebies Radio today and for the next seven days. Read by Falklands War veteran, Simon Weston, and beautifully produced by John Leagas, the story marks the centenary of the First World War and introduces little listeners to bravery and the importance of remembering.
I’ve just read the BBC press release, which says “is as powerful as it is poignant, a reminder about how important it is to remember not just the events of history, but the people.” So that’s me feeling smug for the rest of the day.
Follow the link above and if you don’t see a big picture of some poppies to click on. Click on ‘Get This Week’s Podcasts’ and then again on ‘Download Radio Podcast’ and then on ‘CBeebies:Poppy’s Day’.
I’m rather excited and very honoured today because my poem Remembering has been included in the BBC’s commemoration of the start of the first world war. If you click on the link, you will hear it included in a wonderful podcast for children on this occasion. My thanks to Falklands veteran Simon Weston for reading the poem and to Academy Award winning composer Steven Price for the music and to producer John Leagas.
I hope that you enjoy it and if you have young children, that they will too.