What I Learned From Screenwriter & Producer Lucinda Whiteley

Friday 4 October 2019

Welcome, Lucinda

Lucinda’s background in children’s storytelling is impressive.

After setting up The Children’s Channel, one of the first satellite channels in the UK, she became Channel Four's Commissioning Editor of Children's Programmes, spearheading the launch of their new children's service and commissioning shows such as Hollyoaks, Watch This Space and Look Who's Talking as well as award winning series such as Wise Up (Emmy, BAFTA, RTS and Peabody), Coping With (BAFTA and RTS), Ant and Dec Unzipped (BAFTA), Zig and Zag's Dirty Deeds (RTS) and adaptations of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels Wyrd Sisters and Soul Music, and the New Magic Roundabout.

At Universal, Lucinda wrote and executive produced the pre-school animated series Maisy and Preston Pig, for Nickelodeon and CITV, along with Vietnam for PBS. In 2002 she co-founded Novel Entertainment with Mike Watts. 

The company specialises in the creation and development of successful children’s character brands across a wide array of media. Novel’s core programming includes Horrid Henry, Cinemaniacs, Fimbles, Rockit’s Pocket and The Roly Mo Show. Novel have produced more than 850 programmes for television and radio and their expertise extends into brand licensing and merchandising, computer games, interactive online content, music, theatre and film.

As a HUGE fan of children’s shows, I was keen to find out how Lucinda has managed to carve such an incredible career. Luckily for me and you, Lucinda agreed to an interview and so I didn’t have to utter Horrid Henry’s most-used catchphrase, “It’s not fair!”

I’m consistently told that writing for children is competitive and hard to break into. Do you have any tips for writers? Where is a good place to start?

That’s a very good question, and one that does come up a lot. 

So first I would suggest not starting out with the idea that it’s competitive and hard to get into; if you’re already writing then you’re well on the way. 

The gatekeepers can seem formidable, I agree, but I’m a great believer that good and strong and relevant stories will always break through and nowadays there are so many ways for us to publish, and to reach an audience. 

The digital space is good for writers in so many ways, it’s hugely important not to lose sight of that and to use it for what it can be, a fantastic way to connect with an audience who will love your work.

The BBC often feels like the Holy Grail for writers but with streaming services becoming more and more popular, should new screenwriters be focusing their efforts on companies like Netflix and Amazon Prime?

Again my suggestion would be to focus on your story first and foremost; be aware of formats, of course, for example if you are writing for traditional television channels then length can be an issue but increasingly the arrival of newcomers such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube means that writers can be liberated from the tyranny of timings and a series can find its own level in terms of whether it works across a shorter format or a longer one (which can bring its own challenges, imho!) 

And as we become more comfortable with and adept in the wonderful world of multi-platform storytelling, the possibilities and potential are starting to seem endless.

You have had amazing success throughout your career, which project was your favourite to work on and why?

Hmm, that feels a bit like asking me to name my favourite child! 

Who was it who said that their favourite project would always be the next one they are working on? I can identify with that, as that’s the one that (hopefully) will be firing my imagination and sparking ideas whilst I’m supposed to be working on something else. 

But then again the one that I’ve just finished I will also love, because it’s such fun seeing it then come to life with actors and directors and musicians and animators and all the hugely talented people I have the pleasure of working with! 

So in that case that would be our first one hour special, Horrid Henry’s Gross Day Out, which has just gone into production for a spring 2020 launch.

Do you have any ‘secret’ projects coming up that you can share a sneak peek of with Into the Script readers?

I always have a handful of new projects that I’m working on that I try to keep bubbling along; they may not be right for now but I’m old enough to know that their time will come, in some form or other. 

These are projects where the central characters keep popping up unexpectedly, demanding my attention and pointing out that there’s a great storyline for them, right there! So here’s some indication as to what is rumbling around in my head at this precise moment; service stations, flash mobs (could they still be a thing?), rule breakers, big girls’ blouses (what exactly is one and where can I find her or him?), famous sea battles, girls being boys (and vice versa). 

And, of course, where might my next cup of coffee be coming from?

Any tips for standing out in a crowded market? What can writers do to WOW script readers and producers?

Write. Well, and in your own voice, with impact. 

Good writing will always stand out on the page and good characters will always stay in the mind. It’s as simple as that. If you are writing comedy and you can make yourself laugh out loud while you’re doing it, you’re on the right track; if you can also make others laugh out loud then you’re probably going to crack it.

Research. And then reflect and let your brain do the walking; it’s amazing what sifts to the surface when you’re doing something else. Everything is potentially material, often it’s just a question of finding out where it fits.

Invest. In your time and your tools. These could be notebooks, a computer, good coffee or good books; maybe all of the above and more. Writing isn’t just about putting words on the page, it’s about creating an environment where you can do your best work.
Talk. A lot. To producers, to directors, to family, friends and strangers; anyone who is your potential audience. It’s so important to keep that dialogue going, online as well as face to face.

Enjoy. Because it really is the most fun. 

And when days (and nights) can seem dark and doubtful, treat yourself to a rest break (and a muffin) and then go back to your writing, because if you really love it then it won’t let you stay away for long. It’s not just a job, it’s a way of life, but then you already know that!

Thank you for answering my questions today, Lucinda.

It’s been my absolute pleasure; thank you for inviting me to join in the conversation. 

I hope some of what I’ve said might resonate with your readers, even if it’s just the obsession with coffee! 

Here are a couple of random thoughts to end with; I’m a great believer in quality over quantity, so even one reader who loves your work and who responds to it is worth their weight in gold. 

And at the end of the day, everyone is telling stories, they are our currency and our capital. It’s so important to remember that what you are doing is entirely natural and entirely human. 

What’s different about the stories you want to tell is that no-one else can tell your stories.

Emma Pullar is a bestselling and award-winning writer of dark fiction and children’s books. She also dabbles in screenwriting.

You can find Emma on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook or lurking in the shadows, spying on people in the name of inspiration and creativity. www.emmapullar.com

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