Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Make diversity the new 'normal'

Last Friday, Nov 30th, I spoke to a packed King's Hall in central London during the Kinds Content Futures conference run by C21Media, about the experience of creating my series, PUNKY. About why I had created it, about my goals for the series and about the impact it has had worldwide on individuals and, hopefully, on society as a whole.

C21 Media Content London 2018
I said we were a small production, (Gernomino Productions made both series) with strong support from a small broadcaster (RTE). Not only does the central character have special needs (Down's syndrome) but we dealt with split parenting, bullying and many other issues that children of her age (she's six) deal with on a daily basis. It was a mainstream series that fits anywhere in the programme and that was the goal - that we would help children to learn (or maintain) acceptance of difference; celebration of how much more interesting it makes life.

My fellow panellists all worked for large broadcasters with the clout and the finance to do better that we did. The trick was not to let ideas get watered down - as they often tend to be when they go through many layers of bureaucracy and decision-making; as they often are when broadcasters or producers flinch at the idea of offending their 'selective' audience.

All they had to be clear about was to create characters that were unique and compelling that happened to have special needs, neuro-diverse challenges, physical or mental health-based challenges but that these 'issues' should not be the reason they are in the series. Story is king and story relies on compelling characters; use the 'issues' to tick boxes and get funding but don't make them the reason for the show. No more than they are the 'reason' any individual is interesting in real life. Yes they will affect storylines but organically, naturally, as part of daily life.

The other speakers spoke then about their individual broadcasters' attempts to add diversity to kid's television content. From Patricia Hidalgo, Chief Content Officer, Turner EMEA and International Kids Strategy, we had Stephen Universe and other series that do actually - albeit in animated form - try to push the gender and ethnic barriers. From ITV's Darren Nartey, Programme Acquisitions Exec ITV, we had what felt like a very genuine intent to be more inclusive along gender and ethnic lines. From Disney's David Levine, VP Programming, production and strategic development, Disney Channels EMEA, we had the party line about how well they were doing and had done to include diverse ethnic and gender characters - Doc McStuffin had a scene with gay parents etc; but he also  mentioned a new series that has a boy in a wheelchair.

As if this is something that should even be worthy of news now.

What was very clear was that while ethnic and gender diversity are being included a little more within stories, it's still in a small enough scope to legitimise the need for these panels. As for any of these large players including characters that happen to have special needs, are neuro-diverse or differently able-d, there was nothing I heard to suggest anyone was leaning in that direction.

As I mentioned in my speech talking about selling Punky, there's a resistance. As one major broadcaster once notably said when Punky was pitched to him, his broadcaster doesn't "'do' sickness".
How revealing is that about how broadcasters feel about a huge segment of our community?

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

From idea to script idea... how can you tell?

I did a two-part article on how to work out if the exciting idea nuzzling your ear lobe is one that will work as a screenplay for recently - the second part out just this week.

You can find both of them here.

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Come see what's inside my brain... Dublin city centre art exhibition

Okay, that may be the longest post heading I've ever tried! How to say: 'Come see an exhibition!", then say, 'Hey, it's my first and I am so excited about it!' and then give all the details including the reason I'm so excited?

And here it is: this exhibition is the first show by an artists and illustrators collective founded this year. There are 24 of us in the collective now, and such talent I have to pinch myself when I walk around and see what everyone else is producing. Some have been working as artists, graphic designers and art teachers but others are pursuing an interest they've had to keep - so far - as a sideline.

All of us want to illustrate children's books.

So on Dec 1st and 2nd in a gallery in Dublin's city centre, we will each hang two A4 originals, all affordable because we have covered the gallery costs ourselves and want to see our work in happy homes. But we will also be selling prints, cards, books and more at our pop-up shop; perfect gifts for Christmas - especially if you have to post pressies overseas! We have also produced a calendar full of our art on the theme of Home, all proceeds going to the Simon Community.

The theme is: 'A Few of my Favourite Things..."
The place: Studio 10, 10 Wicklow Street, Dublin 2;
The time: 10am-7pm
The date: December 1st and 2nd.

To whet your appetite, here are some of my own - if this is what's inside your brain, as some people maintain art is, mine is a strange place to be!!

Please pop in if you're in town and say hello - we're all taking turns to man the gallery in twos and threes and we love to talk!

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Playing Devil's Advocate... and advocating for diversity

Two events this month I'd love to share: 
1. I'm giving a workshop on screenwriting (Devils' Advocate) Westport, Co. Mayo for the wonderful Rolling Sun Book Festival. It's on Saturday the 17th from 11.30 in the Westport Town Hall Theatre. Free to come along but you probably need to book. 

2. I'm thrilled to be a guest speaker in the upcoming Content London Conference in London run by C21Media. It's an amazing distillation of talent and interesting events (four conferences under one umbrella) and as the creator of Punky (2011, 2014), I'll be talking as part of a panel on 'Representing Diversity in Children's TV' at the Kids Content Futures Conference on November 30th from 12.40am. The event will be moderated by Lindsay Watson, animation producer, kids & family, Canuk Productions.

Really excited about taking part in this discussion. Diversity is still under-represented in children’s TV, both on screen and off, but while the situation is improving since I first dreamt up Punky (back in 2008), we need to know that broadcasters are working to improve things even faster. That means including stories from all sections of our community; celebrating difference. It's what TV can do so well, when it puts its mind to it!

As such, this panel has been gathered to answer questions such as how are broadcasters bringing the voices of the differently abled of our society, as well as women, BAME, LGBTQI+ to the industry and what are the barriers to further progress? (And, hopefully, how do we break through those barriers?)

The other panelists are David Levine, VP Programming, production and strategic development, Disney Channels EMEA, Darren Nartey, Programme Acquisitions Exec ITV and Particia Hidalgo, Chief Content Officer, Turner EMEA and International Kids Strategy.
You can find the full agenda for the day here. And if you are there, be sure to say hello!


Sunday, 14 October 2018

House need cleaning? Use it as motivation to write instead!

I have never been good at or a fan of housework – except, in brief spurts, when I’m avoiding work.

My mother worried about this. She thought she’d turn up one day and find me sitting on a chair – with a notebook and pen, admittedly surrounded by my accumulated clutter.

Cobwebs, what cobwebs?
Then she watched a documentary about JK Rowling. “I know now why you’re not good at housework,” she said. Apparently JK had said there were three important tasks she had to fulfil – to mind her child (like me, she was a single mum), to keep the house clean and to write. She only had time to do two of these things well.

Mind you, today my glasses fell on the floor. They fire off at every opportunity. I think they regard the top of my head as a launching pad for inter-stellar adventures, though so far they’ve only fired downwards, most notably into the loo, the bath, the sink and on top of the dog. This time, they went under the heater.

Minutes after I put them back on – after chastising them, swearing a little and nearly toppling my mug of coffee as I bent down – I realised one side needed cleaning; maybe a hair had got caught in the joint – but no, it was a cobweb.
Clean cobwebs or write a play about
cloning a man from a thumb?
Julie Lockey in All Thumbs,
 International Bar Theatre, 2016

A nice fat little cobweb.

For a moment - brief - I thought, I could hoover... 

Or I could get back to my book.

 I’ve given myself a week to finish the last section. (Ambitious because I know it’s flawed. Though the flaws may stretch back deeper into the book, I won’t know until I finish, set it aside and re-read.)

Thing is, I have a really nice few chapters at the end but I’m not sure whether to lead in to leap forward... Whether that should be the ending or it should go on to the next big moment. Whether this is book two of two or of three... Whether the drama leading up to this point is big enough or needs an extra injection of oompf...

So instead of cleaning, I decided to use the cobwebs as motivation to drive me to my notebook, oblivious to the clutter and play with words for the next half hour. 

As someone once said, the house will still be there when you’re gone so what’s the most important thing to do?


Write That Script, The Angelica Touch and Dad’s Red Dress by L.J. Sedgwick are all available from Amazon and on my online store. They are also available from Kenny’s Bookshop, Charlie Byrne’s bookshop (Galway), Books Upstairs, the Winding Stairs bookshop (Dublin) and Hanna’s in Rathmines

Monday, 1 October 2018

Is procrastination really creativity in disguise?

Is procrastination really creativity in disguise? I want to think so. I really want to think so!

How is it that you can plan your entirely productive writing life at 3am in the morning, feel the flow of energy that you will pour into your day and then when the day begins, you stop and do something else.
Anything else.
Chores you hate because you don't really deserve to do something you enjoy until you've got some of the 'real' work done.
Waiting for inspiration to arrive - or the postman?

I think some of it is fear. That you'll start the regime you imagined and it will all dissolve. So you don't start. Or fear that you'll start and get into it, really get work done and be interrupted again and again until it all explodes in frustration.
But I also think some of it is excitement, ironically. Postponing the excitement of getting into your work in case the writing doesn't go well. This is really a rookie one - I'm forever telling students you have to be prepared to write crap too; at least then it's out of your head and might free up better work. But it's not always easy - until you get those fingers writing.
For me, it is all of this and also the muddle and the ambition and the wanting to be at the finish line already and the worrying that I'm wasting time, so much time and have wasted more already.

At the back of my head, I know if I could start and work consistently, I would make progress and I will.

First step: I will put my phone on aeroplane mode and turn off every app on the computer - Facebook, Gmail, Messenger. If I don't need to work on the computer, I'll take my notebook or pages to edit somewhere else.
Second step: I'll pocket my time into small segments with achievable goals and then it will be easier. This, for me, on days when the mojo is hiding under the sofa playing with turnwheels of dust,  is the key: tiny achievable amounts of work, listed on a page broken into segments for each piece of material or area of work I need to progress.
Third step: Start now.

There's an entire chapter in my screenwriting book, Write That Script, on productivity tips, which are really anti-procrastination tools. I did this because of the number of days and weeks when I can feel I am making no progress with any of my works-in-hand, be it writing or attempting to market myself or my books.
The longer these spells continue, the harder it is to break the spell. I don't see it as writer's block so much as writer's mud mixed with sinking sand, some heavy squalls of rain and wind and a muddled, distracted, increasingly frustrated and blue mind and mood.

But it can be moved on from, one tiny step at a time.
Tiny pieces of work. Achievable. Ten minutes at a time.
One word following the next.
#writethatscript #theangelicatouch #dadsreddress #lindsayjsedgwick

Monday, 10 September 2018

Free screenwriting workshops in Fingal and Carlow

Totally chuffed to have been invited to run screenwriting workshops in two writing festivals this month!
First up is The Write Time in Fingal: I’ll be in Swords Library on Saturday Sept 15th from 10.30-12.30 and Howth Library on the 19th from 5.45 to 7.45. 
Then there's the Pen Fest in Carlow Library on Tullow Street on Sept 21st from 11-1.30 
But if you're in Galway, that's where I'm heading next to be part of Culture Night that evening in Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop (time to be confirmed). How lucky am 
(PS: all my books are available here: