My BAFTA-Winning Boy

This is how it started. A small boy I’d glimpsed on a street in Peckham, his sleeping bag on his back like a nylon snail.

From that came pages of notes about a boy called Tom, who eventually turned into Joe, who became the star of a book, and then a real boy again, who appeared in a TV series, which last night won its very own BAFTA. I’m still reeling from the ridiculousness and brilliance of it.

 

And as I didn’t get to dress up in my ballgown and parade like Cinderella (I fell over and hurt my knee and had to get the results on my sofa via Twitter), I have a few people to thank who all went into the making of the book and the TV series:

My old agent Sarah Molloy who told me to write the idea.

My new agent Julia Churchill who sold it.

My editor Karen Ball who bought it and then sold it again to Steven Andrew at Zodiak, who sold it to CBBC.

Nadine Marsh-Edwards who produced it, and Beryl Richards who directed it, and especially already-BAFTA-winning Guy Burt who wrote the scripts.

And the stars themselves: Daniel Frogson as Joe, Liani Samuel as Asha, Joe Sims as Dean, Kellie Shirley as Mum, Harrison Slater as Perry Fletcher, Tom Godwin as The Watcher, Erin Shanagher as Miss Granger, Shobu Kapoor as the social worker, and the wonderful Vas Blackwood as Otis. Thank you all. You’ve made one small boy, and me, very happy.

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Here’s One I Made Earlier

As a child, I was a ‘keener’. A ‘swot’. A ‘geek’. Way before geeks were chic or had rows with nerds over which was which. And yet my ambition – to somehow be Queen of Facts, and win many spectacular prizes for this – was not borne out at all in my achievements. I shot for the moon and ended up not among the stars but still in a bland corner of North West Essex in my corduroy dungarees. The list of things I ‘won’ is short and disappointing:

 

  • ‘Sword drill’ – i.e. a ‘game’ at church in which a senior Godly person would shout out the numbers of a chapter and verse in the bible and whoever found it first was generally regarded as superiorly Godly for about five minutes until tuck shop came out.
  • A ribbon for being able to sing the books of the Bible off by heart (see above for kudos rating)
  • A sachet of hair dye from Jackie magazine, only as far as I know everyone who applied got one too.

Compare that to the list of things I Tried To Win and Did Not:

  • Any sporting race ever, but especially the infamous St Mary’s Primary ‘Yoghurt Pot and Umbrella’ race.
  • Any leading role in any musical ever but especially Annie in the West End revival of Annie (which my mother would not let me audition for, but I am still counting this).
  • Young Ornithologists’ Club ‘Spotter of the Year’.
  • A place on the viewers’ pictures wall on Take Hart.
  • A Blue Peter badge.

To be fair, the last one I didn’t actually try to win either, because by that point I assumed I knew the limits of my abilities, and they were fairly mediocre. But recently, life is making up for this catalogue of childhood oddity, because I finally, FINALLY won a Blue Peter badge. For doing star jumps in the TV studio with our illustrator Clare Elsom while Sir Chris Hoy drew stick woman versions of us. Which sounds somewhat feeble but when your last real exercise was in the Yoghurt Pot and Umbrella race in about 1980, and you bear in mind I had been up since 5am and not had a shower, then it is an act of undeniable brilliance. And if anyone tries to tell me otherwise I shall stick my fingers in my ears and sing ‘Genesis, Exodus…’ until we reach end of days.

You can watch me in this act of physical excellent here

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We are BAFTA-nominated… and breathe

A couple of days ago, I found out that the CBBC adaptation of Joe All Alone was shortlisted for the Royal Television Society Awards for Best Children’s Drama. A couple of minutes ago, I found out it’s now nominated for the BAFTAs. In not one but THREE categories – best Drama, best Director and best Young Performer.

I wish I could be articulate about how much this means, to me, but more to the team who brought Joe to life and to a new audience. But mostly I’m too busy screaming, and trying to breathe.

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(Pigeon) seeds of a story

It began with a name, as it so often does for me: The Audacious Birdy Jones. But who she was, what she looked like, what her story was were blurry and inchoate, still lost somewhere in the soup of story that swirls in my head like the everlasting porridge pot.

Then came the birth certificate, magpied from another book entirely but handed to Birdy fresh and new and fledgling itself, setting her off on an adventure to find herself? Or her name. Or perhaps, even, her audacity.

Her squawk of an accent belonged to another little voice, a girl from a film I once saw, and the kids in the city I’d met on a visit, all ordinary and amazing. Her face, though, and hair are straight from the silver screen, from a shorn and scrawny twelve year old just finding her feet.

Dogger’s a ragtag mix, part Artful Dodger, part Son of Rambow, and played in my head by a boy I once knew at school, pale and freckled but busting with swagger.

And the birds? Seen in back sheds from a misted train window, they came last of all, but are the start and the end and everything in between.

And together they grew shoots of idea until they twined into a complex tale, of a boy who is lost, and then found, of a father who’s forgotten what that means, and of an audacious girl who needs to find out where she comes from to know where’s going.

Where Do You Go, Birdy Jones is out today. And you can buy it here.

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Birdy Jones is all alone

Of all the questions I get asked on school visits, there are several perennials:

  1. How old are you, Miss?
  2. How much do you earn, Miss?
  3. Do you know JK Rowling / Jacqueline Wilson / David Walliams / any other much more famous author?

But the one that comes up time and time again, often several times in the same session, because, you know, attention span, is: ‘Where do you get your ideas from, Miss?’

I was asked it today at a bookshop signing, and I told the gobsmacked little girl the same as I tell all the other gobsmacked children: Mainly I steal them. Because it’s true. I magpie from everywhere. Bits and bobs and names and words and tiny little seeds. We all do it (even Shakespeare did it), but it’s what we do with it that stops it being plain theft.

In fact there were two eggs of ideas for Birdy. Firstly the name: Birdy Jones. I came across it somewhere (a newspaper perhaps?) and pocketed it (written it in my Book of Ideas), along with the word ‘audacious’ which is a delicious thing in itself. I knew then (about three years ago now) that I wanted to write a book about a girl called The Audacious Birdy Jones.  But who was Birdy? I had no idea and tried several out for size: small funny girls, older girls full of swank and swagger, but none seemed to take. Until one day, I was staying in a house by the sea with another writer called Liz Kessler, who lent me a book she’d just read, about someone who thought their dad wasn’t their real dad.

As soon as I got to that bit I stopped reading. What would happen, I wondered, if a much younger girl or boy found their birth certificate, and the man they thought was their father wasn’t on it. What if just said: ‘Unknown’. And so the egg began to incubate with more questions: What if the girl who found it was struggling to work out who she was? What if her real mam had died and she was living with her supposed dad and stepmam? What if she decided to go and find her real dad? And then the final, obvious question: what if the girl was called Birdy Jones? Only she didn’t feel audacious at all. Not yet.

The pigeons came from the film Little Voice. The names of the birds from the 1970s Leeds United line-up. The dad from Game of Thrones (imagine Sean Bean when you’re reading it). And Birdy herself is played by Eleven from Stranger Things, at least in my head (only with a Leeds accent). Little bits of sparkle stolen and shone up and turned into something new.

It’s out on July 12th for 8-12 year olds, and you can pre-order it  here.

 

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BAFTA, baby!

On Friday, someone asked me how different my life was a decade ago. And other than the Menace being smaller and markedly more menacing, and my home being two roads away, I said it barely was. ten years ago I was writing for a living, working several other (albeit writing-related) day jobs, and wondering when I got my ivory tower.

 

 

The next morning I woke up at five, and remembered that, in a few hours, I was going to BAFTA, to see the screening of a story that once lived in the mess of my brain, and that I would get to sit on stage, with actual actors, and people would listen to me as if I knew what I was doing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And I’ve done this job long enough to know that these things are at best ephemeral and glitter for minutes, or so it will seem a year from now. But yesterday, it all glittered brilliantly. What a wonderful thing we made.

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CBBC’s Joe All Alone and the truth about child poverty

Joe All Alone is a book (and, now, BBC TV series) about friendship. It’s a book about family, and what constitutes that today. It’s a book about bullying. It’s a book about difference and acceptance. But beneath all that, it’s a book about one of the most fundamental needs in life: money. I know heat, food, water come first as basic bodily requirements. But they don’t come cheap. And they certainly don’t come free.

So the premise is this: Imagine your mum tells you she’s going away on holiday with her boyfriend. And imagine she says you’re not going; you’re staying home alone. Exciting, huh? Because you’ve seen it done before: Macauley Culkin fending for himself in his suburban mansion, then in a swanky New York hotel. The thing about the Home Alone films though is that not once does Kevin have to seriously worry about what to do when the dollars dry up; he’s minted, and besides, his mom and dad’ll be home any day to bail him out. 

Joe Holt’s house, and bank balance are a different ball game. He lives in a rundown flat in inner London, he has no money of his own, and his Mum leaves him just £20 to get through the week. Does that seem a lot? You could definitely do a decent food shop with a twenty. But add the electric meter onto that. Add the money some kid at school’s demanding off you. Then add the fact that your mum might not show up back on the doorstep when she’s supposed to.

You do the maths, as they say.

There are 3.7 million children living “below the breadline” in the UK today. To give you a better idea, that’s 9 kids in every class of 30, and in Peckham, where Joe lives, it’s 12 in every class.

The truth is, most kids aren’t Kevin McCallister, not even close. And too many are in families struggling to put food on the table, to turn the heating on, to buy second-hand shoes, let alone new ones. And it’s a growing problem. Thanks to welfare cuts under this government, another 700,000 kids will be in poverty by 2020. And if you don’t believe the numbers, you only have to look at the rise of food bank drop-offs at supermarkets, or in the number of our friends who rely on them, to see for yourselves how big an issue it is.

Yet it’s not something we read much about in books, or see up on the big screen. Glamour sells, as a rule. Plus it’s not easy speaking out, let alone writing a novel or a film, when you’re struggling to pay bills. Joe All Alone, and the follow-up White Lies, Black Dare try to give those 12 in 30 kids a voice.

Listen hard.

And if you want to know more, or help make a difference, click on these links.

http://www.endchildpoverty.org.uk

http://www.cpag.org.uk/child-poverty-facts-and-figures

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