Career Focus - The World of Writing

Children's TV Scriptwriter - Patricia Elcock

Patricia Elcock has written Kerching! for the last four years and is currently working on a new CBBC comedy drama called Young Dracula. As well as writing for children, Patricia has also written TV comedy for adults.

Patricia Elcock

The Interview

Name - Patricia Elcock

Location - Wanstead, East London

Family - Lee (Partner), Ethan (7), Imogen (4)

 

What is your background?

I studied drama at Middlesex University, graduating in 1993 and like many of my contemporaries found myself completely unprepared for work so rattled around doing hideous temp jobs for a year or so. My break came on Desmond’s (Channel 4). I have also written on Porkpie (Channel 4), The Crouches (BBC1) and Kerching (CBBC).

How did you first get into writing?

I was featured in a documentary made by Carlton Television about the stand up comedy module of my drama degree. They invited me to go on a comedy scriptwriting course they were running. I had to write a pilot episode of a sitcom. I was totally clueless, which helped in a way because I had no fear. Trix Worrell (creator of Desmond's Channel 4) was a guest director on the course and he suggested I attempt to write an episode of Desmonds, which I did, amazingly the producers liked it and within 6 months of going on the Carlton course I had my first TV commission at the ripe old age of 23.

Did you have formal training?

Hell no! I've been told that I write 'instinctively' which I think is a polite way of saying that I still don't really know what I'm doing.

Do you write at home? If so where?

I've moved recently. The closet that I like to call my study is still full of boxes, so I've colonized the breakfast bar.

How many hours do you spend writing a day?

Depends on how pressing the deadline is. I was working on something yesterday that kept me at my breakfast bar-cum-office from 9.30am - 7pm. But I spent a lot of that time eating Jaffa cakes and staring out of the window.

Do you have to be quite disciplined?

I wish I could be more disciplined. I'd like to be one of those people who jump in the shower, drink a strong coffee and sit down to write for the whole day stopping only when I've completed a certain number of words.

What or who has been your biggest inspiration?

On a personal level, I know it's a cliche, my mum. She brought me and my brother up on her own. I'm amazed by her - I get the shakes if my partner is a bit late coming home from work. Professionally, I really admire women like Oprah and Maya Angelou. I also remember being blown away by Lorraine Hansberry's 'Raisin in the Sun' when I first read it as she was quite young when she wrote it.

What story do you remember most from your childhood?

I loved all the Roald Dahl books - Stig of the Dumps, Danny the Champion of the World. I was an avid reader and would max out my library card every week. The thing I loved most was story time at school - having a couple of chapters read to you every day.

How does writing fit round spending time with your family?

It can work really well because you set your own hours, meaning that you can always be available for assemblies, escorting them on school trips, that sort of thing. If you are right up against a deadline then things can get difficult – suddenly school holidays become torture as you try to write while watching your kids play in the garden. Lee (my partner) is really great and will take them for long walks in the park, but there are times when I feel a real wrench.

In your opinion what makes a great children's programme?

The same sorts of things that make any programme great - well drawn, believable characters, truthful dialogue and interesting situations.

Is it very different writing for an adult audience? Obviously you can make the content different - but do you essentially follow the same pattern of writing?

The process is essentially the same. Especially for something like the BBC where you have to submit a story idea, an episode outline and a scene by scene breakdown before you write the first draft of the script.

Which do you enjoy more writing for children or adults?

I think children are a much tougher audience in some ways, which can make the experience so gratifying when you get it right. There is a part of me that enjoys films like 'Bring it On' and 'Mean Girls' much more than a mother of two should, but since I've been working in children's TV I can call it all research.

Was it hard getting your first script made into a programme?

It was deceptively easy, which didn't prepare me for how hard things could get later on.

How did you go about it?

As mentioned previously, I was invited to submit a script to a production company after going on a course.

Is there usually a fairly straightforward application process?

There are as many ways of getting it as there are writers. It's not the sort of job you apply for. You have to prove that you can write first and foremost. Technical information like how to format a script etc can be taught later. I think schemes such as the BBC's Writer's Room (www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom) are good ways to start.

How did you make contacts?

Going on the scriptwriting course was an invaluable way in for me. Prior to that I'd never seen myself as a scriptwriter.

Did you have an agent? Do you think they are essential?

I had an agent in the early days, mainly to negotiate contracts. I don't have one at the moment because I feel like I can manage the flow of work. I don't believe that agents get you work really, every job I've ever had was based on recommendation. I've toyed with the idea of getting an agent again, but I think if anything I'd be more inclined to engage a business manager if I got a big commission, someone to look over small print in contracts.

What is the best bit of business advice you have been given?

Hold a bit back for the tax man. I'm not saying that I always take the advice. I'd love not to have to think about self assessment and insurance application forms, but being self employed it's down to you to take care of all the boring stuff.

Do you have any words of wisdom for Mums (or Dads!) who would like to become involved in writing for Children's Television?

I don't know about wisdom, but I'd say the first thing you need to do is get an awareness of what programming is out there already. Then think about if you're the sort of person who'd like to write on an existing show or perhaps your interest lies more in creating something new. If you've written something like a sample script you could try sending it in (read the credits then contact the production company to find out who best to send it to). Be aware that these people are often inundated with scripts sent in 'on spec', but having said that, if your work is good enough it should shine through. If you're starting a little earlier in the process - think that it's something you'd like to do but don't know where to start - then I think places such as the BBC Writers Room (www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom) are good places to get advice.

 

Further Information

www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/scriptsmart/ - The Script Smart tool is a set of Microsoft Word templates for writers to format their scripts using industry-recognised layouts.

www.scriptfactory.co.uk -The Script Factory fills the gap between writers and the industry. It offers training courses for writers.

www.londonscriptconsultancy.com -From all the latest screenwriting books to free scripts on-line, lists of courses and funding information, this site is full of helpful information.

 

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