June 21, 2021

9: A nice chat with Beth Chalmers


We thoroughly enjoy a lovely chinwag with Beth Chalmers this week. She's a hugely successful writer with sketch shows, dramas, programmes like Horrible Histories and much, much more to her name. We talk about what goes on behind the scenes, the pitching process and eventually we manage to squeeze some top tips out of her too. Enjoy!!
 
Music by Dano Songs

Transcript

so i'm very excited about today chaps um because we've interviewed uh a titan of the industry and she's going to tell us all about her writing career yeah it's amazing how much she's done um yeah so we spoke to beth chalmers and when we talk about all kinds of different stuff don't wither about writing rooms and and how to do pitches and things that go wrong things that go right yeah and treatments yeah treatments not medical treatments we should probably say she's not she's not into that none of us are qualified for that john that would just be unethical but it is like a little bit of a peek behind the curtain isn't it yes what happened it's good big tv shows and stuff and seeing how you write with a partner as well yes yeah yeah definitely that's also very good it's a great effect um and a nickname for a famous person i wasn't aware of who is collins there's only one way to find out let's listen to the interview right now

hi beth thanks for joining hello beth hello i'm very happy to be here it's always a bit awkward welcoming people to our podcast because we have to say welcome to the failing writers podcast and then that kind of i know reflects badly it doesn't reflect badly on you at all it's just uh he reflects badly on us yeah and that's why we get people who are better the caveat is we need successful people for balance don't we for to keep it fair to balance us out when i saw on instagram and i thought oh oh someone's followed me called failing writers and i yeah i did think of it oh and then i really yes i realized um but i'm very glad to be here and um a bit nervous of the idea of you know the fact that you said i'll talk to you because you because you aren't and i'll be ricocheting between some self-loathing and uh don't worry that was just literally us being polite but we don't hold you in any esteem whatsoever it's just it was just uh just to get you on really just an introduction yeah oh lovely so beth beth thomas is according to all website sources an actor voice over and writer um but what what's your main thing beth what's do you consider yourself an actor also rights or a writer who does a bit of action i consider myself a

writer who does voicing and a little bit of acting a writer voiceover writer voiceover it's a snappy title in that order it depends it changes doesn't it it changes some days that's true so was that was that your first dream then was it writing um your main

it doesn't mean it's not my main dream now but yeah was acting and then the voicing happened off the back of that and then i went to university and i did a play with uh with uh with olivia coleman and amy schindler and amy schindler came up to me afterwards and said do you want to do some writing and i thought all right so and then i thought this is fun well i also thought this is hideous and painful but i a little part of me thought it was fun we'll do it anyway yeah and it's good to do it with someone else so uh so what what sort of stuff what did you first write with amy we wrote a lot of sketches right right we wrote a lot of sketches um what was the very first what became of them we sent them off to agents so we got an agent from that oh wow and we wrote bits and bobs and i'm not sure what ever got put on but got us to we got contributed to shows uh oh alistair mcgowan show rory bremner um i think we sent some stuff to smack the pony brilliant yes of course i uh griffey and then we did griffy's jones show we just did a lot of sketches for that and did you always work in like a partnership thing then yeah i always work in a partnership yeah she works on her own sometimes but um i don't write my own name unless she's on the skype with me so uh yeah we were everything everything together we have one brain between us and um so what's that like then because we've we've tried the three of us have tried writing well as all three of us and in various pairs over the years with every possible combination yeah so how does that work then when you're writing with we've known each other for 20 years and you know we're very good mates anyway best mates so so if we but we still can't do anything i think we know each other's strong points so we kind of know who to listen to whose voice should be stronger in each discussion we get really we get sort of gnarky with each other sometimes but we don't fall out massively we just have we get annoyed because we're bartering over every single word right in fact i've just leapt to that and said about us falling out when that wasn't your question it was just how does it work so i think yeah that's why we wanted to hear that though so when you have a fight what's it like but usually if you do if you do fall out of a particular joke or something you're then the guilt sits in uh quite quickly and the next time you have a discussion you're much more amenable you go oh no that was really funny it's very funny and you have to make it up so instead of going i'm really sorry i think i was a bit of an [ __ ] you just go oh no you're that was really funny after that that's how we move on do you think that's harder do you think that's harder in comedy than with sort of serious drama because like if if amy says something to you and you just don't find it funny uh it's quite hard to fake that yeah really it's it's that's that is the hardest thing i think so we tend to we tend to work try and work out why we don't find it funny because she is funny so she's not gonna pitch something that isn't funny and yeah like myself so we just have to go i think i don't buy that from this character i think that's coming from nowhere i don't think it's left field enough i think it's two left field i think it's too young i think it's you know left up too quickly or usually there's a reason and a lot of the a lot of the time you'll agree with that won't you when the other person says that yeah oh you're right yeah yeah totally yeah it sounds from what you're saying like you you're actually you're on skype together and actually writing with each other are you sending stuff backwards and forwards how does it work no we have final draft open and we have the the collaboration on final draft so we have skype open so we can chat yeah we never look at each other and then at two o'clock in the morning one of them will sneak on while the other one's not looking at him delete delete delete oh well i'll get rid of that i'll get rid of that bloody bit well she's much more computer savvy than me so if i ever stumble into the dropbox by mistake i got a new ipad so i was trying to work out how the ipad would sink out i was sinking out of my dropbox and openings and playing with the little pen the apple pen which got very excited about and i got a message going are you are you in the dropbox are you playing with the dropbox what are you doing in the dropbox nothing i just annotated something you're not responsible enough to be able to tell just not so uh so yeah so beth what was the moment then that you thought hold on a minute we've we've made it here what was the thing where you get your big break or kind of you've got a oh bloody hell this is real what was that moment it sounds weird when you say your big break like i'd have to say well the first oscar would have done it but no uh well the first time you get paid for something we sold we sold we sold sketches and thought that's quite fun then we got an agent and thought oh that's quite good and then oh and then we went to work on my family okay as as table writers which is where we learned in brackets mainly amy learnt and told me how to structure a narrative comedy so that's when we got out of doing sketches so we were all sketches and then it's really learning a craft and they would throw the script down in the middle of the table and eight table writers would be around punching it up and by the end of the main script right i got most of the money but it bore no resemblance to their script by the time they finished yeah so it was felt it was knocked like that but um so was it was it literally like ravenous comedy wolves yeah a adidas body and spewing it back out oh yeah and it was a horrible competitive it was a sort of like the room being conducted by the showrunner yeah and you do you know and just pitching aggressively and i didn't really like it but did you see because i imagine it's quite it must be quite an intimidating atmosphere but did did you see the sort of progression in the script did you feel like you could see it working or was it just horrible and and also awful um you don't have to be nice you don't have to be nice no one's listening to be honest literally

some of you are just shuffling words around right to see if it will suddenly become funnier if you're doing a different it often got a lot better but there's something obviously on friends and frasier when they have the table writing it clearly works for them yeah there's sometimes just one a right a streamlining of of the same the cohesive vision of of not too many writers getting in there is better it's always been a bit of a split between the american style of writing and the uk kind of style of writing though isn't it yeah the the the team thing is the american way because it's their sitcoms are more about filling it full of gags yeah they're getting their gags in getting their gags in and and getting the laugh but you still have like yeah right with the with my family there was a high gag quotient and you had to have five five per page i think but it sort of means that you have to um the setups can't be the laughs are never that big because the setups yeah because also the setups get interrupted with so this if you have small small guys small gas small gag it's really hard to crescendo to a huge one yeah to tell a story to be fair progress character or yeah yeah yeah a story that you give a [ __ ] about if you're really going to give a [ __ ] about the character or give a [ __ ] about the story you have to believe it a bit yeah and if you are assaulting the audience with cheap jokes five a page they don't give they just think oh oh that's funny ah they're sort of tittering away the whole way through it yeah you've worked you've worked as an actor in sitcoms as well how how did you find that did you ever get to like drop your own little line in or weirdly as you're saying i'm thinking have i oh god what have i done

yes oh he said hundreds of them sorry yes yeah you did those ones of course those are the successful branches to my very words sorry undermine the whole medium of radio yes sorry i thought you meant oh i'm really sorry i thought you went the bafta winning ones no right yeah those yes sorry did anyone tell beth that when we invited her on it it wasn't just a rhubarb face isn't our failure so many successes i can't even be bothered i just jumped to golden globes i really that's really [ __ ] yes anyways let's go straight to let's pretend i went oh yeah all the eyes are fabulous but that's not getting out that's staying in some fabulous drama and comedy on the radio yes i think the unthinkable that was great you didn't really need to stick in your own lines that much with them i wrote on some comedy i wrote uh for concrete cow i we wrote for my concrete cow which um was on the radio but uh not a lot of improvisation in the radio comedy was necessary because those scripts are pretty tight i mean i work writers like lawrence howarth um uh who's so good you don't really want to mess around with those lines right do you think that is it um sort of informed your work because i guess as a as an actor you've got to work with some decent writers over the years do you think that sort of helped when it comes to putting your own thing yeah i mean recognizing good writing is an important step i imagine to doing it but we improvise a lot of our stuff because we're both actors so we improvise everything all right so if we fall over lines twice then we know that it's the horrible line for an actor to say and therefore when yeah and if we're trying to this isn't quite the answer to the question but i'm just going to go ahead anyway um we if we can't get something done if we say he's got to rev she's annoyed with him because of that he knows that and he's got to get that information out of her and we'll just improvise it until something unlocks until we find out a way that it could happen and then we'll hone it and write it we very much write for actors we don't really yeah we're very much it's all about the actors and it has to feel we are very keen on our dialogue being right for each character and all that i think what's your what's your best tip uh for writing comedy don't do it on your own do it with a friend you have to give somebody an aspiring writer uh your like key tip don't forget this i think just you can tell when a joke's been written it's making sure that ah that's so obviously like been don't overwrite it don't oh i know what don't set up and knock down your own joke and everything your setup your looks really important oh god everything i'm sounding makes me sound really annoying because i'm sort of half inventing so it sounds quite smug and like i'll tell you when people say oh the most important thing of writing is sandwiches i'm just thinking uh no i like that line because i like sandwiches so yeah so we had we had a we had a director at drama school who said at one point um uh in technical rehearsals it's very important to eat sandwiches because actors love sandwiches which is like you idiots because you're that kind of crap there's some truth in that isn't there he likes sandwiches he must be a great actor you can tell a lot about a person by what sandwich they like he's been into baguette man sandwichology is is a is a burgeoning scientific uh yeah of course gilgood was always more fond of the rap i mean john john likes an open baguette if it's not on an open baguette it's true john's not that very uncomfortable around an open sandwich whereas dave likes cheap supermarket white bread plenty of butter and some digestive biscuits yeah they don't even have to be together i'll just get some bread and some things and put them in your mouth just throw the ingredients on the table and see what he does exactly like uh like a chop yeah do you have a favorite writing snack but a snack that induces the perfect mindset i have to now write far away from my kitchen cupboard because i i'm learning this yeah i can't it's just procrastination boredom thinking that maybe i can't think of anything funny maybe sandwich maybe maybe a biscuit would help um a change of scenery what's in the fridge just boiling the kettle every half an hour you know ruin the environment just keep boiling that kettle because somehow it'll make things so what is your your process then how do you how do you get in there get in the zone i get in the zone it's all every answer seems to be the same i get the same because i have a writing partner who um well when i started when i started um a couple of other people asked me to talk with them stop and uh they would just we'd sort of turn up and we'd write a sketch and then we'd order some wine and then we'd have a laugh and then we'd go home and nothing would happen and then amy said will you write with me and i am i thought yeah great she's great fun we'll have a laugh and you know she she turned up with ideas and uh i think even a computer in those days i hadn't even brought a pencil i just what and she's was the most driven person i've ever had they're good people to work with yeah oh and so we and we work we work hard but weirdly what she really hates now is that it's rubbed off on me and now i sometimes so she can't if she wants to slack of it i i'm she's thinking when did this when did this happen that's good um so yeah that my regime is simply we 9 30 every morning uh the skype goes that the horrible ring of doom that skype does at 9 30 in the morning and every morning and whether we've got a project or not we we're on it and we're just and we create and create and create like more projects so we just we just keep throwing it out there until what like quarter past 10.

how long is that is that a date that's right up to five o'clock or we can write about about 5 36 wow and we'll have like 20 minute lunches sometimes if we're if we're on a roll um we don't we yeah we work a bit i think we're starting to see a pattern now that if you want to be a writer you actually have got to spend quite a lot of time writing work and working hard but that seems to that like that what a great help that would be i guess if one of you is not quite feeling it on a particular day if the other one's saying come on start writing oh it makes a great help a difference well that's kind of why we started this podcast isn't it so you know true you couldn't just hide away from it yes have you been writing question would come up i mean we haven't been on skype calls at half past nine every morning but you know there's little baby steps but have you written with each other we did a long time ago how did you do that did you sit in the same room and what we generally did was was get about halfway through something and then stop getting distracted well now but yeah that's the thing we used to do in a distance way of like we'd sort of talk about something and then we'd go each go off and write some bits and then bring them back together and how did you feel when if you exited each other's work did you i wouldn't dare i did anything of tommy i think my stuff was all pretty good so i didn't really need i didn't really need any editing

i've identified it sounds like a healthy productive way to work i

yeah it just drifted off because we weren't because we weren't ringing each other every day and being because we weren't hard-working professionals uh somehow it failed and here we are but it makes a difference you know a lot of our our whip cracking is because we've got deadlines because we're you know doing shows with deadlines yes like you said before deadlines do a lot for you they do but sometimes it's the in-between times where we have to keep creating you know you keep keep throwing stuff out there and yes you throw loads of [ __ ] at the fan or something like that and most of it's for nothing yeah and it does feel like a massive massive waste of time and you think we've got we've got so many projects out there and but usually one of them will inform the other one and we're kind of aware that we have to create about 10 projects to every one that will go somewhere but we sell a lot of treatments and we sell a lot of pilot scripts and right so we keep enough of that turning over yeah i suppose does that mean uh like do you have to have that sort of mindset of like okay our job is just coming up with ideas and writing our job isn't specifically to sell this script or to get this idea going you just you know is that how you have to look at it every day like our job is just to come into the office which is you know whatever and just write some stuff every day if we're starting fresh if we like let's say we you know we finished mystic when we're doing the moment and we've got nothing out there then we will just kind of gauge what's going on because if you try and write too much like you said to a channel or to a brief then you kill all the creativity it's not something you should be writing anyway yeah but we sort of work out within the zeitgeist within what's going on at the moment within the kind of stuff that's being made what suits us and what we like and then we look at all the projects we've already got out there i mean the stuff that we've made this in a draw and and the things that there are things we can't let go of characters we love relationships we love and we and we will keep trying to find the right incarnation for them i think yeah so we and then we sort of do that um shake that down and then we we might write a treatment and then go and sell it so we can get some money to write the script but actually we write scripts quite quickly so we tend to then we'll write an outline and then we'll write a scene by scene breakdown and then we'll just write that script so yeah and then we can take that around because the script it stops all the silly questions when you sit when you try and send um we're trying to sell it because a treatment oh the micromanaging and the changing around of it on the treatment is just painful and you think well no because our point is that he's you know blind or something so give us a snapshot of what what level of detail would be included in a treatment then that you put together treatment i think for us a bit a couple of pages and it will for america it would always start with oh my god for america they're always full of um why you're the one who should write it which is really really limiting because it makes you you think i'm gonna have to get myself to do a stint in prison because i've got nothing nothing unusual to say i'm gonna have to get arrested so where does that come from then is that a like protecting well no they just that authorial voice is because they i don't know they but they buy it more it's like they if you say i i lived on a bench for 12 years and it's a comedy about the people i met on that bench they would probably go oh my god it's amazing you must have had so

detail the many what makes it brilliant and if you lived it you got the detail and they'll believe it more i think um so we'd always start with that by saying you know um you know we mine our own lives twist it exaggerate

it's really difficult oh god i met someone now let's just say and the amount of different sisters that i've had my poor sister if you have a red hot if she ever read half the treatments she'll have the treats

yeah and what amy's you know has apparently been through in her life is just horrendous so it's these poor women we must give them the job how can they go on ricocheting from disaster to disaster how is she typing this with no arms it's amazing exactly she lived for three years there's a horse on a bench for god's sake i mean over here i don't think they mind too much so i think the treatment would very much it would be a log line the kind of the elevator [ __ ] is quite important i mean we were you wrote a thing um years ago called um pauline peeps dowry and it was very much bridget jones in the 17th century and yes whatever you go oh i can a i can picture that and b i can picture where the jokes are and it's and it does it for you but as soon as you start going well it's about two people but they're on a they're on a road trip but he he's he's a venue out because yeah yeah there's a real problem there so um do you ever start with the log line as a starting point well i think we tend to start with our characters actually doesn't make sense does it what a weird thing to say i thought i think we should start with the characters the relationships and then yeah because but what they want their journey has to be quite unusual you're only going to sell it if it's finding that nub it's finding the thing that makes it different finding the thing that a makes it different and b you can see where the comedy comes from yeah different but the same yeah but they can always but a bit like the office for years and now a bit like catastrophe or bit like fleabag you know yeah yeah so um yeah when you were saying what would i say to anyone writing comedy no i haven't come up with anything ignore me um we'll come back to that later on so going back to that pauline peep story that was the one with did that have david mitchell yeah we had a mate we had olivia coleman we had david mitchell we had sharon horgan rebecca state and tom hollander yeah so what was that like then working with with big names uh did that happen to you i'd done plays in edinburgh and known colley for a long time uh coleman and i'd done footlights with david mitchell and toured with him for um the six month the footlights tour yeah and tom hollander had just finished doing a jane austen radio with so i didn't and rebecca state and i'd do a cartoon with in galway so i did a cartoon with her so the only one i didn't know was um oh catherine parkinson who i've i had worked with as well on something so yeah then i hadn't worked with sharon hogan right so it didn't feel that worrying and i just trusted that i just you just knew what they the brilliant thing is is you know they know what they're doing yeah and oh like tom holland he just brought olivia calm brought everything that we wanted her to bring and knew she could the same with david mitchell and tom holland just he just adds he adds just glory he adds glory to a script yeah oh he's just wonderful i would stick him in did you just did you just call olivia coleman colley did that uh yeah i did i did call her collie right so that's that's yeah that's the level of intimacy we're looking for in this well we were at university together and we did loads of you know we did uh lots of plays and cool so yeah what's uh what is the sitcom that you wish you'd written

is there any that you see and you get really yeah i mean i really i'm enjoying motherland quite a lot i find that quite high question i mean so boring safely back yeah i feel boring saying fleabag but it's

well but i like that it was new it was different it was yes but also the minute i say these things i then go oh my god that that the thing that i love most of in the world you know modern family there you go modern family i mean modern family is just it just the speed of those jokes and all those jokes are so embedded in character i was just can say this it's it's so balanced isn't it everything's just on the perfect balance yeah it does have everything and all the characters are great i mean because everybody can say a different favorite character i think there's a real skill isn't it as well in terms of characters um modern family is a great example of how you can have characters that are potentially two-dimensional because they're so kind of in a little stereotype but somehow they're they've got so much depth but they're still in this two-dimensional you you know exactly where you are especially with an ensemble like that you haven't got much time to service all those characters and they're quite short episodes but they every single character has their little i hate the word journey but they have their own little journey and story in there and all those intersect beautifully the structure of modern family and the character modern family yeah i'm gonna say modern found it's it's absolutely sticking sticking with modern family i'm sticking one family final answer lock that in yeah thanks uh it is it is fantastically brilliantly done and what's what have you written that you're most proud of what are there any like particular moments or or or just like the whole of a you know the whole episode of the whole series we just get better and better and better because every single thing you write even if it's something hasn't gone anywhere makes you better for the next thing so it sounds so you know what we're writing this morning what we're writing yesterday at the moment this series mystic the bbc uh is uh oh yeah is this the second series so that's what we're doing as we are right wow we're doing the final pre-prep because we start filming next week in new zealand just in time series three at the same time well yes in fact this morning i was writing bits on series two after we've had the first read through out in new zealand and then this afternoon i'll be moving ahead a bit with series three so it's getting your head getting your head in those stories is difficult right and you are sort of going oh hang on are they even together now did they get together did he so he hasn't asked her oh god i feel slightly panicky just thinking about that let alone oh it really is right yeah there was one point where we were editing the cuts of series one and we were writing series two and we were story breaking series three and every single morning it was about ten minutes of well the first hour of each day was going wait hang on what is what i can't see i i just stress of trying to make toast and boil an egg and get a cup of tea going at the same time i can't imagine that's the sort of level of stress of having three series of something or running around your head at the same time it is it's painful but we have a producer jen who uh it's amazing she's always in another room on zoom so she sets up a zoom call in the morning so it's like she's next door yeah and we have a whatsapp and we go jen you there and she goes yep and you just click the link and she lets you in and uh and you can say to her so in the visions in series two is there does she does she see is she seen the rubbish bin or or does he do we see the corner of the rubbish bin or just the whole rubbish bin and uh don't worry it's not that dull and um i'm all in for the bin drama that's what yeah yeah it's about waste management i mean people people will be talking about the bin episode for years to come but when you're talking about that you know been waste management just you didn't think that was going to be a segue into no but it it is but the white the other thing about in a treatment is why now so why why are you the best person to write this thing and the other one is why now and and the whole climate change and all that is um yeah is a pretty hot is it hot topic right now when did the first uh series of mystic air was that back the beginning of this year yeah that's all right yeah i think it was uh what are we in no hang on

no one knows where it is still but we only filmed we filmed up to series eight up to up to episode eight of the first series during the pandemic yes no no and and then we stopped three episodes short three ah three scenes three there's an insight into the house like boiling that egg all over again isn't it it is eggs all over the floor right now um three scenes short of the first eight episodes they and they shut down filming so we have we've got one episode in the first eight epic one one episode in that first date where there's quite a lot of words on the back of people's heads there's a lot of kids arising a lot with adr to get the story out so they were riding through the woods and shouting um but they were thank goodness so we could get the first eight episodes out and then when lockdown lifted in new zealand they uh they filmed the last five and so the whole first series is out now yes well because i i i was watching simone yesterday um and did i see that it's an adaptation was it did it is it adapted from a book originally loosely based so how did how did that come about there's some books called pony club secrets written by stacy greg in new zealand and liberty in the production company in new zealand came over to slim productions in london and said we think we could make this as a gopro find us some writers so they came and found us right um and we pitched for it they they said read these books and then come in and pitch for the job so we we told them what we'd do with it and what we liked about it and and what we would not do and they said great so we wrote a pilot episode and then the bbc said they were interested and then the bbc said they wanted oh hang on i think i'm conflating that with another story we did we did an itv itv comedy where where we wrote one and they said no we love it we love it can you write another one and then we'll be sure but i think with pony i think with mystic we just wrote the one and a massive bible a massive bible that was about 30 pages of story ideas and where it came from and and characters and stuff i think maybe it wasn't that long i don't know um but yeah that had a huge bible that went with it to the bbc and were you were you actively pitching against other writers or were you yeah yeah i think sort of the first people to come to the table yeah when you see actively i mean we weren't in the room together just shouting uh shouting over their shoulders situation

we're going to have to start this all over again yeah i think it was yeah oh yeah so i think we were um pitching i think there were other writers they were interviewing um but that is the other thing is you have to sort of work out what they are wanting you to say because it's so easy to go in there and say okay we'd like something slightly different with this and you can scare the [ __ ] out of it'll be them so what you have to do is you have to say we love the books we love this and we will we want to enhance this and and and show this and enthusiasm and then when you're doing it you say okay because also when you when you've got the job then they say just go crazy think big you know don't worry about the constraints just what would you do in an ideal world and that's when you say well i'd lose the ghost horse because that's quite a tricky thing to keep going and they go and they go yeah yeah great great great and you go down that road for ages and then somebody says hell this is ridiculous that's the main thing it's about the ghost tour yeah should we yeah can we can we wind back on that so uh yeah do whatever you want but not that not that don't do that yeah and at the beginning of every series you're teased with this um i mean you know just think big and then they say at the end oh but we can only have one bulldozer oh oh so the biosphere that's not we're not going to bite no okay fine a green a greenhouse is good um yeah there's there's a lot of that going on but fair enough you know budgets well yeah that's true yeah yes and was it was it fun to write mister it's it's more fun to write every as it goes on because you get to know the characters i feel like yeah i love our characters i love our characters and now i know them and i know the kids and i say kids they're sort of 18. but um i love them and i know what they can do and we can write for them and i will miss them hugely when we stop yeah i like yes i feel like and and the trouble is again without an ensemble cast because we've got adults in it and kids in it and we want to use them all we want to and you just because it has to be driven by the kids but our adult characters are also fantastic and we just yeah we want to use everybody and every time we send a script someone goes oh but we miss them you think well so do we but where are they going to go in 30 pages i mean we haven't got time so yeah it's a real shame actually you just want to write more and more and more but i would say yeah the the best thing and the most fun thing i'm writing is right now wow that's a good answer isn't it it's only it's only that's a lovely thing it'd be terrible if it was something you wrote my heyday it's just a gentle slide down and talking about that is there anything that you did in your sort of prolific output is there anything that you sort of pitched that you thought was absolutely just the best thing ever um and it just never got anywhere i never got picked up yeah well there's a lot of things i think we pitch that are good and then you see them and it's not because they've been stolen because the ideas tend to be quite ubiquitous anyway and you see them a bit later in different incarnations we wrote something called refuge which was have you seen home there's a thing called home out there a sitcom uh rufus jones wrote it okay and we pitched it it was it's about uh immigrants coming here from afghanistan all of asylum seekers and assange coming over from afghanistan when they were all anyway it was a very similar thing and and our agent was nervous of it because it was it was before all that right so we were a year before every time yeah see i i we were just honestly victims of our own president um uh yeah and i think that was quite nerve-wracking also sometimes you just think i'm not the right person to write this i don't think i've got the right to be writing this that's not an ideal first line for you exactly i don't know what i'm talking about it's about disadvantaged young children and yes it's called hard times yeah we have to write a bit of what we know but you run out of what you know if you mean you run out of what you know quite quickly um exactly and she's just riddled with disaster when my sister was a syrian refugee she came over in the boot of a car

said 14 children first woman to have flown a rocket so that's so that's the sort of um in the past what's what's next then beth obviously you've still got quite a bit of mystic going on but um what's is there a big plan for the future well in a way that makes me sound like i've been terribly like a very important like well i can't say we're

coming up probably to uh something based on a true story that will be when mystic is uh well hopefully more and more mystic yes to be honest but then also we we need to the more we more mystic um at the moment we're doing two series in one year so the idea would be to get another series of mystic but just be doing one series in a year and therefore have other projects going at the same time and you've got to bang them out while the kids are young as well haven't you yeah no not john's not john's kids to take that into account when you're writing your stuff yeah how's it going

not my kids no one else's kids no you are yeah you are right it's the thing you've also got to think about the next incarnation of the cast so we'd like that to carry on forever and and uh and see if we can keep regenerating like grey's anatomy yeah bringing in new characters yeah of course so yeah but also then keep our adult stuff going because the adult comedy there is something oh right writing the kids stuff it's difficult only so many times you can say oh you idiot and you just think

we missed the whole section of being able to put people in a car in a hurry without a seat belt uh we miss saying they're having a glass of wine the amount of times you you won't have to have someone just they've had a couple glasses

you can't have that and we've got um yeah the new zealand writers yeah but the new zealand writers are shocked by it all i understand that because they haven't written you know with cbbc before and so at one point we had one of the adults calling one of the kids a wanker and uh and then one of the kids went out and had a fast britain no oh no no no no no no

yeah this no on the bbc okay yes he is 16 but it's no you can't do that people in different countries don't seem to understand the word minecraft i noticed that and they seem to think it's like just calling someone a press or a cylinder i was watching something on youtube the other day it was um some american guy coming to london to try the food i was watching it with the kids and then he's just doing the whole thing and then at the end goes so let's have a see what you're doing here

oh my god yeah yeah just don't seem to understand the word i think bugger as well especially in australia and new zealand they say all the time and then it's involuntary so we have to go through at the end we have to edit it out all the time but have to adr all the lines where they've just stuck with buggering oh god stop it i'd like to think there's just an entire day devoted this it's just booger day what day is it oh it's not bugger day is it oh

there was a word they used to use in neighbours all the time when they couldn't swear

yeah it's weird when these memories come back the other day i remembered lasseters we were trying we're trying to redesign our coffee shop and we would just don't make it like lassiters it's difficult yeah the language i just i and we love writing adult drama but to be honest when we write kids stuff we we write exactly what we would write for adults just without with the with the safety of clients in it i mean which is uh but it means that someone is the the it can feel a bit laborious and a little bit labored because you have to do best practice i know it's a good thing but you have to say shouldn't we shouldn't we look for an adult first before you go and do something yeah you have to show the kids and anything that's imitable imitateable you know that kids can imitate in the playground yeah really careful about that because i did see beth that you wrote at one point for you did some horrible histories or you did at least one horrible history yeah wow what was that like you spend a whole day oh you turn a whole day with the other writers and you sit in a room and greg comes along and says does a um a lesson with you we did churchill boudicca and napoleon whole day whole day he just teaches you all the funny quirky weird things that happened around the time of napoleon internationally nationally the quirks of him his life it's brilliant and then you go away and you while you're in there you sort of pitch sketches things that might be quite good around this stuff but it's it's fed to you quite well because the the information he's giving you is so sketch ready um or just sketch specific and um so you can find your angle quite well and then you pitch it and then at the end he says you go away and you write five or six sketches in that area it's sort of loosely discussed because so that you don't all go and write the same stuff um the songs are protected the songs are just written by the sky dave so uh we leave that to him it's like us with johnny stupidity yeah

yeah and yeah we sent them in and and it was cool it was it was a fantastic thing to do it was just loads of fun yeah i bet he has loads of fun i'm proud to have been part of it because it's a great series yeah absolutely um so beth be before we let you go do you have one top tip um okay okay it's not the top two and it won't be the best one i have two tops it's in the top quartile or percent anyway let's say and i think if you can't if you can't pitch it in two sentences then you don't have a strong enough engine or conflict at the top or conflict so you need to know what it's about where the joke's going to come from and so somebody wants to do this and they can't do it because of that yeah and that's it yeah yeah yeah so so if you can't picture it in two sentences and make someone go yeah right yeah i see how that's there then it's going to be hazy and lost and hang on what do they want the engine needs to be so clear what do they want and why can't they get yeah that's that's that's a good tip that is a good one yeah i was reading that book that i mentioned before about playwriting i think it was i think it was alan bennett who he used to get so far through a play and then once he'd worked out what it was about he'd write the sentence that said this play is about blah and then he'd stick that to his typewriter um so that like as he was writing everything that he wrote had to fit with that sentence and that was one off topic and because we've got a thing which now has eight episodes in the series we have a clear theme i suppose for all the episodes so it's not a story arc it's not through the story because not to do it you know what the characters want and why can't they get it it's to to keep it cohesive because you've got other writers involved because the copra you've got to have writers and so um you've got to we're lucky to have words from new zealand so um

it's very important that we do for many reasons i mean they are they're wonderful and everything and we have to have them i

we're so lucky to have these talents forced um but we do have a to keep it slightly to keep it cohesive there's that overall thing of where the kids are in their life and so we do have that we keep we keep having to go back to that oh i'm really sorry that's her skyping me oh hang on let me just i'm gonna that's my that's my um my my writing session uh being calling me i'll just call her and say i'm really sorry you see how hard we work oh no but this is so perfect isn't it i'm just gonna say uh sorry um still this is so successful that the interview is being interrupted by her work exciting schedule yeah i know caliber of guest we want on this podcast it's just my mum but i'm

you pretend pretending can you say it's collie can you just say carl collins on the phone oh carly go away no i will not write you something no you cannot be in the thing i'm writing no stop it um sorry also i'm quite um i'm quite a a messy headed person a messy talker oh god you see that's which is why i like writing things down because because because when you write things down you can you can go and just just all the stuff you want to say and then you think oh hang on the order i should have expressed this is this then this then this they are lovely that's better and i i don't have that i get over excited and over enthusiastic so i've probably been quite messy and confusing i listened to zadie smith the other day on something and she's she takes a massive you ask her a question she takes a huge pause and i think oh she's so clever because she's very thoughtful but it turns out that what she's actually saying after the thoughtful pause is really clever and thoughtful so i it's not just so just the pauses don't work yeah you've got to have both sides of that haven't you because if you leave a long pause and then say something really stupid it just amplifies how stupid it is yeah what you've done is you've made everyone lean in you've gone yeah yeah that's that's where i've fallen down over the years in a podcast you can edit those out right yeah that's true please like i said please help me out with that tom's really good actually it does make people sound quite clever there's only so much one other thing so you're talking about sort of getting stuff out onto the page do you tend to do that with the first draft of stuff do you just like the pair of you do you just go right we're not gonna argue with each other too much just get the main blomp and then we can edit it later or are you quite specific about yes yes yes that's really yes that because uh it speeds everything up so much the first draft if you over over refine everything you write in that first draft most of that will go and you say oh see just you pretty much go story vague uh placeholder joke area coming in going out subjects that are covered so you've done that in the scene by scene but then you sort of do it in the script form but you don't yeah i would say we we don't worry about it that much at all um and then sometimes we'll we'll have a little bit of a discussion about a joke and then we have to remind ourselves hates first draft it's first draft and then and then and then you're at least honing the areas that are going to stay because the amount of time we have wasted just writing and rewriting an opening scene and then in the end you start on page 13 anyway yeah because i think that is something that we've talked about a lot with this it's just like just the importance of getting to the end of something and then you've got something to work with rather than overthinking and over analyzing it's the most debilitating thing in the world over analyze when you're just starting this interview i can't remember the guy's name now but he's like a one of the big writers from the early seasons of the simpsons and he's very well known very well respected and i can't remember his name but he was saying that his process would be just to write any old rubbish so he would literally write homer says can i have one of those marge says one of what and then he'd move on and like you know just get the bare bones down onto the page it didn't matter if there was any jokes in it or not just so that the next day you could go back and you've got something to work from yeah that makes a lot of sense that really does i think beth how long will you spend outlining so much much more time spent outlining than spent writing the script um if you've done if you've done the the work if you've done the heavy lifting with the outline and the scene by scene um yeah the outline is really tough uh and that might take a wee in a series or an episode if you've got the series already there and you're just doing the outlining the episode three days outlining that a couple of days doing the scene by scene breakdown and then you can write the whole script in three days but if you haven't done if you haven't done that heavy lifting the horrible way it's the hot that's the target detergent work we really hate that but the joy when we've got when you've got the scene by scene down and just writing the script yeah especially if you know your characters yeah did you put the jokes you're never going you're never really stuck because you know what they're doing in there it's when you've got a character walking in and you can't think what they're gonna say well they shouldn't be there what are they doing there so if ever you go i don't i don't want to write this there might be a reason that isn't your wit it might just be go back to the heavy lifting go back to why you've been there so yeah we'd spend a lot of time on that i feel like i've learned something today yeah it makes me nervous thank you i talk so much [ __ ] that doesn't make me nervous but um no it's been brilliant thank you so much thank you very much and also i'm i don't want to sound like you know because i'm saying this is what i do i like to put a little caveat afterwards and go not as it sounds like i'm being smug just because i'm saying this is what i do i you know but it is it is what you do that's you know don't don't be shy about it you you are a successful writer about anyone's metric so i'm just aware i'm also quite pleased with myself and as soon as that comes over and i get shoot myself in the foot with my own smugness

i'll stop talking not at all oh well it's been gorgeous and lovely and uh and thanks thanks for doing it and thanks for asking me on and to have a lovely rest of your day and yeah and yeah yeah we should do that we should do that shouldn't we yeah now there's a top tip why don't you say that earlier that's the top tip write something like the end of strictly come dancing wherever they say keep dancing yeah writing yes start doing something thank you very much let me talk to you all and uh good luck with it all thank you very much later take care

but thank you beth that was very insightful i feel like i've actually learned quite a lot today it was wonderful i can't read any of them but you know what i think we should um you know she was talking about log lines yeah i think we should have a go at writing a log line yeah for something either for something that we've got an idea for not more homework there's no holidays here oh no this is we're in the big boys league now but yeah okay two sentences isn't it so dave can't do one of his massive you know we're gonna do a task and dave comes back with like some three-hour epic he's got to keep it very very very long sentences never stop dave uh but yeah two sentences but very difficult to write a log line or a good log line so what we're gonna what we're gonna write it about i think we should do it about our like work in works in progress or work in progress yeah right that would be easier wouldn't it yeah something that's in progress good idea yeah or something that you've got in the back of your mind and you want to start developing that could also work but any something yeah it's all is pre-existing something that exists in your brain currently so a log line stroke elevator pitch type thing that yeah puts forward succinctly in less than 30 minutes uh your idea for something to write yeah yeah don't set yourself targets you're not gonna be able to achieve it give yourself something realistic yeah that sounds good yeah as beth uh says as well it's an important thing to do because it does kind of set in your mind what you're actually writing about it's one of those things that if you're writing it's really good to have like one line just to keep coming back to yes to refocus yeah yeah all right let's do it task for next week

he's so emotional he's not so emotional about it

will you breathe it's just it's like you're very mildly waterboard yourself

you  alright tommy?
where's everybody gone

Beth Chalmers

Beth Chalmers is an actress, voice artist, and writer living in South London. Since becoming a member of the BBC Radio Drama Rep in 2000 she has acted in more than 250 radio plays and currently plays the Dr. Who companion Raine Creevy for Big Finish Productions. She loves animations and has voiced a colorful array of cartoon characters including Coco in Groove High and Queen Martha in Mike the Knight.