Welcome to Writers in Various Stages of Development #045 with Dilpreet Kaur Walia.
Dilpreet’s love for writing and creativity is infectious. She’s a successful children’s writer, with credits for shows such as Circle Square, Hey Duggee, and My Petsaurus and is also an accomplished puppeteer who has appeared in various productions, including the Jim Henson’s Dark Crystal series for Netflix. It was an absolute joy to talk to Dilpreet about achieving her childhood dreams and how committed she is to entertaining future generations.
When did you start writing and why?
I started writing when I was a little girl. I loved writing stories and creating characters.
I used to carry a little plastic sleeve my granddad gave me, with characters I had drawn inside. I’d have a whole back story for them and remember taking my collection into Primary school. My classmates would ask about the characters and which new ones I was working on. I still remember some of the names like Mr Mint Flam-it, DJ Kay and Mrs Lipstick.
I was convinced that I had written two books as a kid too, haha! Roald Dahl inspired me to be a writer and I had always dreamt of writing for children ever since.
You have an MA in Screenwriting from the Met Film School. What did the programme involve and do you think formal education is valuable for those interested in becoming a writer?
I love learning and for me I really enjoyed my MA and the valuable advice our mentors gave us.
I did my BA in Creative Writing and English Literature, there was only one module on writing for Radio & TV and I LOVED it. I wanted to learn more, especially about writing for animation and for me the introduction into the world of screenwriting through my MA was super insightful and valuable.
I cherished the time I had at Met Film School, the programme covered a wide range of experiences like writing for adverts, script reading, writing shorts & a feature film script, guest speakers from the industry and so much more.
Everyone is different and learns differently so it’s entirely up to the individual if they would like to do a course or not. I think in life it’s important to go into experiences with an open heart and a willingness to learn and grow, you just never know how life will surprise you with its gifts!
You’re also an accomplished puppeteer. What inspired you to get started?
I still have a way to go and more practicing to do! I always loved puppets but never imagined being on the performing side of it, I always thought I could only write for puppetry and that’s the closest I’ll ever get to the puppet-world.
Every summer I’d set myself an art project and one year I was curious, “how do you build a Muppet-style puppet?” And from that curiosity I had a go, my puppet’s head came out way too big for the size of her body but I still had fun and filmed a little spoof music video with her. Also, I had read about The Little Angel Theatre and decided to see a Christmas show there, it was so sweet and lovely! I volunteered at the theatre’s Saturday Puppet Club where I met and worked alongside a group of passionate puppeteers, it was lots of fun!
Are you a full time writer/puppeteer or do you balance alongside a day job?
I am a full-time writer, currently I’m writing across 6 shows. It’s exciting, crazy and fun, I feel like Roadrunner “beep-beep!” Haha!
I’m loving life right now, every day is a joy and opportunity to continue to make my dreams come true! After working on ‘The Furchester Hotel’ I decided to make the jump and went freelance as a writer, that leap of faith has sprung me from one beautiful moment to the next. I’m grateful for the journey, excited for the present and for what’s to come!
What was your first credit as a writer and how did you land the job?
The first time I saw my writing on TV was when I watched my ‘My Petsaurus’ episode, it was so surreal and exciting, watching it reminded me of when I was writing the script!
I still remember getting the email about writing on the show, it was on my birthday and it filled me with joy! Working with my Head Writer Emma was a super lovely experience and the show has a special place in my heart since it was my first CBeebies show.
The first time I actually saw “written by Dilpreet Kaur Walia” on TV was when I watched my first ‘Circle Square’ episode called ‘Chef Vanessa’, once again it was a joy-filled and surreal moment! It’s absolutely magical seeing the script you’ve written come to life in front of your eyes in the cartoon-world!
As I kid I wanted to jump through the screen and I still get that same feeling today, wanting to jump through the screen and explore the animated world & meet the characters.
You used your own pet experiences to write your two episodes – ‘Scrunchies’ and ‘Gardening’. What was the process like writing these?
Yes, Fluffy our Pomeranian and Chanel our Pomchi were just puppies when I started on ‘My Petsaurus’. It was fun watching them and being inspired by their behaviour when it came to writing. The episodes are super short so it was exciting and challenging finding a way to magnify a Fluffy-Chanel-moment into a nice Topsy-story.
Fluffy loved following me to fill up the water when I’d water the plants, and of course like most doggies, he loved stealing my socks and slippers. So, the inspo for Topsy hiding all the scrunchies in his bed came from Fluffy who still likes to hides socks and slippers in his bed too. Chanel upgraded from chewing on slippers to playing with fluffy-scrunchies!
At what point did you sign with your agent and how did it happen?
Serendipity is a word that comes up a lot when Jean and I talk and the way we met was just that, serendipitous, it was destiny! I was writing for the lovely ‘Ben & Anvil’ at the time and they happened to be in America at an event where my agent, Jean, was too. Jean was talking to them when Daniel & Ailbhe happened to mention that I was writing for them. When they returned from their trip, Daniel & Ailbhe kindly asked me if I was looking for representation because they’d met a nice woman named Jean. I was SO touched that they’d thought of me! I said yes as I was still looking for an agent and they kindly put us in touch.
Jean & I emailed and eventually met in London! It’s crazy when I look back and think “Wow, Daniel and Ailbhe are in Ireland, I’m in London, Jean’s also based in London yet there was a conversation happening in America where my name was mentioned and that’s how all this happened?! How crazy is that?! Is this fate?!” Thank you Daniel & Ailbhe!
What’s your relationship like with your agent?
Jean is absolutely amazing, I view her as my mentor and guide, she has such a warm, caring and supportive energy. When we first met, I felt like she understood my heart and dreams right away, it was serendipitous and I’m grateful to have such a wise-soul in my life.
What advice do you have for anyone who may be seeking representation?
I would say keep working hard on your craft, write, compete (I competed with my scripts in writing competitions), be proactive, look for events where they’re looking for writing, show and talk about your passion!
People will remember you and people are kind, you never know when someone will think of you for a project.
Also, build up as much work as you can for yourself before reaching out. Before I was introduced to Jean, I had only written to two agents because I always wanted to give myself a fighting-chance so I always worked hard, pushed my writing as well as pushing and encouraging myself to grow as a writer and as a person.
You were also on the team for the upcoming Nickelodeon series ‘The Twisted Timeline of Sammy & Raj’. With a show like Petsaurus, there are LOADS of episodes out there to watch to get a feel for the show. How did the experience differ working on a brand new show?
That’s such a good point! I guess I didn’t think of that at the time with ‘The Twisted Timeline of Sammy & Raj’ since it was the first Nickelodeon show I was writing for and I was just SO EXCITED!
My Head Writer Jordan was amazing, full of such knowledge and great advice! I found that rereading the series bible to digest the show helped as well as talking through ideas with Jordan and also reflecting/revisiting the humour, style and tone of similar styled shows really helped.
The characters were loveable and I tried to feel their energy and enthusiasm for things, so when I was writing I tried to channel that energy and get into character as I wrote. I also love writing to music so I wrote my whole episode with A Day to Remember’s ‘Mindreader’ on repeat! Haha, even when I hear that song now I only ever think of Sammy & Raj, haha, good times!
Another new show you worked on is the brilliant ‘Circle Square’. What was it like writing for such a fun and unique show?
Oh gosh writing for ‘Circle Square’ was SO MUCH FUN! Myles is an awesome, open-hearted & creative head writer! It was fun pitching ideas for the show and the cool characters, it is a truly unique and refreshing world and another show that holds a special place in my heart.
The first time I read the series bible I thought “wow, this has such a picture-book feel” and I loved it because it reminded me of my childhood and immersing myself in different worlds/books at my local library. What’s so special about ‘Circle Square’ are the characters and their individual voices and traits, they inspired my story ideas. There’s so much to unpack, explore and so many adventures to be had on an island where anything feels possible!
I’m incredibly envious because you’ve been writing for ‘Hey Duggee’. When it comes to preschool, you can’t get much bigger than Duggee!
How did you approach working on something that has set such a high benchmark and a massive global fanbase?
Ahhhh! I’m a Hey Duggee fan too and genuinely could not believe the day I received an email about it, I was SO PUMPED! I even have a set of Hey Duggee toys/figurines sitting on my shelf watching over me when I write.
It’s my excitement for the show and my love of the characters that guides me as I write, as well as the excellent notes from my Script Editor Jenny. She is admirable and gives great notes, so I try my best to follow them as closely as I can. I believe each show has its own energy and when I work on an idea/outline for Hey Duggee I genuinely feel like one of the squirrels who’s going on an adventure with Duggee and the crew. I even have the theme tune playing in the background when I write!
For writers, it can be an eye-opening experience writing for animation. What lessons have you learnt?
Keep it simple. This is a note I feel like I’ve gotten since I was a child. I day-dreamed a lot as a kid and even now I can get excited by lots of ideas and run with a couple at a time. So for me personally, it’s to pull it back, strip it back to its core and to try and keep it simple.
Is writers block ever an issue for you and if so, how do you deal with it?
I’m afraid I do not believe in writers block because I think as soon as you start to believe in a “block” or obstacle then it will appear and become one. Sometimes hearing the term “writers block” can sound like an excuse too, sorry to sound negative about this! But when I do face a story problem or trying to simplify something because I get too excited by lots of ideas, then I stop and restart again. I will grab a piece of paper and will go through the hero’s journey, the character’s want versus their need and try to see the story beats as clearly as I can.
Sometimes having a break is good, I’ll often visit the garden, I find that nature helps when trying to think through a creative-challenge.
What’s your number one tip for creating characters?
For creating characters, it usually starts as a picture or voice in my head and for some reason I start acting out the character at my desk, haha. I like to feel the character’s energy as their energy dictates their voice, pace and their unique-perspective for me. It’s important for me to understand how a character views the world so that I can hopefully get into that character’s headspace and view the world in the same way and nail their unique voice.
Can you recommend any books or scripts that every writer should read? (Can also be podcasts, YouTube videos etc)
As a student I found these two books very insightful, but I warn you they will not be what you expect…‘Creativity, Inc.’ by Ed Catmull and ‘Is Everybody Hanging Out Without me? (And Other Concerns)’ by one of my writing heroes, Mindy Kaling.
I also adore Jennifer Lee and find her commencement speech very inspiring, you should be able to find it on YouTube. Another video I like to watch is Andrew Stanton’s Ted Talk. Both Rocky and Sylvester Stallone’s journey to writing ‘Rocky’ are so deeply inspiring, I always have Rocky quotes and pics around too, please do look up his story if you haven’t read it yet. I also have the hero’s journey on my desktop and have it printed on paper to keep me focused too!
If you could reboot any TV series or movie from history, what would it be and how would you bring it up-to-date?
I don’t know if I could reboot these two shows because they were amazing but I’d love to see ‘Chowder’ and ‘The Marvellous Misadventures of Flapjack’ make a comeback. If I were to reboot them then I’d lean in more into the mix of textures they’d use in the show, I loved that, like the mix of stop-motion/puppetry with animation. I liked how it would add layers to the universe of the show! At the time both shows/worlds felt so different and new. I think it would be fun if ‘Chowder’ and the gang hosted their own interactive cool, quirky arts/crafts/cook-along show while ‘The Marvellous Misadventures of Flapjack’ would be an amazing world to explore as a live-action feature film!
Focussing on your puppeteering work for a bit, what was it like to work on the Sesame Street and CBeebies co-production ‘Furchester Hotel’? Is it true that there’s a character based on you?
It was an absolute dream come true, such a life-changing moment for me! I still remember walking on set for the first time, this was just before filming, we got to see the set and as soon as I saw the Muppet-faces on the pillars I thought to myself “Oh my word, I’ve stepped through the TV! I’m in the Muppet Christmas Carrol!” obviously I wasn’t, haha, but that moment transported me back to being a little girl and watching my Muppet video tapes and now feeling like I had just walked through the screen.
Every moment during my time on ‘The Furchester Hotel’ was magical, I learnt SO much, not only about puppetry but also about writing too. The warm-hearted puppeteers I was surrounded by were amazing, real masters at their craft, I will never forget their kindness. On the show, Funella would say, “we welcome you with furry arms!” and that was the warm-feeling the team created too, everyone was so passionate!
It was an honour and a blessing to be in the presence of such legendary puppeteers and of course the characters that filled my childhood. Even when I saw Cookie Monster being performed right in front of my eyes, everything else faded away and I only saw Cookie, it was magical! Ah! So, an amazing and talented puppeteer called Warrick surprised me one morning with a Muppet dressed as me called Muppet Dilpreet!
I still remember the awesome Andy and Warrick holding a puppet for me to put on just before a take, I thought the back of the head looked familiar (as my long hair is usually tied up in a bun and held up by two hair clips) and then when I turned the puppet around it was my face on a muppet and I was like “ahhhhh! Wow! Whoa, what?! It’s me?! Is that me?!”
Muppet Dilpreet lived for only a week before being redressed as another character, who I believe was Sir Gary the Knight. Muppet Dilpreet appears in the background of four episodes, it was, and still is one of the highlights of my life, a real fantasy dream come true moment!
Did this lead to you working on the Henson/Netflix award-winning ‘Dark Crystal’ series?
Yes, it was such an honour to work on a Jim Henson production, I still remember watching Kermit and Jim Henson’s name pop up on my video tapes before the movie started, so that moment felt so surreal.
I was so excited that on my first day I carried my Animal fluffy-Muppet magnet I had since I was a little girl and one of my Muppet video tapes with me in my bag. It was a real “I can’t believe this is real?!” moment and I thought “gosh little-me would be mind blown right now!”
What advice do you have for anyone who’s interested in becoming a puppeteer?
Go for it and dive into the world open-heartedly!
My love for puppets and curiosity led me on the puppet-path, and while on it, I learnt so much that I didn’t know and met amazing puppeteers who are masters at their craft. Try building a puppet, play, practice, try out voices, different movements, watch behind the scene videos, analyse your fav scenes from your fav movies and enjoy the world of it. I would suggest watching a show at the beautiful Little Angel Theatre and/or volunteering or doing a course.
Do you have any plans to combine your writing with your puppeteering to create an original series?
Oh my word, I would love to! I’ve always dreamt of writing for a puppet-show as I thought that would be the closest I’d ever get to puppets in my life. I used to imagine the moment I’d get a selfie of me and puppets from a show that I could proudly print and hang up on my wall! I will defo be thinking up some ideas, fingers crossed I’ll be able to do that one day in my life.
If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give yourself at the start of your career?
I would tell younger Dilpreet to not worry as much, you always give your best and that’s enough. You’ve always followed your heart and stayed true to it, so continue to do that. Honestly just keep believing, putting in the work and letting your true-self and light shine bright. That’s all! You’re doing great, just keep going, I know you will anyway, no one can stop you!
What’s the best part of writing for kids?
Knowing that I get to write for the child in me and of course getting to write for the children of today. Children are the future, they are our hope. It is a blessing and honour to write for children, it’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid, thank you Roald Dahl for inspiring me. I can only hope that my writing will make kids smile, laugh and bring joy to their day. I also hope that the parents/guardians watching also enjoy the story and adventure they’re watching on screen too!
What’s the worst part of being a writer?
I don’t think there is. Sometimes it feels like I run out of time, so essentially “being a writer” is not the problem, it’s just readjusting my to-do-list/time management. The “worst part” of the day can be flipped on its head so that it blooms into a motivating change! Like Jay Shetty once said, “don’t judge the moment”.
How do you define success as a writer?
I think it depends on one’s dream. But to me, success means happiness. Being content with the life you’ve worked hard for and created. Writing makes me feel alive and it’s been a dream of mine since I was little. To think that every day I get the chance to do that for a living is a true joy. I am content and I am grateful, nothing can beat that happy feeling inside.
What are your current writing goals?
For now, it’s to get better and stronger as a writer and to continue to work on my craft. To grow and to learn is always the goal and then for the big life dream it would be to write for Disney/PIXAR one day! The fantasy dream would be to voice a Disney/PIXAR character one day… eek, just imagine!
What makes you laugh more than anything else?
Haha, I started laughing as soon as I read the question haha, that must mean that most things make me laugh, which is probably true! But the first people who popped into my head were my sisters, they’re the funniest duo I know! They make me laugh so hard with their quirky humour and if it’s not them, then sadly it’s myself! I do crack up as I write springs/outlines/scripts, haha, oh gosh I’m laughing at myself now! Haha, okay I will stop now! Haha!
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