Welcome to Writers in Various Stages of Development #048 with Kate Hinksman.
After securing a credit on the hit CBBC sketch show Class Dismissed via a BBC Writersroom opportunity, Kate has steadily built a a varied and exciting career spanning comedy and children’s, across various mediums. She was shortlisted for the Funny Women Awards and has credits for popular shows such as JoJo and Gran Gran, Hypothetical, and the SeanceCast podcast.
When did you start writing?
I started writing sketches at university for the student radio station (UEA’s Livewire 1350AM) comedy show. And then after university I found out about BBC Writersroom and started to send scripts to their open submission windows. I didn’t start calling myself a writer until a couple of years after this, when I needed to convince my landlord that I wasn’t unemployed.
What was your first credit as a writer and how did you land it?
My first credit was for a sketch show on CBBC called Class Dismissed. This was through a Writersroom competition – they provided descriptions of the show and of characters you could write sketches for, so it was a great way to get experience of writing to a brief early on.
I wrote a sketch for the series one in which Mr Christopher, a self-absorbed music teacher, disrupts an exam by breaking into song. Class Dismissed is my exact sense of humour, the perfect mix of nostalgia, immediately recognisable characters and also fart gags, so I feel really proud to have been a part of it.
Are you a full-time writer or do you balance with a day job?
I have always had at least one other part-time job alongside the writing, and in the case of one horrific Christmas period, two retail jobs (would not recommend this! Great for material though).
I make it work by trying not to be too hard on myself. I think when people start to write there is this idea that you have to be endlessly prolific and spend all of your free time writing, but personally I know I don’t produce my best work unless I set boundaries for myself and get lots of rest. At the moment I work as a freelance copywriter, which I really enjoy.
What script writing software do you use and how important is it for new writers to equip themselves with these tools early on?
I use a cloud-based programme called Celtx which is quite user-friendly, however I am in the process of replacing my (laughably ancient) laptop and investing in Final Draft, which is generally considered the industry standard.
I think it’s a good idea to equip yourself with software like Final Draft as soon as you can because it shows you’re investing in yourself and your career, and it will make your life so much easier in the long run! But even if you just have Word, the main thing is to just make your scripts really clear and to show that you understand what a script should look like, especially if you are just starting out.
You shortlisted for the Funny Women Awards with a sitcom about librarians. Why do you
think the script stood out to judges? Is it a project that you’d like to return to one day?
Funny Women are fantastic at loudly, enthusiastically championing women making comedy of any kind, so I was really pleased to be shortlisted for the writing award in 2014.
My script was a sitcom pilot called On the Shelf, about people working in a library that is under threat from extensive cuts. I don’t know exactly why it was picked, but I remember really enjoying creating the characters and trying to make their dialogue fun and distinctive – so hopefully that’s what came across!
I probably wouldn’t return to it now, mainly because there is already an excellent sitcom on Radio Four about librarians called Shush! with Rebecca Front, one of my comedy heroes. To try
compete with that would be madness.
You’re on the writing team for the incredible (and award-winning) CBeebies animated series JoJo and Gran Gran. How did you get involved in writing on the show and what is the process like for writing an episode?
Getting to write for JoJo and Gran Gran has been an absolute dream – it’s the show I wish had been around when I was little. I was hired last year to write four audio episodes for CBeebies Radio, with Liam Swann writing the other four.
Writing for a series which was both audio-based and for young children was a really interesting experience, because we had to decide early on what the voice of the show should be (and to ensure it was as consistent across the series) and to think about different ways to actively engage the listener: either directly through narration from the characters, or through sound effect choices and dialogue that is rich in description and unpacks what is happening in each scene.
We ended up with some lovely, warm episodes (and I got some nice feedback from my friends with kids!).
What is CBeebies Radio and how can writers get involved?
CBeebies Radio is an online radio station for preschoolers, with original audio stories and activities featuring various CBeebies favourites. A bit like BBC Sounds podcasts, but for kids!
I think the best way to get involved with writing for either CBeebies radio or the CBeebies/CBBC TV channels is to make contact with Writersroom, as they are always looking for new voices. Submit to their open calls or send them a quick email to find out about the different schemes they run and how you can take part.
With preschool, there are LOTS of rules surrounding what you can’t do (although the Bluey team are working through breaking all of these rules!).
Are there any things that you’ve included in a pitch or a script that had to be cut?
Quite a few things, yes! But this is the norm with preschool You have to always be ready to rework what you have to make sure it’s appropriate, or to take advantage of an opportunity for a good teaching moment.
I really enjoy the challenge of trying to look at a script from the perspective of an age group that is constantly questioning and fascinated by everything. There are also always script editors and educational consultants who can lend their support and knowledge to keep you on the right track, which helps a lot. The JoJo and Gran Gran team were amazingly helpful for this.
You joined the writing team for series three of Hypothetical. What was it like writing on the show?
Really fun! It was a good mixture of time spent brainstorming different scenarios for the panellists to play with, and then road-testing our suggestions as a group.
The writing team were all really generous with each other’s ideas and it was always made really clear what we should be aiming for in terms of tone and content. And the biscuits were delicious.
SeanceCast was a really fun podcast with an impressive list of writers. How did you initially get involved in the project and how collaborative was the process?
Zoë Tomalin was the script editor for Hypothetical, and she invited me to pitch for SeanceCast. The series has a massive team of amazing female and non-binary writers so again, really grateful to be part of such a cool team.
Zoë and Charlie Dinkin are ridiculously funny and had a really unique vision for the series which was clear from the start, and they (along with producer Benjamin Sutton) also encouraged us to be true to our personal writing voices and to go as weird and left-field with our sketches as we liked, which I appreciated a lot. I always relish the opportunity to be weird.
What tips do you have for writing for radio/podcasts?
It sounds obvious but my main tip is to listen to as many scripted radio shows and podcasts as you can. I like to listen to Radio 4 sitcoms while I’m doing the washing up.
Pay attention to the different ways shows use sound effects and music, and voice-overs, and how these things are used along with the dialogue to tell the story. Dialogue in audio is fun because you can use it to paint the scene and to be a lot more descriptive than you necessarily would in TV writing.
What advice do you have for writers who may have picked up a credit or two but are struggling to find more opportunities?
Have a solid sample/spec script that can act as your calling card, something you can have ready to go if someone puts a call out for new writers for a project (which does occasionally happen on Twitter). This is also handy if you do happen to make a connection with someone who then asks to see an example of your work. Also, make sure your CV stays up to date, even if you just have a couple of credits. Basically, be as prepared as possible!
I think it’s important to find a sense of community. Follow writers, producers and directors whose work you like and don’t be afraid to (politely) reach out to them but equally, build relationships with writers who are at the same stage in their career as you, both online and offline.
Stay in touch with writers you meet in workshops and writers’ rooms; join screenwriting or comedy groups in your local area. These are good things to do because you will start to find opportunities in new places. You will also find your peers (and potential collaborators) and create a kind of support system where you can encourage one another and celebrate each other’s wins.
Are there any books or scripts that you would recommend to other writers? (can also be
podcasts, youtube videos, blogs etc)
I’m not sure how helpful this is but I like to read comedy writer’s autobiographies and kind of live vicariously through their past experiences. Rachel Bloom’s I Want to be where the Normal People
Are is hilarious and moving; it also gives a lot of insight into her choices as a writer and performer. My Mess is a bit of a Life by Georgia Pritchett is also brilliant for the same reasons (although a very different book!). For structure in sitcoms, you can’t go wrong with Dan Harmon’s story circle blog series.
If you could reboot any series or movie, what would it be and what would you change?
Some people might argue that we don’t need any more Ghostbusters reboots, but I personally disagree. My addition to the GCU (Ghostbusters Cinematic Universe) would be a reboot of the 90s animated series Extreme Ghostbusters, in which a thirty-something Egon trains a group of
community college students to follow in the original team’s footsteps.
It had a great, diverse cast (and an early example of disability representation!) and some of the episodes were legitimately terrifying. The main thing I would change is that Egon and Janine would finally get together, and characters would stop saying thirty is too old to be a Ghostbuster.
I would also love to write a new screenplay adaptation of Cold Comfort Farm, one of the funniest novels ever.
What’s the worst part of being a writer?
Yes it is normal and an inevitable part of the job, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating –especially when a project or competition entry is rejected without any feedback. I’ve found having a good support system helps, as does allowing yourself a brief allocated wallowing period before moving on.
If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give to yourself at the start of your
I would probably just tell myself to have confidence in my abilities, and give myself permission to take up space. Take up all of the space.
What makes you laugh more than anything?
The late, great Chris Farley’s Matt Foley sketch on SNL. “I am divorced, and I live in a van down by the river” is my favourite delivery of a line ever, and the coffee-table fall is solid gold physical comedy. I love that the rest of the cast can barely hold it together for the entirety of the sketch. Just thinking about it now is making me laugh.
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