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Once Upon a Time in Zombieville wins GOLD at British Podcast Awards!

May 20, 2018


Once Upon a Time in Zombieville, a comedy serial drama for all the family, has won in two categories at the British Podcast Awards – Gold in Best Family and Bronze in Most Original. This is great news for everyone involved: for BBC Learning in Scotland who commissioned it, Bigmouth Audio who produced it and all the actors who worked on it (both young and old, in Scotland and Canada).

Steve Scott, the Creative Director for Bigmouth Audio, and Phil Feenan, the Creative Director of Elba Studios, had an idea for an audio cartoon for visually impaired kids called ‘Max and Sam in Zombieland‘.  Max and Sam were two young boys, there was a younger sister, Violet, a Mr and Mrs Zombie, an evil Mayor and a 300 year old curse in a sleepy Scottish town.

Steve had the interest of BBC Scotland’s Schools Radio but needed a writer. They emailed me on the 18th of February, 2016, with an open call for sketch writers, asking me if I’d pitch a more worked-up treatment. I knew Steve through my other freelance job as a Voice Over Actor. I’d done various jobs for Steve over the years and he’d remembered my often incoherent ad-libbing inbetween takes to be mildly amusing and knew I did writing as well, especially for BBC Learning.

The most obvious changes to make were: make one of our leads a girl, that’ll be you Samantha; and if this was a show for Visually Impaired kids, then…er…shouldn’t one of our heroes be visually impaired? It was (aptly for a Zombie-themed show) a no brainer.

Incidentally, my Grandfather was an Optician. My Mum is a retired Dispensing Optician. My Dad, spent the later half of his working life, managing the family business, Frank Gee’s Opticians, in Paisley. I was used to hearing stories round the dinner table of the surprising results of eye-tests: in which people that should have been registered blind were out there, driving vans for a living, etc… I learned that vision is a spectrum (no pun intended) and it’s not just ‘I can see’ and ‘I am blind’ ~ it’s extraordinary how well people can cope with limited vision. So, I was keen to have a hero with a visual impairment – and show how well people can adapt to whatever life throws at them. Even zombies.

My research was a browse through this wonderful book I bought from John Smith & Son years ago, ‘A Guide to Diseases‘ (they’re all in there. All of them). Working on it being some kind of macular dystrophy I did my next indepth research: ask my Sister-in-Law Natalie (yeah, she’s an Optician too). She suggested Stargardt’s and I was off… 

So, Max became Macs, i.e. McSporran, Jamie McSporran. He’s a geek. One of those wee sweet obsessive boys into his gadgets and his computer and into finding out how thing work.

As for Sam, she’s our action hero. Fearless. As for her wit: Sam was initially much funnier with her insults, but well, it is a kids show. I mean, kids would have loved her insults, but you know.

I thought it would be interesting to make our two heroes bond over their shared difficulty with reading: Macs has poor central vision and Sam is dyslexic. My research into dyslexia was Penny Sharp, my better half. Penny wasn’t diagnosed until she went back to do an M.Phil, but she’s very much dyslexic. You wouldn’t know it until she gets her left and right mixed up and she can’t read well under pressure.

Finding reading difficult is something that sits really well into the whole radio genre: our audience doesn’t have to read a thing, so it should be attractive to any struggling readers out there! But, they do have to listen!

From Steve’s initial idea, a few characters remained and were developed: a mad scientist, Dr Smillie and a couple of goons, Rigor and Mortis. Not that there actually is any death in Zombieville. I knew – because of years of working with the BBC – that supernatural horror and actual dead zombies would probably be a problem. My Zombies are more sci-fi than supernatural, although, in a way, they’re more in line with Haitian folklore. And my zombies are reversible (like the original Haitian ones). 

My favourite addition to the story is the villain, Voom Buckstop: a vain, power-mad billionaire with no similarity to anyone living or dead. He’s great fun to write for because idiocy and vanity just dribbles off the page. It comes naturally to me: what would a vain power-hungry idiot do? 

As for Zombieville itself? Jamie/Macs is the new boy in town. This town, like Springfield, is not geographically pinned down. It could be in the US of A, or in Canada. But unlike Springfield, it’s never actually named. It’s only ever referred to by its nickname, Zombieville. There’s a lot going on in there.

Well, if you want to know more, listen to it. I really hope you like it. I’m very fond of the setting, the characters and the story. And, you know, the story really isn’t over. I just hope I get an opportunity to tell the next chapter. Fingers crossed the GOLD will help us get there…


2 Comments leave one →
  1. honeypears permalink
    May 20, 2018 9:18 am

    Enjoyed hearing about your thought processes and character development. Also didn’t know you came from a long line of eye-wranglers. 👁️👁️👁️

    • May 20, 2018 3:01 pm

      I always find the creative process interesting, at least following how and why various elements change.

      To be fair, there was very little editorial interference or input, so it was a pleasure to work on. The BBC didn’t have to give me any big steers as I was already well-adjusted to ‘BBC values’ and how to write for BBC Learning/Children. There were a few changes though: Sam’s potty mouth was cleaned up (there are few things more hilarious then 10 year old girls aggressively shouting poo insults) and a pivotal scene was shortened lest it potentially cause offence to nuts. Or those called nuts. Nutty Professor? I know. It’s a SJW minefield.

      Other scenes were dropped because they were technically going to take a long time to tracklay and mix – they were, in essence ‘show scenes’, in which the media of sound would be showcased. However, there was only so much time and money, and at least two of these scenes were cut. 😦 Which was a pity, as they were, in my humble opinion really charming scenes.

      Maybe next time they’ll give us more money? 😉

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