How Rocliffe Turned My Life UpsideDown

Screenwriter Rachel Murrell reflects on her career journey after being showcased by the prestigious BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Competition.  

When I saw that BAFTA Rocliffe was taking submissions for the kids and YA award in July 2017, I didn’t hesitate. I’d been working away quietly on UpsideDown, my live-action kids’ drama set in a circus skills class, for a few months. I was challenging myself to write a central character with a disability, and this was an opportunity to see how industry readers would react. And if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from circus it’s that opportunities are like flying trapezes. When you see one, grab it!

My only concern was whether I was eligible. I’m a newcomer to live-action, but I’ve written lots of kids’ animation and already have an agent: would they accept my submission? I checked the small print and it didn’t say they wouldn’t, so I gave it a go.

When Farah called a month later to say I’d been shortlisted it was the best moment of my writing life to date. We writers never believe it when people are nice about our work. But UpsideDown had been shortlisted from a blind read, so I had to believe it. I tried to sound cool on the phone, but I could see that trapeze coming and I was going to jump right on!

The day of the showcase was fascinating. Watching rehearsals. Having other eyes on my script. Wanting to cut lines – Kill those babies! Kill them! – so that director Susie Jacobson and the actors could do their thing.

The showcase went brilliantly. The audience laughed in all the right places, and the Q&A was all about what a great precinct circus is for telling stories that speak to today’s teenagers. In the bar afterwards, industry execs were keen to talk about UpsideDown not as a spec script, but as a drama series that could run and run.

My lovely agent Lucy Fawcett sent the pilot script to everyone in kids’ TV, and by Christmas we had three production companies wanting to option it.

I chose the award-winning Lion TV because I love Horrible Histories, they have fantastic production values, and they have the high level international connections needed to make a show as ambitious as this one. I was delighted when Lion brought Sue Nott onboard to co-exec produce it. She’s the doyenne of kids’ live-action drama and I’ve always wanted to work with her. I took all of them to the circus to celebrate.

Since then we’ve been revising the pitch to take to broadcasters and SVODs. Things move slowly in telly, so it’s been small amounts of work interspersed by long periods of waiting. But that’s okay. It gives me time to work on other projects, and to hoover up all the support, mentoring and introductions we finalists get from BAFTA and The London Book Fair.

Oh, and to practice my flying trapeze.

Learn more about Rachel Murrell here

The London Book Fair sponsors the BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Competition.

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