Queen of the kids’ stories
Miranda Larson, the writer and directer bringing 'The Night Pirates' to Kingston's Rose Theatre this summer, shares some secrets about writing for kids
Think of a famous kids character you’ve seen on the telly or stage and there’s a good chance Miranda Larson been involved.
Thomas, the famous talking train? Check. Bob, the Builder? Check. Angelina the mouse ballerina? Yup. Her list of theatre and telly work goes on… Fireman Sam, Cbeebies’ Melody and Let’s Play, Teletubbies, Ben 10, Power Puff Girls and The Little Princess.
This time she’s adapted and directed The Night Pirates from the book written by Peter Harris and Deborah Allwright. The story tells the story of a group of little girl pirates who descend on a young boy called Tom at bedtime. And while Miranda says she’s kept fairly true to the original story, there are also some new bits to watch out for.
Writing scripts for children’s telly and theatre must be a dream job. Can you give us a quick rundown on how you got here?
After University, I worked in children’s community theatre where I put on shows with children for children. That gave me my grounding and passion for creating for children. I then worked in several TV production jobs including working for Children’s & Events at BBC Worldwide and then breaking out into writing.
Do you feel a bit like you’re still living your childhood – alongside a host of kids’ characters… Angelina Ballerina, The Little Princess, Bob The Builder, Fireman Sam, the Teletubbies?
There is definitely a part of my work that allows me to have fun, push my imagination and be childish. But story-telling also involves a lot of problem-solving and discipline, where unfortunately I have to be a grown-up. So I guess I would have to say that it’s a balance… But the characters and worlds I write for, make every day an exciting one.
You’ve written shows and plays for both boys and girls – is one easier than the other?
I never differentiate between girls and boys in how I approach story-telling. Strong characters and stories is what I focus on.
What are the main challenges of writing for kids?
Children are very honest, which I love. If they don’t like something, they let you know. That can be both challenging and rewarding. Another challenge is considering the various age ranges of a young audience, and trying to capture the imagination of both a younger and older child.
I’m sure there are some major dos and don’ts. No swearing for instance… anything else?
There are lots of rules, especially within children’s television. This can vary across broadcaster, production company and even the country that the show is broadcast. The main rules are not to promote dangerous activities but if you are writing a show that contains danger, then it’s all about reinforcing safety. Whatever the parameters, it never impacts on wanting to write a great story.
Do you have a favourite – theatre or telly?
That’s a tough one. I love both of them and feel very lucky to divide my time between the two platforms. But I have to say that there is nothing like sitting in the audience at the theatre and seeing a young audience laugh, cry, gasp at what you have created on stage.
What attracted you to the story of The Night Pirates?
There is something magical about the simplicity of the words combined with the beautiful illustrations. I was immediately drawn into the world. Then entwined in this magical tone, is a feisty tale of Girl Pirates chasing off Grown-Up Pirates. I immediately knew that I wanted to adapt it for stage.
Were Peter Harris and Deborah Allwright involved?
The script is in development and I am still playing around with tweaks and edits. But I welcome creative input, so I am hoping to share the script with all the team very soon.
What can we expect from the show?
Magical moments, swash-buckling battles and a lot of fun with new original songs. The audience will have a lot of opportunity to join in with action and songs. I have built on the storybook so it’s recognisable to its fans but added a tiny sprinkling of new content, to make it an original production.
What’s next for you? Would you ever consider writing for adults, or are you just a big kid at heart?
I am working on two new children’s TV concepts: Bush Baby World and Mirakin: The Picture Pixies, as well as a couple of new children’s theatre shows (but can’t say what they are as yet). I am also adapting a ghost story for the stage but my heart will always be with children’s writing.