1. What can we expect in the future from Thomas & Friends? Any teasers?
The core team of producers, directors and writers remains the same as the past two or three series – so expect more of the same but with bigger action and more comedy! As for seeing who may feature in forthcoming series... it’s worth paying to attention to the specials…
2. Are you familiar with the classic model-era series, if so, do you have a favourite moment?
Yes, I am familiar with the classic series and I have several favourite moments. I love the strange ending of The Sad Story of Henry. Thomas's dialogue with himself when he thinks he’s pulling the train in Thomas' Train is hilarious. But I really love Rusty and the Boulder – it's strange, imaginative and exciting. It’s just different! Maybe my favourite moment is the eerie, poetic ending but, really, the whole of that episode is bracing!
3. How did you become a children’s writer? Is it something you have always wanted to do?
I always enjoyed writing. I loved TV when I was a kid and didn’t really grow out of cartoons and Saturday morning telly. So I guess children’s TV and me turned out to be a good match. I came to children’s television through publishing. I started writing stories and comic strips for books and magazines and gradually got around to writing scripts.
4. How to did you get involved with the series?
I was invited to join the team by Andrew Brenner, the Head Writer. We met around the table on a couple of other shows and we got along. He is a brilliant, thoughtful writer who puts a great deal of care into his work. And he makes me laugh.
5. Do you have any advice for aspiring children’s writers out there?
It sounds really obvious but, if you want to write for children’s TV, then you should watch a lot of children’s TV. Each channel has its own identity. Each show is different in content and tone. It’s important, when writing for an existing show, to get the tone right.
As far as getting started is concerned, that’s a hard one because everything is so different from when I got my early breaks, 15 or 20 years ago. I used to apply for jobs as advertised in an actual, printed newspaper – which seems positively archaic now.
6. Do you have a favourite character to write for?
Dialogue-wise, it’s fun for me to write for the more pompous or boastful characters. Characters like James and Gordon who always set themselves up for a fall. I also really like Diesel. And Annie and Clarabel are good double act!
But when I’m working on a story, part of the fun is in putting two characters together and seeing how they team up – or rub each other up the wrong way! So, really, it’s not so much a single character as how different characters play off one another.
7. It says on your website that you have written some online shorts. Are those the Thomas’ Comedy Showtime sketches? If so, are they a lot of fun to write?
No, the Comedy Showtime shorts have been written by the brilliant Ian McCue. I worked on the YouTube shorts – Thomas Around the World. I was nervous about writing them because they are a bit different from the TV series. But, yes, “fun” is a good word – they are a bit of fun!
8. Out of the episodes you have written, which would you say is your personal favourite?
Luke's New Friend is a favourite because it was the first episode I wrote. But I feel a lot more steeped in the world of Thomas now than I was back then and so, truthfully, my favourite episodes are the ones I am working on now! But you’ll have to wait until Series 20 to see them!
9. Thomas is probably one of the most prolific children’s brands with a vast history. Is it a challenge to think of ideas for new episodes? Do you think there will ever be a time when Thomas and his friends have done all they can?
Thomas is a huge brand with a very important heritage and, yes, it’s a massive challenge to come up with new stories that are fresh at the same time as acknowledging that history. But we are helped by Andrew Brenner and the brilliant team at HiT. I can all-too-easily imagine a time when my own personal well of Thomas stories has dried up – but I don’t think the show itself ever has to end. It’s such a brilliantly story-rich world, still full of possibilities!
10. Can you talk us through the process of how a Thomas & Friends episode is written?
We watch the latest special and some episodes from the most recent series and discuss how we can build on those. After that, we go away and work on our stories. This is the hardest part of the process. A story might go through quite a few drafts before being approved – or rejected!
Once the story is accepted then it goes to outline. An outline is like a script but without any dialogue. This is established television practice but it’s especially important in Thomas because the stories don’t just move through time – sometimes taking place over more than one day or incorporating flashbacks – they also move through a great deal of physical space (Sodor is a big place!). On top of that, we’re dealing with a working railway and we have to think about where all the engines are going and what they are actually doing and why.
When the outline has been approved, then I write a script and the fun really begins because then I can really get into the characters by writing the dialogue. It usually takes a few drafts to get a script everyone is happy with.
11. Are you familiar with the Railway Series?
Yes and it’s good to look at the original books from time to time – just to be reminded of the tone and the voices. And the humour, of course!
12. Bert, Rex and Mike from the Railway Series will be introduced for the first time in Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure. Do you think any more Railway Series exclusive characters will make it into the TV Series? Is this something that’s been discussed?
Yes. And yes – but please bear in mind I am not part of the “inner circle” as such, just a humble screenwriter, so I am not party to any “discussions”!
13. We appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us. Do you have a message for the legions of Thomas fans out there?
Thank you for your enthusiasm and support! And watch out for Boulder!