Debbie Moon on Wolfblood, series 2, Twilight, Doctor Who, X-Men, Teen Wolf & more...
CBBC's terrific supernatural drama Wolfblood begins its second series today. We spoke to creator Debbie Moon...
The world is about to see much more of Debbie Moon's supernatural CBBC series Wolfblood. Not only does series two start today - bringing with it thirteen new instalments of Maddy and Rhydian's experiences as teens-with-a-secret in the rural North East - but the Disney Channel has recently bought the rights to the show. Young audiences around the world are about to enter the world of Stoneybridge, meet hero Maddy (Aimee Kelly), friends Rhydian (Bobby Lockwood), Shannon (Louisa Connolly-Burnham) and Tom (Kedar Williams-Stirling), and find out what it means to be not only an adolescent, but a Wolfblood.
We chatted to Wolfblood creator Debbie Moon (whose excellent blog should be a regular stop for anyone with even a passing interest in screenwriting), about series two, writing for a CBBC audience, a Wolfblood film, Doctor Who, X-Men, and why lead Maddy is a world away from Bella Swan...
We’re big fans of Wolfblood. It’s the sort of show I would have been obsessed with as a young teenager. I’m a little bit obsessed with it now as a thirty-odd year old.... What do you think makes it so rich?
I think we’ve created quite a rich world and there’s a lot to dig into, which is great as a writer as you have this world you can explore over many episodes.
What’s been your experience of the fandom?
It’s been great. Obviously I’m aware of the fans on Twitter, and I have a blog and people often turn up there who are fans of Wolfblood. It’s been a really positive response within the CBBC age-range, but I also hear quite a lot from older teenagers who say ‘I’m fourteen or sixteen and I haven’t really been watching CBBC but actually I like this a great deal', so that’s been gratifying.
It certainly has a following. As well as the Wolfblood Tumblrs, I saw one fan-made YouTube video in particular called “I am a Wolfblood” by a young boy who'd done all his own home-made special effects. He had the vein transformation, the speed running and so on…
It’s a great time to be a fan of a show. When I was a kid, it was fanclubs and newsletters, but now you have the internet, you can make your own videos, do special effects in your bedroom, it’s just an amazing resource for fans to be able to connect with things that they love.
Which shows would you have been receiving the newsletter for as a child, then?
Wow. Obviously, Doctor Who and things like the original The Tomorrow People which were quite influential, then films like Star Wars, I was obsessed with Star Wars as a child, and all the sci-fi classics of that day. So it’s very much something I’ve grown up with, the idea of using science-fiction and fantasy to talk about the real world and real emotions.
That’s what really impressed me about Wolfblood, the fact that because you’re writing for an audience primarily of eight to twelve year olds so certain subjects are off the table – sex, drugs, violence, anything too scary – but you still manage to talk about real world themes through metaphor.
Well, I think it’s very much a show about what it means to be a teenager, to be on the cusp of things and no longer quite a child, but changing. Obviously the werewolf has always been a puberty metaphor, but it's also about that kind of psychological change of growing up and deciding what kind of person you want to be, how you want to be in the world. That was very much in the forefront of our minds when we were making the show.
With something like the Wolfbloods' 'Eolas' powers, you're dealing with addiction there, but in a veiled way.
Yeah, essentially, yes. You can find ways to deal with these kinds of stories but still to make them understandable and narratable for kids I think.
It must be quite a responsibility to be in the centre of that kind of fandom with such a young audience. You don’t want to let these kids down in series two…
No. No. It’s always the thing where if you’ve done something that’s been fairly successful you think, 'Oh, we’ve got to make another series now'. Obviously there is a lot of excitement and a lot of potential there as well, but you do feel you want to keep those characters moving in a direction people can still empathise with and enjoy, and hopefully we have.
Did you write the character of Maddy to be a role-model? She has a strong moral centre. She transgresses, but ultimately does the right thing, in series one at least.
When you’re writing a character, you’re really thinking about the character; you’re not thinking about her so much as a role-model and how people will react to her. I think she is a very positive character. I wanted her to be a positive character because it isn’t always common to have female leads in these kinds of things. I didn’t want her to be a passive character who was pushed around by the male characters.
I wasn’t familiar with Twilight when I was first working on the stories but I became aware of it later, but I didn’t want her to be the Twilight female. I wanted her to be very much at the centre of her own story, so if that’s coming across, that’s a good thing.
It certainly is coming across. So you didn’t deliberately write her as a counter-measure to Bella Swan?
No, I wasn’t really aware of it at the time, but I did familiarise myself with the Twilight stories when we were in the last stages of development. I remember going and seeing the movies to see what they were doing, and being pleased they weren’t doing quite what we were doing and feeling 'No, I don’t want my character to be quite like that'.
It's just a coincidence then, that there are moments that feel like a feminist correction of Twilight in Wolfblood? You have the Wolfbloods running through the woods like Edward and Bella, but Maddy is running alongside Rhydian, not on his back...
Yes. Very much so. It’s equal powers, they’re equally strong, they’re equally in touch with their wolf selves.
Do you find that kind of equality is something missing in children’s television and fiction as a whole?
It’s probably something that was missing when I was growing up, less so now. We’ve had a good number of really interesting female characters in children’s fiction over the last few years. There’s been a definite reaction to the very boy-led stuff that I read when I was growing up, which is great of course.
There’s not yet been a female Doctor…
Not yet. But then maybe we shouldn’t be looking for a female Doctor. Maybe we should be looking to create a new show with a female lead which is just as good a show. You can argue it either way.
On the subject of Doctor Who, there are shades of a number of supernatural and sci-fi dramas in Wolfblood. Being Human, The X-Files with Shannon being your sort of Mulder character, and of course, Buffy. Was it your mission to bring the messages and themes of those adult shows to an audience of eight to twelve year olds?
I think it was. When we were creating the show, I think we were aware it was not perhaps a conventional CBBC show. There is a sort of conventional CBBC style that comes across in their visuals and the stories told and the characterisation and approach and that’s brilliant and works really well for some shows, but we didn’t feel we wanted to do that. We wanted it to feel like an adult show that had somehow found its way onto CBBC.
A lot of influences for the show were comic-book related, things like the X-Men comics. It was that sense of being out of control, of having this thing that could be bad but was also good, something that was very much part of you and it wasn’t evil. I didn’t want to do the traditional werewolf story where you turn into a monster, but to show the monster as part of you and that it can be quite good. So it was very much a sort of balancing act of trying to tell a story that was interesting to us as adults in a way that would also work as a story for children.
That all comes across in that last speech from Maddy to Rhydian in episode one doesn’t it? When they're by the stream, she tells him that yes, he's different, but it's natural, it's not something to be ashamed of.
I think that’s a really important moment in the series. There's all this stuff making Maddy and Rhydian different, but it’s okay. It will cause you problems, but it’s a part of you and it’s going to be okay. We felt that’s part of the message of the show, that if you don’t feel like everybody else around you, then maybe that’s okay.
A wider audience is seeing it now of course, thanks to the BBC Three repeat of series one. Has that brought an older audience to the show in the UK?
I think so, yeah. I’ve heard from some people who’ve caught up with it there who haven’t always been aware of it before. It was very much an experiment on BBC Three, to start showing some CBBC stuff to see how it goes across. It’s been interesting to have that kind of platform to reach a different audience.
And the next stage of course are the seventy or so territories who are going to see Wolfblood now thanks to the Disney Channel having bought it.
Yes. It’s already been shown in two or three European countries and in Australia and it’s slowly being moved out to other countries over the next six months or so. We’ll start to see it cropping up in lots of places, which will be very interesting, to see how that concept plays in different parts of the world. Because the werewolf concept is always seen as very European, very German, very central Europe, it’ll be fascinating to see how that plays in different parts of the world.
The mythology of it, you mean? Do you think there'll be localisation problems with rolling the series out across the world? References and jokes that won’t translate?
There’ll be a few references that won’t come across won’t there? I know that in quite a lot of non-English speaking countries, it's dubbed, so I suppose they probably worked that out in the dialogue somehow.
I’m thinking about things like the leek in Rhydian’s locker in episode one…
[Laughs] Yeah, I don’t think anybody outside of Britain will understand that will they, but there you go.
Something just for us.
You just have to write for the specific audience and hope that the emotion comes across.
The next thing you might expect to hear about Wolfblood would be news of a US remake. Is that something you’ve considered?
[Laughs] Wow. It’s not something that’s ever really come up. I don’t know, if it did, I’m sure we’d deal with it. Of course in the US they have Teen Wolf, which I hadn’t actually seen until very recently when the pilot was on TV about a week ago on terrestrial, and it’s a very different thing, it is very much an American teen show.
It’s more adult, more of a high school horror really.
It is, yeah. Their approach to the whole werewolf thing is different to ours. I don’t know if America wants another werewolf thing, perhaps they might? We’ll deal with that if it happens!
How about a possible film spin-off? Is that something you think would suit Wolfblood and that you’d be open to?
Definitely, yes. Again, it’s all the negotiations side of things. The idea of it being a film has come up, whether it will happen, I don’t know. You can’t really take that as a promise but it would be interesting I think to be able to tackle it with a bigger budget and on a bigger canvas and see what kind of different stories you could tell with these characters and this concept.
Would the film still be within the BBC?
I should think so, yes.
I think people will be interested to hear that!
It’s just talk of course, it may never happen. But let's say it has been discussed.
Have there been discussions about how long you see the show running? Could we ever get to 'Wolfblood: the College Years'?
[Laughs] Well maybe. I suppose when you’ve got a show with children you have two options don’t you, you either follow them to college and whatever, or you bring in younger children. That sort of thing hasn’t really come up yet. When we reach that stage I suppose we’ll have to deal with it. Wolfblood the college years, could be interesting couldn’t it?
They could all go to Newcastle Uni, I can see the freshers’ week now…
[Laughing] That would be messy, especially if it starts on a full moon...
I wanted to ask about your only Wolfblood rule, which is, I think your Blake Snyder “one piece of magic” logic, which is that unlike Buffy, Being Human, Teen Wolf, True Blood etc, there aren’t a whole range of supernatural creatures, just Wolfbloods. We’re not going to meet trolls and succubi and whatever else in series two…
Definitely no vampires.
No vampires! Tell me about that.
I think something like Buffy is based on a broad concept that really works, so it can bring in anything supernatural it likes, because it’s a broadly supernatural show. We are very much about what it means to be a Wolfblood, so I think other creatures dilute the essence of the story in a way. It depends on what kind of a story you’re telling, but I think in the kind of story we’re telling, it’s cleaner if we stick to our one idea and try to do that as well as we can.
How far in your mind does the Wolfblood lineage extend? Do you have a bible with all this kind of background in it?
We do have a bible. What we tend to do is not to try to answer the questions until they come up because then suddenly you’ve got this whole list of things that you’ve closed off, so we haven’t necessarily planned every detail of the Wolfblood universe. If in two series time for instance, we suddenly decide we want there to be a whole load of Wolfbloods in, I don’t know, Canada, we can say yes or no as the case may be then. There are certainly Wolfbloods all over the world. There’s a running joke in the writers’ room about an Australian spin-off called Dingo Blood.
Yet to be commissioned?
[Laughing] Not yet, you never know! Potentially yes though, there are Wolfbloods all around the world, there are wild Wolfbloods who live among us and blend in. Who knows what might be going on out there on a full moon?
Who indeed? Not to press you for an actual number of course, but what sort of percentage of the population do you see the Wolfbloods occupying?
I think it’s a very small number, it’s less than one percent of the population. It’s a very small number, I think there were more in previous times. We have a feeling that there was a massive hunting down of wolves in Medieval times and that’s where the traditional werewolf legends have sprung up from. Nowadays, it's a very small number really.
One of the things dealt with by a number of supernatural shows, such True Blood, is the idea of the supes coming out in mainstream society and integrating with wider society. All sorts of story potential opens up from that. Is that something you may tackle further down the line?
Yes. It’s something we’ve talked about. Whether we’d do it in the series or if it’s something that may happen at any theoretical end of the series. It’s an idea that interests me I think. Of course, when you have a secret, sooner or later, that secret starts to spread. We’ve already seen it at the end of season one with Tom and Shannon finding out about Maddy and Rhydian being Wolfbloods. Inevitably, other people will start to find out, that’s how these things work, so yeah, it’s a very interesting question of how supernatural people would integrate with the wider world, and it may be something we tackle at some point.
What’s the earliest we can expect to hear about series three renewal for Wolfblood?
Probably some time during the transmission of series two. I think they usually wait and see how it’s going, so we’ll have to wait and see I suppose.
You mentioned Doctor Who before. There's been some talk, justifiably, about a lack of women writers on Doctor Who. Your name featured in our list of writers we’d like to see a Doctor Who episode from. I think you’ve met Steven Moffat, is that right?
Only very briefly.
If he called then and asked you to write an episode, do you have an idea or two in mind?
I do have a story or two actually. I think every writer who has an interest in science fiction probably has a Doctor Who story up their sleeve somewhere don’t they. So yes, I would have one or two ideas if that phone call should come, yes!
Would you be tempted to bring back any particular foes for the Doctor?
There’s so many good ones aren’t there? I mean, everybody wants to write for the Daleks, which is maybe why they get a bit over-used sometimes but if you’re doing Doctor Who, you’d love to write for the Daleks wouldn’t you?
What can you tell us about the adult supernatural series script you've written?
Not a great amount. At the moment it’s going around to various channels hoping we will get someone interested in it. It’s kind of a supernatural investigation series with people who are investigating various supernatural goings-on.
Are you looking at a full series of hour-long episodes for that?
It will be hour-long episodes yes, probably six, but we don’t really know at this stage.
Of course, and we don’t want to jinx it, we’d just like more sci-fi and fantasy on television!
That would be good wouldn’t it?
We’re not in the spoiler business here...
So we don’t want to hear any details about series two, but, in the spirit of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’s three-word Sherlock teases, can you give the fans three words to give us a taste of series two?
[Laughing] Alright then. 'Romance'.
Interesting. Number two?
It's not one word - but 'wild Wolfbloods'.
And a third word?
Third word, third word... what would the third word be? 'Danger' I think.
There’s definitely danger in series two.
Debbie Moon, thank you very much!
Wolfblood series two starts on CBBC on Monday the 9th of September at 5pm. Read our spoiler-filled review of episode one, Leader of the Pack, here.
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