Panting, out of breath, a wolf powers through the snow on a desolate moor. He is pursued: two wolves speed after him, bigger, shaggier and angrier…
So begins the new episode of Wolfblood, showing at a BBC Writersroom event at the University of Salford in Media City. The wolves are cutting-edge CGI but the snow, well, that comes courtesy of the Northumbrian climate.
“The weather can be a problem,” admits Wolfblood’s aptly-named creator Debbie Moon, speaking to Northern Soul after the screening. “But on this occasion it worked in our favour.”
It did indeed. The pre-credit sequence is outstanding, as is the rest of the episode. But then Wolfblood is widely regarded as one of the best children’s series of recent years.
Set in a Northumbrian village, it’s the story of teenager Maddy who, as well contending with the usual trials of adolescence, has to come to terms with being a werewolf. While she’s supported by her parents, foster-child Rhydian isn’t so lucky – discovering he’s a wolfblood is a complete shock.
Moon’s premise is genius, but the secret of Wolfblood’s success lies in its execution by a hugely talented team, something Moon acknowledges by referring to it as “our show”.
Nevertheless, Wolfblood was wholly Moon’s idea. Perusing a bookshelf, she saw ‘wolf’ on one spine and ‘blood’ on another. She had a vague notion it might make a children’s book when she saw a call for new CBBC ideas on the Writersroom website. After winning the competition, Wolfblood was commissioned.
“Absolutely it changed my life,” says Moon. “I mean, I’ve never had anything in this league before. They always describe me as a novelist but I feel a bit of a fraud because I’ve only managed to write one novel that’s actually got published – it’s called Falling and was published by Honno, a small Welsh press.”
Moon, it transpires, has no connections with Northumberland and first visited the area for Wolfblood.
“My father was Welsh but I was brought up in England and I went to do a degree there [Wales] many years ago and I’m still there. I was brought up all over the place. At one point I thought we were on the run from someone because we seemed to move house every six months.”
Setting Wolfblood in Northumberland was the idea of a producer who helped develop Moon’s idea.
“In the first draft, I set it in Shropshire,” Moon explains. “But it was always designed to be a country-led piece and the producer had worked in the North East a lot and knew there were good crews, good cast and good locations.
“I’ve loved getting to know the North East,” she adds. “Coming from Wales I’m used to the big open countryside with mountains in the landscape. I live in Aberystwyth, on the coast but not far from Snowdonia. It’s a beautiful area and Northumberland is similar – it’s a wild country where you could imagine there’s something living up there in the wild places.”
The setting complements the brooding and moody nature of Wolfblood; it’s by far the darkest show on CBBC, so much so that it’s picked up fans outside of the channel’s demographic, with a lot of viewers aged 14-25 (and, in my case, 40-something). Capitalising on this, the BBC recently repeated season 1 on BBC Three.
“They’ve shown Merlin and Doctor Who on BBC Three,” explains Moon, “but never actual CBBC content. It’s a bit of an experiment to see how it goes because there’s this gap between the CBBC and BBC Three audience that’s not really catered for. If you ask a 14-year-old to watch a show on CBBC they generally won’t watch it, they want to watch what the 18-year-olds are watching.”
Having watched the new episode, I sense Wolfblood’s second season is going to be even darker.
“Maybe a little,” admits Moon. “There’s been a lot of talking back and forth with the BBC as to how scary the episodes can be. But a lot of people felt they had to be fairly scary in order for the drama to work. It wouldn’t be as effective if, for instance, the bad guys were pantomime villains. On the other hand, although the show’s aimed at 8-12 year olds, you have to take it into account that younger children might be in the room.”
Another first for the show is a special Red Button episode that will be made available immediately after the new episode airs. It shows what caused Rydian, who has been living as a wild wolf since the end of season one, to flee back to civilisation. Moon is reluctant to give anything away.
“Things aren’t quite as they seem. Rydian’s journey in this series is very much about consequences and how he deals with what happened and how everyone else deals with the trouble that he’s brought back.”
Which brings us back to the series’ opening: CGI wolves and real snow on Northumberland’s spectacular hills. It’s certainly hard to imagine Wolfblood being set anywhere else. Moon agrees.
“Northumberland has bled into the DNA of the show now. It’s very much part of the feel and the look. There is a sense that the North East is its own little kingdom which gives the show a real identity. And, while it could be set just about anywhere, I don’t think our show could be set anywhere else.”
But, as with all great ideas, Wolfblood’s concept could transfer to any setting. There’s even been talk of an Aussie version: Dingoblood.
“Oh, that started off as a Writersroom joke,” laughs Moon. “But it’s got to the point where we’re almost considering it. Or not. But, actually, if you got someone who understood aboriginal culture, it could really work. You never know.”
And, of course, as executive producer, Moon would have to swap Northumberland for Australia.
“Wouldn’t that be awful?” she says, deadpan. “I love the North East and that snow was great but I think it’s safe to say Australia would be warmer.”
By Ian Winterton
To see a trailer for the new season, click here.