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BEHIND THE SCENES with producer Colette Kinsella


Did you create Language Bites! (LB!) for your own enjoyment, or was the series an assignment?

The Languages Bites! series was my own pitch and it was all about having fun with audio. It was a sort of follow-on from a series of three-minute shorts called Science Bites! that I produced in 2010. I've made a lot of short pieces since then – between three and eight minutes – and I love the challenge of creating a fully formed story within such tight time constraints. But I wanted to see how short I could actually go and yet still produce a fun, informative and rounded piece of audio. The challenge therefore was to make each piece 60 seconds long, or thereabouts.

I love language and decided to look into the origins of phrases we use in daily English. I pitched the idea to our national broadcaster in Ireland, RTÉ, secured funding from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and set to work.

The pieces were first broadcast on one of RTÉ's digital stations and then used as inserts on the network's History Show, which turned out to be a perfect fit because so many of the phrases originated one, two or even three centuries ago.

How did you choose the phrases? Was anything off limits?

I wanted each one-minute segment to be very visual and bouncy, so I deliberately selected phrases that had lots of colourful history and great imagery. Take "Slush fund," for instance. I'm sure we've all dipped into a slush fund to pay for a holiday or a new camera, or something like that. But can you imagine literally dipping your arm into the original slush fund, which was a huge vat of slimy, rancid grease collected by impoverished 18th century sailors? What is there NOT to love about that imagery?

I also wanted to stick to English phrases that would be known outside Ireland. Phrases specific to small areas were off limits, as were complicated phrases that would require more than 150 words to explain.

The production with LB! could have been simple, with a little music sprinkled underneath the story. But you decided to have fun, and fill the stories with music and sound effects. Did you achieve the sound you were hoping for?

I'm a huge fan of visual radio, as it were, and I always try to apply evocative images to my pieces.

For this series I wanted colorful, zany segments with lots of music and action. I was lucky to be working with an incredibly talented sound designer and sound engineer who made that happen. Lochlainn Harte and I had previously worked on Science Bites! and developed a great working relationship. We have the same sense of humor, so Lochlainn immediately understood the sound I wanted to achieve. He took my original ideas and made them soar by piling on his own humor and wackiness. It was one of the most enjoyable projects I've ever worked on.

One of your favorite Language Bites! is "to swing a cat." Why?

I just love the fast pace and mix of sound effects in this piece. It still makes me laugh every time I listen to it. It was also one of the first pieces that Lochlainn and I put together, and when I heard the final edit, I knew the series was going to be fun.

We have to ask... are you contemplating any other Bites!?

Yep - I'll be working on History Bites! for RTE. I'll look at small, overlooked or seemingly bland historical objects and will then use them to spin a broader story about a particular time or period in Irish history. For example, a biscuit wrapper can tell a wider story about Dublin in the 1960s: A packet of Jacob's Biscuits is another one of those things lots of people will associate with childhood. A simple Custard Creams wrapper contains more than just memories, though. Jacob's factory was one of the biggest employers in Ireland in the 1960s. They employed boys and girls as young as 14 to work on the production lines and hand-wrap the biscuits. "Marietta were the worst ones" remembers Patricia Elliot, who started as a 14-year-old. Prospective employees were checked for head lice before starting, and whether their hands were soft- or hard-skinned. With jobs hard to come by, Jacobs provided a beacon of hope for many inner city youth. History Bites! stories will be around three minutes long and similar in style to Science Bites!. I hope to start producing them in the autumn (2013).