Leaders of the Pack

Leaders of the Pack

August 29, 2023

The Writers Room

Penelope and Ginny Skinner, creators and writers of The Following Events are Based on a Pack of Lies, tell DQ about making the subversive con artist story, keeping viewers guessing and using art while writing.

From sibling writing duo Penelope and Ginny Skinner comes The Following Events are Based on a Pack of Lies, a drama that promises to be unlike anything else on television – a series described as a singular thriller, unconventional in style and tone, with three characters trapped in a tangled triangle of half-truths and lies.

The BBC series introduces Alice Newman and Cheryl Harker, who share something in common: namely a person, and a conman, Dr Rob Chance.

Cheryl (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) is a bestselling fantasy fiction author who, recently bereaved, now lives alone with her poodle, Goblin. Alice (Rebekah Staton) is a formidable but long-underestimated PA who lives in a bungalow with her young son and magician partner. Rob (Alastair Petrie) is an eccentric and celebrated ‘ecopreneur’ (allegedly). Three apparent strangers with nothing in common – except Rob’s dupes, deceptions and delusions.

Creators and writers Penelope (left) and Ginny Skinner

As Rob’s victims finally find the courage and self-belief to take charge, the con is on to try and take a sociopathic predator down.

Produced by Sister (Chernobyl, This is Going to Hurt), the five-part series is created and written by Penelope and Ginny Skinner. The siblings also executive produce alongside Naomi de Pear, Lydia Hampson and Alice Tyler for Sister and Jo McClellan and Nawfal Faizullah. Georgie Fallon is the producer.

The Following Events are Based on a Pack of Lies is directed by Robbie McKillop (Guilt) and Nicole Charles (Hair Power: Me and My Afro). BBC Studios is distributing the series internationally.

Ahead of the show’s launch on BBC One and iPlayer tonight, Penelope and Ginny told DQ about the project’s origins, their shared writing process and finding the programme’s playful, theatrical tone.

Rebekah Staton as Alice, one of three characters at the centre of The Following Events are Based on a Pack of Lies

Introduce us to The Following Events are Based on a Pack of Lies and tell us a bit about the story.
Ginny: The Following Events are Based on a Pack of Lies is the story of two very different women, and the con artist they have in common. Alice was scammed by Rob in the past and also married to him. Then one day, years later, she suddenly and unexpectedly sees him in the street and realises he is about to do the same thing he did to her to another woman, Cheryl. She wants to not only stop that, but also, on some level, reclaim what he took from her, which is, on a big level, a much more emotional thing than she first realises.

What can you say about where the story leads and the journey the central characters take through the five episodes?
Ginny: The shape of a con is very specific. When we were researching it, we realised it has certain stages, and we wanted to shape the story around that to enable people to feel like they’re being drawn in, in the same way you get drawn into a con. So it has a structure very similar to that. But we focus the story around the victim, not the con artist. It’s that structure, but the heroic role is not the con artist.

What are the origins of the project? What was your inspiration?
Ginny: We’ve done a lot of research into con artists, because we just find it a really fascinating subject. And we discovered while we were researching that the pattern of behaviour con artists use to scam someone is similar to, and has the same structure as, that used in relationships involving domestic abuse and domestic violence. We wanted to create a story where we see that pattern being used in both ways, and the emotional effects that has on people and how hard it is to fight against them to escape.

Alistair Petrie plays con artist Rob in the BBC series

How did you come to team up with Sister on the series? And what were those early discussions like?
: We had been talking to them about a few things and then this one just felt like the one like they got really excited about – they got it straightaway.
Ginny: The vibe was the right one with them from the start.

How did you pitch the show to the BBC?
Penelope: With our script, and all sorts of other stuff.
Ginny: I did have a pink cape in my bag ready for the pitch, ready to whip out if the moment required!

It’s been described as an unconventional thriller. What is unconventional about it?
Penelope: The tone is unconventional in the sense that we wanted it to have an aspirational and fun feel, but also contain within it the capacity for the damage and the darkness that really is at the heart of the con artist and their destructive nature and behaviour. We didn’t ever want it to be bleak, and we wanted it to be a world that people want to spend time in and stay with.

What was the writing process behind the show? How did you work together to write the script?
Ginny: Well, a lot of it was in lockdown. So a lot of Zoom calls.
Penelope: But then we bubbled up. So we did a lot of walking together, talking together.

With the three central characters, how did you balance their different viewpoints and how viewers should follow them?
Ginny: So Rob definitely believes he is the hero, but it’s very fundamental that he is not the hero. Each of them has a relationship with the other two that contains certain levels of deceit or secrets they need to protect. So it was really fun balancing those throughout the story.
Penelope: The challenge and the fun is creating a story like that, and with three such amazing actors too. Once it started to come to life, there was such good chemistry with the three leads – it was amazing to see it brought to life.

Rob identifies Cheryl (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) as his next target

This show’s title sets viewers off balance from the start. Why did you choose it?
Ginny: We had used that phrase when we first pitched the show to Sister; it was on the front of the treatment we’d written. So after we’d been through lots of different options about what the title should be, nothing really felt quite right and someone suggested that maybe we should just use that. And it felt right, because it was so out there that it worked for the show.

From the opening monologue, there appear to be lots of theatrical and stylistic touches to the series. What can you tell us about these choices?
Penelope: In this world where Rob is pulling so many strings, you’re never quite sure where you’re going and what’s going to happen next. And we really wanted to bring in those elements from the past – you don’t know at the beginning who those characters are, but we wanted to build that feeling, I suppose of the weight of history, how long Rob has been doing it for and how much Alice is up against in terms of taking on this quest, and it really is an epic challenge.

You worked together on graphic novel Briony Patch. Did your work in graphic novels also influence the series in any way?
Ginny: We do a lot of artwork while we’re involved in the writing process. We draw and we both love maps, so I always end up drawing a map and characters. So whatever the eventual medium is, our process is very similar, whether we’re creating a graphic novel or TV show.

And what do you hope viewers take away from the series?
Ginny: It would be great if the viewers were able to go, ‘Oh, right. I recognise that behaviour. I’ve seen it and hopefully now I know what to do about it.’

What are you both working on next? Is there anything you can talk about?
Penelope: Well, I have a play coming up called Lyonesse, coming on October 25 at the Harold Pinter Theatre in the West End. And we do have many more ideas together.

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