Tag Archives: Malorie Blackman

Malorie Blackman – Flipping reality

The one event I wanted to go to on Saturday was Malorie Blackman talking to Gemma Cairney. Turned out she was only appearing remotely, but you can always record from your attic, which is what Malorie did. I’ve heard her talk many times, but never knew she went by the name Lorie. So I live and learn.

It’s what she does herself as well. Malorie likes taking a new course at City Lit every year, just to learn. And these days she gets paid to daydream. Take that, teachers!

Her Noughts & Crosses series is an alternate Britain, a recognisable here and now. It’s not dystopian; Malorie simply flipped reality. Callum is most like herself, and she gave him a couple of her own experiences. One was the time she was on a train travelling first class and the guard thought she’d stolen the ticket. The other was at school, being told by a teacher that there were no black scientists [to tell them about].

Imagination is like a muscle. You need to use it. And you should read read read. Malorie calls herself nosy, which is another way of talking about research. One should be curious.

Othello was her first coloured character. Later on she frequented the black bookshop, (New Beacon Books), in Islington. They stocked mostly African and Caribbean books, as there were relatively few black British books.

After a slow start for black authors, according to Malorie, about fifteen years ago they were ‘almost fashionable for a while’, but six or seven years ago it was down to her and someone else again. One of her early books was accepted by a publisher purely for their ‘multicultural list’ and they said no to her second idea for a book.

Reading The Colour Purple Malorie felt that ‘maybe I can do this too’. Before that she read Jane Eyre, Rebecca and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (leading to her reading all the other Agatha Christie novels as well). This was due to the influence of the librarian who pointed her in the right direction. These days she often gets sent books, or her agent does. One recent book she recommends is The Upper World by Femi Fadugba, which is out soon.

In answer to a question whether she waits for the muse or just starts to write, Malorie said you ‘sit down and get on with it’. In her case it’s from nine to six in her attic office, with an hour for lunch. She’s looking forward to the second television series of Noughts & Crosses, and feels very lucky to be able to experience the bizarre, lovely feeling of seeing her own thoughts translated onto the screen.

To finish, Malorie read chapter 16 from Endgame, the last in the Noughts & Crosses series, publishing in September. We’ll just have to wait.

The Penguin Random House Highlights Presentation

I got up bright and early, by which I mean I set my alarm clock, for a change. I was looking forward to an event that I’ve not been able to attend for far too many years owing to the distance, to get there and back in a day. It was time for the Penguin Random House Highlights Presentation, zoom version.

While I lamented the fact that I’d only actually heard of one of their advertised authors, Malorie Blackman, I still believed I’d learn something new. I did. It was that there was no zoom link forthcoming.

Though to be fair, when after half an hour I emailed the person who had invited me and also reminded me of said invite, there was an automated response, with the actual link enclosed. But I don’t believe I should have worked that one out on my own.

I was able to listen in on about 25 minutes of the presentation, which was well enough done. Less of the embarrassing pauses and delays one gets used to in cyberspace. But by then I was rattled enough not to take notes, so I took no notes. Let’s simply agree that there will be books in 2021, and they will be nice and just right for some children of various ages. The authors all came across as very pleasant people.

But there was none of the reminiscing by one [live] author to another, regarding who had been drunk at the last publishing party. (Which I’m obviously too discreet to mention, even now.) There were no freebies or piles of new books to help yourself to. I don’t care about the wine. But meeting people, be they the famous author over there, or the PR assistant over here, doesn’t matter. It’s networking. And this stood me in good stead for many years.

To remind myself of what used to be, I looked up the previous live occasions, a long time ago. Those days when I could pretend I was as important as Nicholas Tucker, or Nicolette Jones.

Malorie tweets

And for those who happen to believe that the world in Noughts & Crosses is fantasy, made up and not in the slightest real or likely to be:

Malorie Blackman – mostly – flipped our world to her alternative world, so what happens to white people in the books/television series, happens to black people, right here, right now.

Also, for anyone who feels she must be OK, because she’s famous, here is an earlier tweet from Malorie about what it’s like to be her. I’d like not to believe it, but I’m afraid I do. I mean, not that I ever expect Malorie to tell lies; I’d just want our world to be rather more advanced than her tweet suggests. The many replies to that tweet, should you decide to go and have a look, show quite how many black people are not expected to do anything except clean, and serve the coffee. Not even drive the buses.

Noughts & Crosses

It was good. What am I saying? It was great. Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses on BBC 1 was just as I’d have wanted it to be. It doesn’t quite follow the plot of the book, but the feel of it is right. And that’s what matters.

Sephy and Callum are perfect, as are their respective parents and siblings with all their flaws. Jude is promising as the terrible man he becomes [at least in the book]. As with the novel, even when you know that black and white people have swapped places – from our reality – you still have to work at seeing what’s going on. The brown plaster scene was illuminating in its simplicity.

I hope the next episodes will be as fantastic as the first one. It’s about time we had a really great dramatisation of one of our best YA novels.

Crossfire

Malorie Blackman has still got it. I was concerned that after so many years since the first four Noughts & Crosses novels she would have lost momentum, but with what’s going on in the world to inspire her, there is little risk of that. In fact, more than ever, Malorie has hit the right spot re what’s wrong with our country. It comes across as just as bad, whatever the skin colour of the people doing wrong things to others.

Malorie Blackman, Crossfire

The intervening years had made me forget exactly how we left Callie Rose and Sephy and Tobey. But it didn’t take long to get back in there, and it felt like returning to old friends, and getting to know new ones. Troy and Libby are the next generation, still at school, and formerly great friends but now at logger-heads over colour issues and politics, as well as their different chances of having a good future.

Troy is the black son of Sephy, half-brother to Callie Rose, and Libby is the white daughter of Tobey and Misty. And yes, Tobey is now Prime Minister – the first Nought to get that far in politics.

There is much going on here, and I won’t list it. However, I will mention that this book has no plot ending, but finishes with a resounding cliffhanger. It’s probably for the best, as the issues at stake are far too big to sort out in one volume. Just like our own troubles, which occasionally appear to be just the same.

I’ve been saying for some time that I’m not ready for a Brexit YA novel. But this story, set in an alternate Britain, is just about something I can cope with. Upsetting and heartrending, but not ‘real’ real. Just awfully real, all the same.

The difficulty of buying books

I went to Waterstones. I even went upstairs, despite me saying I wouldn’t (because of the crazy lift). I walked up. And down again.

It was a choice between spending my money on the High Street or online, so I went to the physical shop, stairs and all. I had about six or seven books on my list.

After trying not to fall over the outstretched legs of the family sitting in the armchairs upstairs, in the children’s department, I eventually found Malorie Blackman’s Crossfire. It had a ‘second book half price’ sticker, so I thought ‘Great!’ Because I was buying several books.

But there was no other book from my list.

I hobbled downstairs again and looked for the adult books on the list. Good Omens is not shelved under Pratchett, and after a bit I discovered it under Gaiman. Then I saw one with a nicer cover on one of the tables.

After which I found no more books [from my list].

I know. I could have ordered them online, to pick up in the shop. I just didn’t think I’d have to. They were all new novels by big names. To be fair, they had every single Skulduggery Pleasant book except for the new one. And that was the one I needed.

My next solution was to look for the books in the Charlotte Square festival bookshop. And three of them were available. I deemed one too expensive. It’s a hardback, which I hadn’t counted on. The other two were also hardbacks and so huge I came to the conclusion there was no way I’d walk round carrying them along with my daily burden.

All this makes online shopping quite attractive. I haven’t decided what I’ll do yet.

It’s the worst she’s known

Malorie Blackman apologised for sounding a bit Darth Vaderish (sore throat), but the audience in the full New York Times Main Theatre didn’t mind. We’d come to hear about Malorie’s new book Crossfire, the fifth book in her Noughts & Crosses trilogy. Or the second book in the second trilogy, whichever you prefer.

The title above refers to how Malorie sees life in Britain today. Not being black, I’ve only been able to guess at how the last three years have played out, and it’s dreadful to have it confirmed. In the YA world she’s a star, while outside it she’s black. Or, as readers have said about her Noughts & Crosses books, ‘it’s about Ireland, isn’t it?’ Or Israel. Or anywhere else where you have two opposing groups of people.

Malorie Blackman

Malorie was in Charlotte Square talking to Lindsey Fraser about her dark, but necessary, books that first arrived in 2001. And here we are – needing them more than ever – eighteen years later.

As Lindsey pointed out, you have to think when you read her books. Books written by someone who as a girl couldn’t afford books, so went to the library where she tried to make her weekly selection last the whole week. She at first found Jane Eyre a bit dry, but it’s long since one of her favourite books.

Discussing reading age, Malorie feels the Noughts & Crosses series is a little unsuitable for ten-year-olds, but some young readers just skip the ‘kissy bits,’ which proves that self-censoring works just fine.

Malorie Blackman

We will soon be able to watch a six-part series on television, and we were the first to be shown a video clip from it. Stormzy has been involved, somehow, because he’s a big Noughts & Crosses fan, just as Malorie is a big Stormzy fan.

There will be one more book, Endgame, the sixth of the trilogy, and then she ‘must stop.’ Malorie doesn’t want to write a prequel, but admits to having considered it. She reckons Jude is ‘a bit of a git,’ but he was fun to write. She wants her readers to understand why he did what he did, while not sympathising with what he ends up doing.

Having been prevented from going to university by her careers teacher, Malorie now feels that the woman actually did her a favour, teaching her not to give up when the rejection letters kept coming.

Malorie Blackman

And much as I and the rest of the audience would have wanted a literary university experience for young Malorie, we are grateful for the books. And for being a role model and for giving young, black readers a sense of belonging.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

A wet day in Charlotte Square

As first days in Charlotte Square go, Sunday was probably the wettest we’d known it in our ten years of book-festing. Although I gather Photographer and I missed a much more exciting first 24 hours by not being there on the Saturday…

The rain meant we skulked indoors most of the time, which in turn meant that authors were mostly viewed from afar, through the doorway of the yurt, as they dashed to avoid a soaking. The rubber ducks looked happy, but they might have been the only ones.

Photo calls, when they happened, took place under a little plastic roof, keeping the authors dry. Not so much the photographers.

Malorie Blackman

And so much has changed! And you know how I feel about change. I’ll get used to it, I suppose.

The two bookshops are now one big shop, with a very large café area in the middle. This didn’t prevent people from having coffee at the two signing tables, however, which was a little awkward when you have a couple of authors and their fans, standing there not knowing what to do.

The toilets. Yes, you want to know about them, don’t you? They have one for Gents, one for Ladies, and one for Everyone. Plus the usual baby changing and accessible ones.

Even my favourite theatre, the Corner Theatre, had changed. It’s now arranged the same way as all the others… A witch likes a back row near a door. But otherwise it was fine!

Ben Okri

The large signing tent was – I believe – mostly as it was last year, when it had changed. Here is Ben Okri at the end of what seemed like a rather long signing session.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

Choices

I was quite tickled to discover vigilante dentists in the book I was reading in the dentist’s waiting room this week. It was by Steve Cole, so not all that unlikely. I require books when in waiting rooms. It deals with the nerves. But I had nothing I’d started on this time, and it can be hard to open up a new novel in a waiting room situation. Because you just don’t know, do you? So I grabbed Steve’s latest, reckoning I’d be safe with him.

Wasn’t sure if I’d been sent this book for having been so positive about the first one in the series, or if I just look like a Steve Cole fan.

But these days I have shopping lists for books. It used to be I’d want the odd book I’d not been sent, and I’d maybe buy it if temptation got the better of me. Now I’m resorting to lists of books I want to read. The main reason for not having dealt with my current list yet is that I’ve not had time to shop, or felt I’ve had lots of time for reading. It’s not that I’m not wanting to read these books.

I even want a copy of Good Omens, despite having already bought one, over ten years ago. I pressed it into the hands of Son, and that was it. Now I want my own copy.

There are far too many top choices in books that publishers are being quite sparing with. Malorie Blackman’s new book was offered on Netgalley to a limited number of readers. Adrian McKinty’s golden new crime novel is proving impossible to hunt down. And so it goes.

Bad for the image of the blogger who not only gets everything free, but makes money from their blogging. WordPress are quite insistent that I want, need, their professional upgrade. Not so much to spread the word, but to make money for ‘my business.’ And I thought I was merely writing for pleasure…

I admit I’m tempted sometimes. But then I remember that with the lesser paid-for options you don’t even get snow in December. I almost cried last winter when the snow failed to fall on Bookwitch.

The 2019 EIBF launch

The launch of the Edinburgh International Book Festival programme is the kind of event where when you squeeze past a couple of people to get to the Ladies, the people you squeeze past are Val McDermid and Jackie Kay. So you need to practise your best be cool at all times face, but I’ve got one of those. Except maybe when I arrived last night, and crawling (almost, anyway) up the stairs I came face to face with my EIBF boss Frances Sutton, and she was somewhat alarmed at my [lack of] Everest climbing skills. (I was carrying contraband, and it was very heavy.)

I arrived unfashionably early. But so did Mr and Mrs Brookmyre, whom I last saw four days ago as we left the Bloody Scotland launch ‘side by side.’ There was no avoiding Kirkland Ciccone and his selfie-taking mobile phone. But he was looking dapper, as everyone pointed out. I chatted to Eleanor Updale, and was introduced to Emily Dodd. There was a dog, too. Nice looking dog with very busy tail.

The proceedings were started by Allan Little, again, and it seems he’d promised not to cry this year, so he didn’t. He did mention it being D-Day and read a poem by A E Housman, and most of us didn’t cry.

This year the large tent will be the New York Times Main Theatre, as they are new sponsors, along with old-timers Baillie Gifford, and countless others. Also new this year will be live-streamed events from the Main Theatre, which sounds very exciting. We can, in effect, all be there.

EIBF launch 2019

As before, the triumvirate Nick Barley, Roland Gulliver and Janet Smyth presented ‘everything’ that will happen this August. As before, that’s far too much for me to mention here, so you need to look it up yourselves. Many big names will be appearing, as will many less well known people. My own experience is that most of these events will be worth going to, be they big or small. But, you know, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, former Prime Ministers, and a First Minister. Sheila Kanani. The new and old poet laureates. Konnie Huq, Malorie Blackman.

Finishing off with some Shetland poetry featuring a peat knife, it was time for more chat and more drinks. Eventually I even came across some vegetarian sushi (but I had my own sandwiches). Found out what Emily Dodd will be doing at the festival. Chatted to Kate Leiper. And then I lost Kirkie. Started walking to Haymarket for my train.

Phoned the Resident IT Consultant to ask where I was. Seems I made the mistake I almost made last year but didn’t, and this year I had come mapless, just to make my life more exciting. (Well, it’s not every day you turn 63.) Found Haymarket. Found Kirkie, too, on the train from Waverley. He didn’t know the way to Haymarket. But then it seems neither did I. He was sitting in a first class seat, but once I’d calmed down I remembered that those trains don’t have first class. It just looks like it.

So he didn’t get us thrown off the train, and it had been a first class kind of evening, and it didn’t even rain. It usually rains on June 6th.