Tag Archives: Malorie Blackman

What colour?

I could never quite bring myself to ask Malorie Blackman what colour some of her characters are.

In Noughts & Crosses it was pretty obvious, because the plot required the reader to know whether someone belonged to the ruling blacks, or was an ‘inferior’ white person. What made your brain confused was to think of skin colour the other way round. Which, of course, is why Malorie wrote it like that.

In some of her younger books, about groups of children at school, maybe solving a puzzle of sorts; where they all black? And if I can’t tell – although why should I? – does it matter? There would tend to be one or more black children on the cover, which is important for black readers; to find themselves in literature.

This has been on my mind for years, and it wasn’t until the event with Tanya Landman and Reginald D Hunter the other week, that I suddenly realised that we’ve never asked whether Malorie is ‘allowed’ to write about white people. But of course she is.

And if the reader can’t actually tell, then someone must be getting things very right.

Besides, I feel really stupid writing this. What do I know? Why should we have discussions about whether or not someone has permission to write about what they are not. As Reginald said, stories have to be told.

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Bookwitch bites #138

If I was in Manchester this Saturday, I could celebrate Harry Potter turning twenty. But I’m not, so I can’t. It’s slightly premature, but that’s all right. If all his birthday parties happened at the same time, we couldn’t go to all of them. It’s the lovely people of Manchester Children’s Book Festival (oh, how I miss them) who are Pottering this weekend.

Strangely, I had been thinking of Andy McNab recently, and here he is popping up in the Guardian, no less. Andy has opinions on how children learn to read, or in his own case and that of many others, how they don’t learn. Yesterday saw the 2017 batch of Quick Reads launched, and as always the books look fabulous, and I’d like to pop out and get all of them. I hope many of them will reach a large number of readers who need books like these. We obviously ought to have many, many more Quick Reads, and not only once a year.

In times like these it almost feels as if we need to look for news that isn’t too bad, as opposed to actively good or wonderful. These are also times when far too many people turn out to have misplaced their spines at some point, now that we could do with a few more good strong backbones.

Malorie Blackman is doing the right thing in saying she won’t be visiting the US in the near future. Hopefully this is one of many actions that will be instrumental in changing what must be changed.

Barry Hutchison is someone who acts instead of talking. You will remember Tommy Donbavand who was diagnosed with cancer a year ago, and whose livelihood of writing books and making school visits was threatened by his illness. He was optimistic that he’d be able to write while getting treatment, but found he was far too unwell and exhausted to do much. So not only did his good friend Barry alert the rest of us that help was needed, occasionally writing Tommy’s cancer blog, but he actually stepped in and wrote Tommy’s books for him.

Tony Higginson, David Gatward, Barry Hutchison, Tommy Donbavand, Jon Mayhew, Philip Caveney and Joseph Delaney at Scarefest 3 - photo by Sean Steele

Deadlines have to be met, and while I’m sure Barry might have had the odd deadline of his own (there is a steady stream of books from Barry), he wanted to help Tommy, and knowing quite a lot about what Tommy had planned and what his books are like, he wrote a book and a half for his friend.

That’s friendship! If I ever need a friend to rummage in my sock drawer I suppose I shall have to ask someone else, because Barry is a very busy man.

Treasure your library

It’s not new, this idea of saving libraries. People are working hard to prevent closures, or this idea of ‘merely’ giving the school librarian the sack, leaving the books to look after themselves. Lots of authors, and others, were out marching a couple of weeks ago in London. I wish I could have been there.

And then there was this open letter during the week from Chris Riddell and Malorie Blackman and all the other former laureates, to save our libraries. I don’t feel that this should even have to be on the to-do list for children’s laureates, past or present. The threat should not be there.

Yesterday I mentioned the effect of libraries on a couple of authors, one of whom won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize this week. Alex Wheatle’s obvious joy on winning, and his totally unrehearsed speech on how the library [in Brixton] made him who he is, was very moving.

Whether we blame national government who really could shift spending money from weapons to libraries, or the local councils who are financially squeezed everywhere and ‘must’ save, is a matter of opinion.

Halmstad Library

Melvin Burgess BH library

But it shouldn’t be like in my former home town in Sweden, which has a lovely, newly built library, where clearly no expense was spared, which now has problems with vandalism. Mindless teen gangs come in – maybe because they are bored – and they are rowdy and they break things [toilets, for instance] and generally disturb the users of the library, forcing staff to call in security.

It seems they are now trying ‘youth leaders’ and they will hopefully have a positive effect. Or, they could try putting books by Melvin Burgess [see yesterday’s post] in their hands and making them read.

Let’s hope it’s not too late. I don’t have much hope, but let’s hope anyway.

Life-changing longlists

Immediately on reading through the Guardian’s longlist for its children’s fiction prize, I felt grumpy.

Yes, as people said on social media, it’s a really good list. They would say that, of course, and you noticed that I did too. That’s with only having read two of the longlisted novels; Malorie Blackman’s and Tanya Landman’s. And they are award material.

But I liked the description of most of the other books. And I did come across one of them at Yay!YA+ in April, where I heard Martin Stewart read the first chapter of Riverkeep about three or four times. It wasn’t out yet, at that time, and whereas it was available to buy early that day, you know me; I don’t buy books. And Penguin haven’t offered it to me. If I was Martin I’d want my first book to be mentioned to people.

Perhaps some of the other books are also only just out in the shops. That was certainly the case with my life-changing book, How I Live Now, in 2004. I read about it on the longlist, and then found I couldn’t buy it just yet, so had to wait. That turned out quite well for both me and Meg Rosoff.

Brian Selznick seems to have another book out, which is promising. Then there are two authors – Alex Wheatle and Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock – whom I have only heard of because they are in the Edinburgh programme this summer. The remaining two are completely unknown to me, and one of them has a book with a cover so tempting it’s all I can do to stay calm. That’s G R Gemin with Sweet Pizza, along with Zana Fraillon who’s written about refugees, which I also like the look of.

G R Gemin, Sweet Pizza

Hopefully one or two of these will find their way to me, and hopefully they will inspire me, and lead to great things for the authors. Just like in 2004. And hopefully I’m grumping now because no one has done publicity yet, and it’s all to come…

Chasing the Stars

Othello in space. We don’t get anywhere near enough YA books set in real proper ‘old-fashioned’ space. Malorie Blackman’s version of Othello shares much with the science fiction I used to read when I was a young adult.

Set in the future, twins Olivia and Aidan are alone on a spaceship after everyone else has died. Both are very competent technically speaking, but perhaps less so socially, which is not surprising seeing as they have only had each other for company for three years.

Malorie Blackman, Chasing the Stars

Olivia is Othello, so you have to try and look at the story the other way round. The siblings rescue a group of people off a planet (moon?) and things on board the ship soon change, both for the better, but mainly for the worse.

Think murder and back-stabbings, and as with any Shakespeare there is more than one problem for this group to deal with. The twins are 18, but still pretty young and inexperienced and all the new problems soon become too much.

As I said the other day, I don’t know Othello, and I kept trying to think Desdemona (easy) and Iago (harder), and then I gave up. You can read this simply for what it is; a newly written futuristic space drama.

But you know, you could ask yourself what happened to the ship’s original crew. And who is the bad guy on board now? Also, will it end precisely as Othello did, or is there any hope of happiness?

Dessi and me

At least I have heard of William Shakespeare. I’ve read [some of] his dramas and I have seen [a few more of] them in the theatre. But I am woefully un-educated when it comes to the bard. Say Othello and I can’t necessarily name who else is in there with him. Although I am currently reading Malorie Blackman’s new novel, Chasing the Stars, which is set in space and based on Othello. And I read and loved Exposure by Mal Peet, which was about a footballer and also based on Othello.

It seems he has been a favourite with quite a few.

I know Dessi, of course. Short for Desdemona. I had only just learned to read when I had to ask Mother-of-witch who this Sharkers-peh-a-reh might be. He turns up on page one of Kastrullresan by Edith Unnerstad, if memory serves me right. It’s about the Larsson family and their seven children. The mother is a former Shakespeare actress, who wanted to name all her children after his characters.

The kind and sensible father manages to negotiate the right to name the boys, of which they have three; Lasse, Knutte and Pysen [Patrik, really]. Lasse is the book’s narrator and is most relieved not to be called Hamlet or Othello. You can see how that would have cramped your style back in the 1950s, in Sweden.

Edith Unnerstad, Kastrullresan

Ophelia is the mother’s favoured name, but her husband manages to negotiate away from that for a good many years, until the fourth girl and seventh child arrives and his defenses are low. So Ofelia she is, but always known as Little O.

The eldest is a girl called Desdemona, but is Dessi for short. I always used to think that was so cool, and I’d have a child and call her that. (I didn’t. Call her Desdemona, I mean.) Girl and child no. two is Miranda, called Mirre. I liked that too. The third is Rosalinda, and for some reason that’s also what people call her.

Then came the boringly named boys, and finally little Ofelia.

The thing is, I was so young, and knew nothing about Shakespeare, so I thought all the names were perfectly acceptable and normal, albeit previously unheard of by me.

It was a lovely book, and the plot is all about the father’s invention of a triple saucepan that whistles loudly when dinner is ready, and the sad fact that with seven children their tiny (two-bed?) flat is too small for them. So the father builds a couple of caravans on top of two horse-drawn carts, hitches up the two sturdy horses from the local brewery (can’t remember how they got the horses, except Rosalinda loves them…), and the family set off to visit the children’s aunt in another town, where they eventually settle down and live happily ever after.

And that was my introduction to dear old Will and his characters. Sort of.

‘Yes to everything’

When I saw Chris Riddell’s instagram doodle of Philip Ardagh yesterday morning, I sort of wondered if it ‘was him.’ Him, who would take over from Malorie Blackman as Children’s Laureate. Chris, I mean. Not Philip.

Chris Riddell doodle

Seems my instincts were right. I’d not spent a lot of time thinking about who might be next, because for some reason nobody very obvious jumped out at me when I tried. But now it is very obvious indeed. This laureate business couldn’t have happened to a nicer, or more suitable, man.

Congratulations, Chris! Let’s hope laureating is not a Fete Worse Than Death.

Chris Riddell

This makes me wish more than ever that I could be in two places at once. Chris invited me to some do, down in Sussex in early July, but I had already promised Manchester I’d spend the day there. Where is that timeturner when I need it?

Last month I was asked to write something (which you will find out about at some point), for which I thought an illustration by Chris would be just the thing. First I had to own up to having ‘borrowed’ it already, and then I needed to ask his permission to do so again. And a few other questions.

His reply was the quote above, and I rather wished I’d asked for more when I received it. But I concluded I could simply choose to use it as a blanket OK for anything else I might think of…