Tag Archives: Malorie Blackman

They come in waves, don’t they?

‘What if I say Beverley Naidoo?’ I asked.

I had been talking YA authors with someone; someone who had only started reading YA not very long ago. And I wasn’t thinking, so mentioned Celia Rees and was met by a blank stare. It’s understandable. If you are recommended books to try right now, it will be the most talked about books and authors, plus some olden goldies like Philip Pullman and David Almond. Names ‘everyone’ has heard of.

Whereas when I began reading current YA novels 20 or 25 years ago, there was no Meg Rosoff or Keren David or Angie Thomas. At the time Celia Rees and Beverley Naidoo were the reigning queens to me, along with Gillian Cross and Anne Cassidy. Adèle Geras and Mary Hoffman and Linda Newbery. Anne Fine. Malorie Blackman.

No matter how many I list here, I will forget someone really important. Most of them still write and publish, but perhaps not as frequently as before.

There’s the group of authors who appeared when Bookwitch [the blog] was in her infancy, with 2010 being a particularly fruitful year. Candy Gourlay and Keren David, followed by Teri Terry and Kathryn Evans. Again, I will have left someone out.

And now, those ladies have many books under their belts, and there is a new wave of YA authors. I mentioned Angie Thomas, because she’s brand new, both in the book world, and to me. She’s also American, which seems to be where things are happening now.

When I reviewed Celia’s latest novel, I compared it to Truth or Dare, and her reaction to that was that I’m probably the only person who’s been around long enough to have read both it, and the new book. This struck me as silly, as surely everyone would have read Truth or Dare. Wouldn’t they? Well, they haven’t, and it’s not lack of dedication, or anything. Most YA readers don’t last a couple of decades. Real, young people, grow up, and move on to other stuff. And if you’re already ‘old’ and catching up, you can’t read everything.

But when I first met Beverley Naidoo, I almost curtsied.

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Tricks and threats

I liked reading about the various tricks people use to get their children to read, especially on holiday. The Guardian Review had some tips this weekend, and it’s always interesting to see what others have done. They can be quite sneaky, parents.

Once I had told Son that the one thing I expected him to do at school – this was in Y2 – was to learn to read, I don’t believe I did much else.

As parents we are supposed to lead by doing, and I did read. The trouble is that parenting takes time away from reading for pleasure, so I could have read more.

I’ve mentioned this here before, but for the formative reading years I went to the mobile library just before it was time for our three to four weeks in Sweden every July/August. I looked carefully at what they had to offer, and picked books that might suit both me and the Resident IT Consultant and Son. Children’s books, obviously.

Gillian Cross, Tightrope

There was always a lot of possible choice. But the authors that stand out from that period are Philip Pullman, Malorie Blackman, Gillian Cross, Celia Rees, Tim Bowler. At the time I knew very little or nothing about all of these excellent writers. It’s a good sign that by merely picking holiday books I was able to discover many leading YA authors.

Malorie Blackman, Tell Me No Lies

I’d take about eight books. Any more and I felt the suitcases would be too heavy. But that averaged out at two books per week, which seemed fine. Son didn’t read that fast back then, and the adults were supposed to do adult stuff like feed Offspring and take them to the beach. Maybe fly kites.

But I never told anyone they had to read. I think I would have said ‘these are the books we’re taking this year’ and left it at that.

The only other discussion on what to read or whether to read that I remember was when Son was 14 and we couldn’t agree on which one of us should vet Melvin Burgess’ Doing It before the other one could read it.

I still can’t recall who did the vetting. I blame Tim Bowler, who came to school and was so enthusiastic about his friend’s book.

Occasionally I feel the pressure from Son to read certain books gets the better of me. I say ‘should I?’ and he says ‘well, I liked it.’

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.

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?