Tag Archives: Malorie Blackman

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.

Crazier by the day

We might as well give up.

I ought to say I’m grateful to my friend who sent me the link to this article (which you really must read) in The Spectator, but considering how awful its subject matter is, am I really grateful? It’s an interesting read; I’ll say that much. But it seems YA literature is in as much of a pickle as world politics. (I hope things will get better, but probably not before it’s got a lot worse.)

Do you remember what I had to say about sensitivity readers a while back? It’s OK, I had no recollection of it myself until I went digging for those occasions when I am in agreement with Lionel Shriver. (Seems I’ve agreed at least twice.)

Apparently you have to be politically correct in fantasy writing, as much as you do in ‘normal’ fiction. If not, you’ll be accused of cultural appropriation. And much as I’d like authors – new and old – to have a spine, I suspect that’s a lot easier to say than to practise.

As for those publishers who withdraw or apologise for causing offence, they really should have more spine. Or at the very least, they could think three times as much before accepting a work for publication, if all that will happen is that braying idiots on Twitter will cause them to take far too many steps backwards.

Some years ago I was visited here by someone looking out for Native Americans. She had many unpleasant things to say about authors who dare write about them without being one of them. I gather she isn’t one herself.

Where to draw the line? Lionel felt that memoirs would be all that was left, but who’s to say that won’t cause offence as well?

I discussed this with the Resident IT Consultant, who brought up Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses series. It turned out we had different ideas about where it might be set. If the books are set somewhere vaguely real, that is. But she writes about both black and white characters. So far, as I understand it, people have been pleased that they are about black characters, and written by someone black, too. I don’t think I’ve come across the idea that there should be no white characters in the book. I have no objection to any of the white people in the story.

But what do I know?

Angie Thomas, who has been praised for writing amazing YA books, with mostly black characters, does have white people in her stories as well. You sort of have to, don’t you? I have no experience of life in Mississippi, either as black or white. I have no objection to Angie’s white characters. She mentioned at her event in March that one of the girls was based on a ‘friend’ at school. I can believe that. Not all whites are like her, but some probably are.

The book I reviewed yesterday, Dreamwalker, is fantasy, and features dragons and humans. James Oswald is human. So the question is did he describe the dragons correctly? Does he even have the right to write about dragons?

In Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina we have mixed characters; half human, half dragon. Who, here, has the moral right to be offended for what Rachel did to one of them?

What many authors say to the common question – how do you know about xxx? – is to mention research, and ‘it’s fiction; I make it up.’

I don’t know where this will end, but I am ashamed of the YA bloggers, etc, who feel they have the right to ruin the lives of so many people by being so bloody rude. And insensitive. And other words I could list here but won’t.