Tag Archives: Malorie Blackman

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.

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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.

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.

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.’