Webchat with Malorie Blackman

Malorie BlackmanThis is an edited transcript of a live webchat with author Malorie Blackman on 19 October 2009. Her first book was published in 1990 and since then she has written more than 50 books, including Noughts and Crosses, Double Cross, Pig Heart Boy, Hacker and Whizziwig, plus scripts for TV series such as Byker Grove and a play called The Amazing Birthday. She has won numerous awards for her writing.

Inspiration | Noughts and Crosses | Pig Heart Boy and xenotransplantation | Children's writers | Age-appropriate booksReading and the National Curriculum

Letter QSwedes2Turnips0: Can we please have a webchat questionnaire.

  • Favourite biscuit?
  • Banksy or Vermeer?
  • Favourite book?
  • Favourite film?
  • What do you value most justice or mercy?
  • Urban or rural for living?
  • Cosy and warm carpets or draughty floorboards?
  • Ikea or junk shop?
  • Black or green wellies?
     

Letter AMalorieBlackman: Hi Swedes,
 

  • Favourite biscuit? Oatmeal and raisin! And I like my biscuits crispy so I don't dunk.
  • Banksy or Vermeer? Banksy. I love artists who have something to say with their art as well as showing off their artistic prowess.
  • Favourite book? Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier or Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
  • Favourite film? It's A Wonderful Life with James Stewart always brings a tear to my eye.
  • What do you value most justice or mercy?  Hmm... Justice. Interesting question.
  • Urban or rural for living? Urban, but only just.
  • Cosy and warm carpets or draughty floorboards? No contest - warm carpets.
  • Ikea or junk shop? Ikea.
  • Black or green wellies? Green.


Letter QChampagnesupernova: Hi Malorie, I'm going to have to 'fess up to not having read any of your books but I did read recently that you've got 10,000 books at last count. Where do you put them all?! I probably have 500 and I feel like they're coming out of my ears! Also there's a thread on the site at the moment about lending books - where are you on this?

Letter AMalorieBlackman: Well actually, we have closer to 15,000 books now. And I have to confess that a number of them are decorating the floors in various bedrooms and the attic as well as wall to wall bookcases. But I wouldn't have it any other way - and neither would my hubby or daughter. We love our books. As far as lending books is concerned, I agree with Polonius from Hamlet - neither a borrower nor a lender be (unless it's from a library!). For example, a friend of my hubby's tears out the pages of his books as he reads them so that when he opens his book he'll always be at the right page. Needless to say, he won't be reading any of our books any time soon!
 

Inspiration as a writer

Letter QBatterflyeffect: Can I ask what inspired you to write books which appeal to boys as well as girls? In general there seems to be something of a gender divide with young fiction.

Letter AMalorieBlackman: To be honest, I write the kind of stories I like to read. I like stories with a strong plot and characters I care about and I've been lucky that my books seem to appeal to boys just as much as girls. They say boys prefer books where character is revealed via action and girls prefer books where action is revealed via character but as long as both work then I think you'll attract both boy and girl readers. 

Letter QNannynick: What made you decide to write your first children's book and what was that book (was it ever published)? 

Letter AMalorieBlackman: Hi Nanny, I decided to write my first children's book when I was in my mid-20s because at that age I still enjoyed reading children's books. Two years and 82 rejection letters later, I had my first book published. It has long since been out of print but it was called Not So Stupid and it came out in 1990.

Letter QMichkit: Myself and my 22-month-old daughter love your book Jessica Strange. Did you feel different from other people? Was that the inspiration for the book? Thank you!

Letter AMalorieBlackman: Thanks for your kind words about my book. I've always felt different to other people and I'm glad of it. I've always encouraged my daughter to 'dare to be different' and not follow the crowd and think for herself. So I guess the book is a story about accepting and loving yourself for who and what you are.

Letter QAntoxo: Hi again, I've just been looking at your website and see you had quite a few other jobs before you became a published author. Did you always want to become an author? Did you write as a child? Who were your influences and was there a particular person who encouraged you to believe you could make it?

Letter AMalorieBlackman: Hi Antoxo, I had a number of summer and Saturday jobs whilst I was doing my O and A levels but my first full time job was in Computing. I started off as a glorified filing clerk and went on to be a programmer, a systems orogrammer and then a capital markets database manager (that was so boring!). To be honest, I didn't think about being a writer until my mid-20s because it never occurred to me that black people became writers until I read The Color Purple by Alice Walker and that was when I was 23. I hadn't read a novel which featured black characters before that. So in a way, that book definitely opened my eyes in more ways than one. That said, I have always written stories and poems for myself from the time I was seven or eight but that was for my own amusement.

Letter QDeepdarkwood: What books most inspired and moved you as a child?
 

Letter AMalorieBlackman: So many books moved and inspired me as a child. I loved myths, legends and fairy stories in particular. But when I was 10 or 11, I felt children's books no longer 'spoke' to me so I started reading adult books (there were no books written specifically for young adults at the time). I devoured Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple stories and read other books that were totally unsuitable for an 11 year old! I remember being particularly inspired by The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis. I loved what it had to say about believing in yourself and believing in something bigger/better/greater than yourself, even when others are laughing at you or telling you that you're wrong.
 

Noughts and Crosses

Letter QLio: Hello Malorie. (SPOILER ALERT: don't read this if you're planning to read Noughts and Crosses soon.) Did you agonise over killing off Callum at the end of Noughts and Crosses or was it a decision you made very early on?

Letter AMalorieBlackman: Just to answer your question, I knew by the time I was writing the middle of book which way the wind was blowing but, and this is going to sound totally daft, writing the end of that book still made me cry!

Letter ALio: Oh gosh, not daft at all, Malorie, it must have been dreadful to write. I also think I knew which way the wind was blowing, but it was agonising all the same. I had to read it several times to check I was absolutely right about what happened, to kill that remaining flicker of hope.

I am quite shocked to learn that you didn't think about writing because of the lack of black role models. It is good for me (a white person) to be shocked afresh into realising why continuing to address issues of race - and to make it 'normal' for a black child to think without limits about what s/he wants - is important.

Letter Q40andproud: Hello Malorie, I haven't read any of your books as yet because my eldest daughter is just 12, but she took Noughts and Crosses out of the library last week on my recommendation so I'm hoping to get into the story soon. I just wanted to say that I watched your recent TV programme where you talked about the poetry that has inspired you in your life and I found it fascinating to learn about you and your influences for writing. I found the poem by Jackie Kay beautiful and so moving that I cried whilst watching. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

Letter AMalorieBlackman

: Hi 40andproud, (love the name by the way) I hope your daughter enjoys the book. And I totally agree with you about Jackie Kay's poem - wasn't it wonderful and so moving. When Jackie was reading it, it brought a lump to my throat. There's been a big response to that poem so i'm glad it has been brought to the attention of more people.

 

Pig Heart Boy and xenotransplantation

Letter QErikamaye: I read Pig Heart Boy a while ago. Might I enquire what your personal feelings on xenotransplantation are? Just curious. (Oh, and I love your books.)

Letter AMalorieBlackman: Whilst I don't agree that we have the right to treat animals any way we want to, I must admit that I would have no problems having a pig's heart transplanted into my body if I needed a new heart and no human heart was available. I'm not a vegetarian so it would be a bit hypocritical of me to say I don't think we should use animal organs in that way. 
 

Children's writers

Letter QEffieperine: Do you think children's writers today are braver at dealing with controversial or unusual topics? It seems to me that writers of contemporary adult fiction are, on the whole, more bland. Or is it a marketing/publishing issue? Maybe we're just lucky in having lots of fab children's writers around at the moment. 

Letter AMalorieBlackman: I totally agree with you about children's writers being brave and taking on controversial topics in this country - and isn't it wonderful! To be honest, I read far more books for children and young adults than books for adults. As I love strong, challenging stories, I think the best place to find those on a regular basis is in books for children/young adults. I don't know of any children's writer who writes on controversial topics merely to be exploitative or gratuitous and I have read books for adults which have turned my stomach, quite frankly. But there's usually an element of hope in children's books which appeals to me.
 

Age-appropriate books and reading

Letter QSusys: When you're writing do you have a particular age group in mind? I ask because I have a 10-going-on-17-year-old girl who reads voraciously but I don't always have time to check what she's reading to see if it's age appropriate? Would you say there's an optimum age for children to start reading your work, or does it vary from book to book?

Letter AMalorieBlackman: I've written over 50 books for children and young adults across all age ranges, so it really does depend on the book. Books like Hacker, Dangerous Reality, Pig-Heart Boy, Thief, etc are aimed at anyone from upper juniors upwards, whereas the Noughts and Crosses series are aimed at an older, secondary school audience and upwards.

Letter QAntoxo: I'm keen to find some new authors and books for my eleven year old son. He's a big reader but a bit stuck at the moment for new books. Do you think your books will be enjoyed by boys and girls? which book would you recommend he reads first? Also if he does enjoy you books, which other authors would you recommend? I'm always trying to push him towards books I enjoyed when I was his age, but he's keen to read more contemporary stuff! 

Letter AMalorieBlackman: I hope he would enjoy some of my books. Maybe you could try him with Hacker, Thief, Antidote or Pig-Heart Boy, but I guess it depends on what type of books he likes. You could also try him with the Diamond Brother mystery books by Anthony Horowitz. They are very funny and good mysteries.
 

Reading and the National Curriculum

Letter QRoisin: I work in secondary school, run two reading clubs and run various initiatives to promote reading for pleasure. Noughts and Crosses is often cited by prolific readers as "my favourite book ever"! It's surprising at the beginning and shocking at the end: wonderful! Do you agree that our current National Curriculum often saps all the joy out of reading and writing? If so, what can we do about it? 

Letter AMalorieBlackman: Hi Roisin, all power to you when you're promoting reading for pleasure. I'm totally with you there. I totally agree with you that with all these various government initiatives, reading for fun and pleasure has somehow got lost when in fact that should come first, but as far as what we do about it is concerned, that's the big question.

I think we all need to make more noise about getting children reading for fun and pleasure, then reading for knowledge, to improve vocabulary, etc will come. It's about increasing the breadth of the fiction children read and it's also about getting boys and girls reading fiction to improving their emotional vocabulary.

And finally...

MalorieBlackman: Thanks for all the great questions. Happy reading.

 

Last updated: 19-Oct-2009 at 4:38 PM