THE WRITER AND HER WORK
Friday, January 11, 2008.
By Shola Adenekan
When Malorie Blackman went to see her school's careers adviser about training as an English teacher, she was told she would be better off getting a business degree at a local college instead.
After some years of computer programming for Reuters in London, she was bored and began writing.
“I go to a black women’s writer group and we all got told ‘black women don’t go to college,” she recalled in an interview with the London Times. “It’s such an insidious stuff. Kids are still amazed when I walk in, and they see that you can be black and a writer.”
With about 50 books to her credit, Blackman has been described by literary critics as a British national treasure and the Black J.K Rowling.
Arguably one of the most understated writers in the world, Blackman may not have the publishing hype of Zadie Smith but she is undoubtedly one of our most brilliant writers.
She was the only Black writer to make the top 100 of BBC’s Big Read for her book, Noughts & Crosses.
Malorie Blackman was born in 1962. The daughter of a carpenter father who pushed her to always strive for the best. Although her parents separated when she was 13, they instilled strong work ethics in the young Blackman.
As a student at London’s Peckham Grammar School, she wanted to become an English teacher but instead fell in love with computing and later studied computer science at the old Thames Polytechnic (now Thames Valley University) A successful career in computing enabled her to travel around Europe and the United States before becoming a published writer at the age of 28.
Her first published book was Not So Stupid! (1990), a book of short stories. Since then she has written many books and scripts, and her popularity has steadily grown. Her scripts for television include several episodes of Byker Grove, Whizziwig and Pig-Heart Boy. She has also written original dramas for CITV and BBC Education. Her stage play, The Amazing Birthday, was performed in 2002.
She writes for all ages of children. Her picture books include I Want a Cuddle! (2001) and Jessica Strange (2002) and she has written many reader books for early and more confident readers.
Her novels include Hacker (1992); the story of Vicky, who saves her father from being wrongly convicted of stealing from the bank after hacking into the bank’s computer to solve the crime herself; Thief! (1995) is about a child who is transported into the future after being accused of a crime she did not commit. And Pig-Heart Boy (1997) is the diary of 13-year-old Cameron, who needs a heart transplant.
The latter book and its subsequent adaptation as a series for television won several awards, including a BAFTA for best children’s drama in 2000.
Perhaps, it’s Blackman’s reticent of not making an issue of her blackness that has denied her higher reputation among Black readers but she has no doubt contributed immensely to people’s understanding of young black people in the Western world - that they don’t often carry guns, shoplift, abuse women, have chips on their shoulders or are unwilling to learn.
Blackman says she has experienced racism from both Whites and Blacks. She’s been called a “jungle bunny” by a gang of white boys, while a group of black guys have called her a slag for having a mixed-race daughter.
In Knife Edge (published by Doubleday in 2004), Blackman turned the issue of racial stereotypes on its head.
The world she painted is one where people ascribe stupidity and criminality to white people, in which teenage white boys are to be feared and where black folks are racists, in-humane, condescending and the oppressors.
Blackman is hugely amused by political correctness in the British Life, especially among the so-called Chattering Classes – the liberal media elite. Some of whom condemned her for exploring the notion of a child suicide-bomber in Knife Edge and Noughts & Crosses. She also found it difficult to find a US publisher for these books.
Blackman is equally distressed about the plight of asylum seekers, who have been constantly denigrated by the same media bloc as ‘spongers’ and ‘economic migrants.”
She told the British literary critic, Amanda Craig in 2004, that “you’ll think by the 21st Century we’d have got over all this. I hate the prejudice about asylum seekers, how they are vilified without understanding that for every one person who takes something off the state, there are so many more who are persecuted.”
Blackman's most well-known books for young adults are: Noughts & Crosses (2001); Knife Edge (2004); and Checkmate (2005) – which form the Noughts & Crosses Trilogy, the tale of two teenagers, Callum and Sephy. In 2004, she also wrote a novel entirely in verse, Cloud Busting (2004), which won a Nestlé Smarties Book Prize (Silver Award) the same year.
The critics might compare her with Harry Potter’s author, J.K Rowling, but as an ardent science fiction and Star Trek fan, she reminds many of Octavia Butler, the late African American science fiction writer.
Blackman says her ideal job will be captaining the Starship Enterprise or accompanying agents Mulder and Scully on one of their action-packed voyages.
When she is not working she enjoys messing about on the guitar, piano and saxophone. She goes regularly to the cinema and theatre, enjoys watching TV, playing computer games and surfing the net. She loves reading absolutely everything - except Westerns!
Blackman lives in Kent with Neil, her husband of several years and their young daughter.
On Black boys education:
“I go to schools all over the UK, and in too many of them teachers say to me ‘don’t expect much of these boys, they aren’t creative. I think how dare you! They are only 8, 9, 10, and they’re being expected to fail.”
On embracing other culture:
"Until by 14 or 15, I was not going to walk down the street without an attitude. I refused to be bumped off the road or spat at. I’d only buy black newspaper and music. But there’s one song I loved by Bobby Cauldwell, called ‘what you won’t do for love.’ I loved it so much I bought the LP. And I thought, my God, he’s white!”
“So then I thought to myself: are you going to stop this record you love because he’s white? I thank God for that, because it made me realise how ridiculous I was getting!”
Not So Stupid! Women's Press, 1990
Elaine, You're a Brat! Orchard, 1991
Girl Wonder and the Terrific Twins (illustrated by Pat Ludlow) Gollancz, 1991
That New Dress (illustrated by Rhian Nest James) Simon & Schuster, 1991
Betsey Biggalow is Here! (illustrated by Lis Toft) Piccadilly, 1992
Betsey Biggalow, the Detective (illustrated by Lis Toft) Piccadilly, 1992
Girl Wonder's Winter Adventures (illustrated by Lis Toft) Gollancz, 1992
Hacker Doubleday, 1992
Trust Me Women's Press, 1992
Betsey Biggalow: Hurricane Betsey (illustrated by Lis Toft) Piccadilly, 1993
Crazy Crocs (with Alexander McCall Smith and Sally-Ann Lever) Longman, 1994
Girl Wonder to the Rescue (illustrated by Lis Toft) Gollancz, 1994
Magic Betsey! (illustrated by Lis Toft) Piccadilly, 1994
My Friend's a Gris-Quok (illustrated by Philip Hopman) Scholastic, 1994
Rachel and the Difference Thief (illustrated by Kim Harley) Longman, 1994
Rachel versus Bonecrusher the Mighty Longman, 1994
Jack Sweet tooth the 73rd Viking, 1995
Mrs Spoon's Family (illustrated by Jan McCafferty) Andersen Press, 1995
Operation Gadgetman! Yearling, 1995
The Space Stowaway Ginn, 1995
Thief! Doubleday, 1995
Whizziwig (illustrated by Stephen Lee) Viking, 1995
A.N.T.I.D.O.T.E Doubleday, 1996
Betsey Biggalow: Betsey's Birthday Surprise (illustrated by Lis Toft) Piccadilly, 1996
Grandma Gertie's Haunted Handbag (illustrated by David Price) Heinemann, 1996
Peril on Planet Pellia (illustrated by Patrice Aggs) Orchard, 1996
The Mellion Moon Mystery (illustrated by Patrice Aggs) Orchard, 1996
The Quasar Quartz Quest (illustrated by Patrice Aggs) Orchard, 1996
The Secret of the Terrible Hand (illustrated by Patrice Aggs) Orchard, 1996
Computer Ghost Hippo, 1997
Don't Be Afraid Ginn, 1997
Out of This World (contributor; includes 'Contact' short story) Dolphin, 1997
Pig-Heart Boy Doubleday, 1997
Space Race (illustrated by Colin Mier) Corgi, 1997
Aesop's Fables (retold with illustrations by Patrice Aggs) Scholastic, 1998
Fangs (illustrated by Tony Blundell) Orchard, 1998
Lie Detectives Hippo, 1998
Words Last Forever Mammoth, 1998
Animal Avengers (illustrated by Stik) Mammoth, 1999
Dangerous Reality Doubleday, 1999
Dizzy's Wak (illustrated by Pamela Venus) Tamarind, 1999
Forbidden Game Puffin, 1999
Hostage (illustrated by Derek Brazell) Barrington Stoke, 1999
Marty Monster (illustrated by Kim Harley) Tamarind, 1999
Peacemaker and Other Stories (illustrated by Peter Richardson and David Hine) Heinemann Educational, 1999
Whizziwig Returns (illustrated by Stephen Lee) Puffin, 1999
Tell Me No Lies McMillan Children's Books, 2000
Anansi and the Rubber Man Longman, 2001
I Want a Cuddle! (illustrated by Joanne Partis) Orchard, 2001
Noughts & Crosses Doubleday, 2001
Snow Dog (illustrated by Sami Sweeten) Corgi, 2001
Dead Gorgeous Doubleday, 2002
Jessica Strange (with Alison Bartlett) Hodder Children's Books, 2002
The Monster Crisp-Guzzler (illustrated by Sami Sweeten) Corgi, 2002
An Eye for an Eye (novella) Corgi, 2003
Sinclair Wonder Bear (illustrated by Deborah Allwright) Egmont, 2003
The Amazing Adventures of Girl Wonder (illustrated by Lis Toft) Barn Owl, 2003
Cloud Busting Doubleday, 2004
Knife Edge Doubleday, 2004
Checkmate Doubleday, 2005
The Deadly Dare Mysteries (contents: 'Deadly Dare'; 'Computer Ghost';, 'Lie Detectives'; illustrated by Neil Chapman) Random House Children's Books, 2005
Whizziwig and Whizziwig Returns (re-published in one volume) Random House Children's Books, 2005
Prizes and awards
1994 WH Smith Mind Boggling Book of the Year Award Hacker
1994 Young Telegraph/Gimme 5 Children's Book of the Year Award Hacker
1996 Young Telegraph/Fully Booked Children's Book of the Year Award Thief!
1997 Excelle/Write Thing Children's Author of the Year Award
1997 Stockport Children's Book of the Year Award (Key Stage 3) A.N.T.I.D.O.T.E
1998 Carnegie Medal (shortlist) Pig-Heart Boy
1998 UKRA Award Pig-Heart Boy
1999 Wirral Children's Book of the Year Award Pig-Heart Boy
2000 BAFTA (children's drama) Pig-Heart Boy
2000 Race and Media Best Drama Award Pig-Heart Boy
2000 Royal Television Society Award (Children's Drama) Pig-Heart Boy
2000 Stockport Children's Book of the Year Award (Key Stage 4) Tell Me No Lies
2001 Chicago TV Festival (shortlist) Pig-Heart Boy
2001 Prix Danube Children's Jury Prize Pig-Heart Boy
2002 Children's Book Award Noughts & Crosses
2002 Lancashire County Library Children's Book of the Year Award Noughts & Crosses
2002 Sheffield Children's Book of the Year Award Noughts & Crosses
2003 Wirral Children's Book of the Year Award Noughts & Crosses
2004 Fantastic Fiction Award Noughts & Crosses
2004 Nestlé Smarties Book Prize (Silver Award) (6-8 years category) Cloud Bursting.
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