Malorie Blackman

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 Words by Sophie Bannister

As a child, I read a lot of Malorie Blackman books, so I was unbelievably excited to find she was holding an event as part of the Manchester Literature Festival. In preparation, I got out my (rather old) copy of Noughts and Crosses to take along with the hopes of getting it signed. It had been a while since I’d read the book so I casually flicked through to the first page and was instantly hooked all over again.

Malorie, recently appointed Waterstones Children’s Laureate, has such a brilliant imagination and a wonderfully fluid writing style, which appeals to adults just as much as children. MMU lecturer and author Jackie Roy, our interviewer for the event, explained that she believes this is because Malorie ‘respects younger readers. She never talks down to them in her books’. In person the author is bubbly and cheerful, and was more than happy to sign my book. I must admit, I felt a little bit star-struck.

Before the event began, I spotted and spoke to the Bookwitch. For those of you who don’t know, Bookwitch is a blogger. She attends literary events, reviews books on her site and isn’t afraid to speak her mind – which makes her rather notorious in the literary world. I asked Bookwitch what she was expecting from the event and the blogger explained that she’d only seen Malorie at talks for adults, so she was expecting a better atmosphere with many schoolchildren present. ‘If Malorie’s with Jackie Roy, I also think that will bring out the best in her’, she added. The event didn’t disappoint.
The platform décor was subtle; there was a cheerful image projected onto the back wall and a single, squashy-looking couch centre stage, framed by a couple of small tables holding water for the speakers. Malorie and Jackie sat down, looking comfortable, with big grins on their faces. Each is a big fan of the other’s work so this must have been a real treat for them both.

Jackie’s questions brought out more about Malorie’s life and it became ever clearer that the author has had to tackle many obstacles to get where she is today. As a child, her father disliked the idea of her reading fiction; the only books in their house were non-fiction and he insisted that you could not learn anything from stories. Luckily for her readers, Malorie disagreed and spent her Saturdays in the library, reading as much as possible.

Malorie used to love reading comic books – and still does today. Unlike some of her school teachers, she believes that any form of fiction that gets children reading is useful and this includes comic books. ‘Children have the right to read rubbish’, she laughed. It was revealed, with a little prompting from Jackie, that her bestselling book, Noughts and Crosses, will soon be appearing as a graphic novel. I cannot wait!

Malorie Blackman with St. Paul’s Catholic High School Students

As Malorie typically deals with very controversial topics, sometimes her readers wonder whether there is anything she thinks is unsuitable to write about in teenage fiction. ‘I think it’s in the way it’s done. I don’t think there is any topic I wouldn’t tackle’, she explains. Looking at her new book, Noble Conflict, it highlights the respect she has for her readers in this sense. The main character, Kaspar, has to choose between becoming a whistleblower and fighting against authority or allowing horrendous acts of torture to continue. Not only is this shocking and politically orientated, but it is very relevant today. As in all Malorie’s books, there are no easy answers in Noble Conflict, as she prefers to raise  questions instead. “Each and every one of us has a voice and we have to know that, we have to believe that, we have to stand up and use it”, she told her audience.

I caught up with Jackie Roy after the talk. A few years ago she held a Malorie Blackman event as part of the Manchester Children’s Book Festival, even though Malorie could not be present. How did Jackie feel this event went in comparison? 

“I think it went really well”, she said. “Today was massively better because we had Malorie in person – and you can’t ask for more than that.”

Sophie Bannister is Co-chair of Manchester Metropolitan University’s English Society, where she is currently in her third year studying English Literature. She hopes to complete a Master’s degree after her time at MMU. You can view Sophie’s blog here and follow her on Twitter @SophieBan92

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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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