Meeting Malorie Blackman ...

19 October 2014

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting Malorie Blackman at a book signing - with one of my good friends Mariam - taking place during the Birmingham Literary Festival. As soon as I found out about this event, I knew I just had to go. Several years ago, I picked up a book from the library called Noughts and Crosses, and to date it has been one of the most socially powerful books I have ever read. Not only does the series directly address the topic of racism in a rather unusual way, but it's the only book I've come across in the young adult genre that deals with the topic at all. Maybe one of the reasons why this topic is never really approached directly is because, it can be pretty difficult to discuss, and really hard to execute. The story of Noughts and Crosses however did a perfect job of illustrating the impact racial discrimination can have on an individual and society itself. It was a perfectly executed story - which I can imagine must have been one hell of a challenge! Is it any wonder Malorie Blackman was chosen to be our current Children's Laureate?

It's one thing to read a novel and another to meet the author of - a living person who actually spent ridiculous amounts of hours creating the words that make up those hundreds of pages. I wasn't sure really what to expect from Malorie. I'd never come across her interviews or seen her on any form of visual media. Even if I did, I don't think anything could have prepared me for this event. Malorie Blackman is definitely one of the most vibrant and vividly animated authors I've seen in a while. When talking about books, she couldn't help but gush with excitement over the topics she was discussing. It was lovely to see someone in their prime of their career, discussing her work with absolute passion and conviction. Her personality was so captivating. I almost felt like I was sitting down and talking to a friend .... while sitting in a red seat on a rowed aisle, surrounded by at least 100 people who probably felt the same. Just your average conversation with a friend, right?

What amazed me was how much of Malorie's previous experiences have impacted her in her writing. She recalled several different experiences that not only inspired the content for her novels but also led her towards a career path in writing.  When she was a young adult, Malorie realised from her avid time reading, that not a single character in the novels she read was of colour. This realisation led her to write novels centred around black characters who live their everyday lives. Finally - a representation of everyday characters from the black community; something she may have been able to relate to as a child or young adult. Racism was something Malorie faced as a child, growing up in a less multi-cultural Britain than we know it to be today. One of the most memorable experiences that she mentioned was how a teacher told her she couldn't achieve her childhood dream job of becoming an English teacher, when she was on the verge of applying to university. Instead the teacher told Malorie, that she should become a secretary instead as that job would be more 'suited' to her. A clear reference to her race. She also mentioned how she was once stopped on a train in first class, and was asked by the conductor if she had stole the ticket she had bought. Is it any wonder she used those impacting experiences to fuel her writing?

It is clear to see where her passion and drive for the diversification of characters in children's books comes from. And rightly so, might I add. 
Imagine how culturally aware children - the next future generation - could be about other cultures if the world celebrated stories from around the world. We live in a world of seven billion people, and yet a huge portion of these people are not represented in mainstream media. It's strange to think that Malorie received so much hate for stating something so vital and key for social growth - that we need diversity in children's books. The uproar that followed from being misquoted by the media was absolutely hendrious. I commend her on her stance, it's not easy to stand up against a majority when fighting a battle. But she is no stranger to criticism, and without a doubt will continue to fight it for the greater good by pen and paper.

This signing gave me the opportunity to give the utter most respect to her. Her words of wisdom for future writers were simple yet classic. Write for yourself. You are your own reader. Have the courage to do what you love, and ignore those who tell you you can't achieve your goals and ambitions. The greatest pleasure will come from proving them wrong. Such inspiring words from an inspiring author with social poetic justice. Oh Malorie Blackman, it really indeed was an absolutely pleasure!

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