• December 9, 2022

Malorie Blackman: ‘Thank God that’s done!’

  Reading time 9 minutes

After 82 rejections from publishers, Malorie Blackman’s first book came out in 1990. The 60-year-old from south-east London has since written more than 70 books, mainly for children and young adults, including the Noughts & Crosses series, a regular in lists of the nation’s favourite titles. She was also children’s laureate from 2013 to 2015. Blackman’s latest is her autobiography, Just Sayin’: My Life in Words.

So, more than 70 books… Do you keep count?Do you know what? I don’t. I know it’s over 70, but I’ve lost track. And I thought to sit there and tick them all off just seemed a bit pitiful.

Add to that the 82 rejections before you started. What do those numbers say about your personality?I think it says that when I make up my mind to do something, it takes an awful lot to stop me. And I knew I wanted to be a writer. I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I can’t sculpt. I can’t draw to save my life. But I had this thing of wanting to create something, and I found I just love creating stories.

In the foreword to Just Sayin’, you describe the book as “the hardest thing I’ve ever written”. Why?Because I didn’t make it up, did I? It’s all true! I had to revisit past events, dig deep into memories… There’s certain things in my life where I thought, OK, well, I can just put that to one side, never have to revisit that again. But obviously I did for this book.

There’s certainly a lot of material for an autobiography. When your parents separated, you were 13, and you moved with your mum to a homeless shelter. In your 20s, you overheard a doctor saying you wouldn’t live beyond 30, because of your sickle cell disorder.I just wanted to let other people know that it’s not that I woke up one day and thought, I’m going to be a writer. And – boom! – I was a writer! And – boom! – then I was a children’s laureate! And so on, as if it all landed in my lap. I wrote the autobiography because I just really wanted to talk about the truth of how I got to those moments in my life.

You have a daughter, but you also write very movingly about your experience of miscarriages. You note that these conversations about miscarriage only tend to happen when one person opens up about it. Is that why you wanted to address it?Yeah, I think so. You’re so wrapped up in the grief of it and going through the bereavement process. It’s very much something that my husband and I went through, and you don’t appreciate that others have gone through it too and could offer insight and support. Or just that hand on the shoulder or a smile to say, I know exactly what you’re going through. And it means such a lot.

The sixth and final book in the Noughts & Crosses series, Endgame, came out last year. How do you feel now that’s over?Mainly: Thank God I lived long enough to finish it! And: Thank God that’s done! OK, to be serious about it, it’s been a hell of a journey, which I’m really grateful for because it’s been 20-odd years. But I really do feel with the end of Endgame that really is it. And anyone who’s read it will know why. If there are more books written in that series, they won’t be by me.

Just Sayin’ is published by #Merky Books, the imprint launched by the musician Stormzy and Penguin Random House with an aim to “own – and change – the mainstream”. Was that something you wanted to get behind?It absolutely was something I wanted to get behind. I have nothing but respect for Michael [Stormzy]; he’s amazing. I love the way he’s done his own thing and not sought permission from anybody. So all power to him. Plus, the fact that I was in his video – Mel Made Me Do It – which astounded my daughter! If that sounds like a mutual love-in, I’m good with that. But that said, I have to stress, I do not have his digits. So for all those people out there saying, “Oh, could you ask Stormzy this?”: it’s not going to happen!

How are you with managing distractions such as social media when you write? I’m guessing, with your productivity, pretty good…Yes, I am. My Twitter handle at the moment is “Malorie Blackman is away”, so I’m very rarely on it. I spend so much time writing, I don’t want to spend my entire life on a computer. I want to go for walks, see friends and play board games. And I must admit I love my murder detective games: those cold-case things. I had a spate of buying every single one I could find and then my hubby said, “God, Scotland Yard needs to start sending you cases!”

Do you usually solve the crime?I’m not going to say I’m Sherlock Holmes, but I tend to get more right than not. When I first started writing, I bought lots of books to make sure I had all the procedural parts correct. I remember reading the Keith Simpson book about forensic science [Forensic Medicine] and I’ve got a whole range of whodunnit books, whether it’s about ballistics or what knife wounds look like, and so forth.

What books are on your bedside table?God, I’ve got so many. If I were to roll out of bed now, I wouldn’t hit the floor for a metre. The next one I want to read is Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband? [by Lizzie Damilola Blackburn]. And there’s a graphic novel called Blankets [by Craig Thompson] that I’m looking forward to. One I finished recently was Tyger by SF Said; I loved that book. Also, Paterson Joseph’s The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho. He’s so talented, that guy.

Which writers working today do you most admire?There are so many: Dorothy Koomson, Patrice Lawrence – anything Patrice does. Elle McNicoll; I thought her A Kind of Spark was a brilliant, brilliant book. And I do love my graphic novels: I really enjoyed BB Alston’s Amari and the Night Brothers, and I want to read his latest one.

You turned 60 this year – double the age that doctor predicted for you. What are your ambitions now?I definitely want to write an adult book, a crime book. It’s something I promised myself I’d do for years and years and years. I’ve got so many more books to write, so many more scripts, and I definitely want to get better at my piano playing. And I try to do at least one course a year, because I want to keep learning and challenging myself.

What courses have you done?Music production, a term of Chinese, a term of BSL [British Sigh Language), I did jewellery making, an online course on forensic science. Just something entirely new to make sure my brain doesn’t atrophy. And then it all feeds into my writing because I might have someone who has that as a hobby and I can at least write with some degree of knowledge.

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