Malorie Towers Above

Article excerpt


Bestselling author Malorie Blackman's latest novel is a tale of how teenagers cope with crisis.

It is influenced by her own life, itself an inspiring story of perseverance Interview Louette Harding Photograph Amit Lennon Malorie Blackman says she was an angry teenager who decided not to develop into a bitter woman. Today, as a bestselling author for children and young adults, her fiction explores that struggle. In one plot, a slandered girl travels into the future and meets herself as a sour adult. In another, a disillusioned boy in a racist society turns to terrorism. The question - do you let bad experiences change you for the worse? - is answered in the way Malorie chose in real life. If you do, you are a fool. 'Life is too short,' she says.

She has a love of talking and a ready laugh, which is soon ringing round the room, but there is a moment of suspicious questioning when she first arrives - 'What's the angle on this? What's your slant?' This is explained by a bout of newspaper agitation earlier this year when she was accused of 'cashing in' on the 7 July bombings. Her novel Checkmate, about a naive teenage girl who is groomed to become a suicide bomber, was riding high in the bestseller lists. 'How could I be in cashing in?' Malorie flashes back. 'I delivered the book last January. People were asserting that I wrote 130,000 words overnight and got it published the next day!' she harrumphs. 'It would be wonderful if I could.' Checkmate was the final part of a trilogy that began with Noughts and Crosses, a book voted one of the public's favourites in the BBC's Big Read poll in 2003. Malorie was the only black writer to make it into the top 100 (at 61) and this summer she became the first black British writer to sell a million books. While the media has concentrated on Zadie Smith, the public has taken Malorie Blackman to its heart.

Set in a society in which the black majority Crosses enjoy power and the minority white Noughts are oppressed, the trilogy tells the story of doomed lovers and their mixed-race daughter. In real life, Malorie is married to Neil, who is white, and they have a daughter, Lizzie, ten, who, fortunately, does not experience the kind of bigotry her mother encountered growing up in the 70s and 80s.

The daughter of Barbadian immigrants, Malorie, 43, was born in Clapham, South London. She admits to a couple of occasions when she trailed home from school in tears

after bigoted comments from classmates. 'You just get on with it,' she shrugs. 'I'm not going to say it was all sweetness and light because it wasn't. I just didn't let it rule my life.' She also happily existed inside her own head. 'Oh God, yes, I was dreamy! I was always being ticked off at school for having too much imagination, which is kind of ironic considering how I make my living now.' Every Saturday, Malorie made herself a packed lunch and retreated to the local library where she read as many books as she could. Perhaps in all this, she was looking for a little legroom? A little distinctiveness? She had effectively been an only child. Her father, a carpenter, and mother, a seamstress, left their elder daughter and son behind in the care of relatives when they moved to England. 'Then, when I was three, my twin brothers were born and my parents sent for the older two. I remember going from being the only one to being the oldest one, suddenly to being the one in the middle. Driving them back from the airport, I was rabbiting on because I was so excited and I remember my sister asking what I was saying because she couldn't understand my accent.' There were no novels at home, just nonfiction, as her father imposed on his children the holy quest of betterment through education. 'He told us that, being black in this country, we had to work twice as hard to get half as far. I can understand why he did it but I would dispute his way of doing it. I once got 92 out of 100 in a maths test and his comment was, "What happened to the other eight? …