Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Profile - Author of 'Stinging Satire' Named New Children's Laureate: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Profile - Author of 'Stinging Satire' Named New Children's Laureate: News

Article excerpt

Malorie Blackman is relishing opportunity to spark curiosity.

Malorie Blackman did not become a writer just to make things up. She wanted to write about a real world, one that included black children like her who instead of "being black" got to become spies or time-travelling adventurers, just like white characters.

"All those thousands of books I read as a child, I didn't read a single book that featured a black child," she says. "I fell in love with the world of literature but I was invisible within it. I wanted to write mysteries, thrillers, whodunnits, which happened to feature black characters, because I'd missed that as a child.

"That's what got me through those rejections. I was not going to give up, that was my driving force."

Blackman, 51, is today one of the UK's most acclaimed and prolific children's authors and screenwriters. She was appointed OBE in 2005 and has received the Eleanor Farjeon children's literature award, along with numerous children's book prizes and a British Academy of Film and Television Arts award.

And this week she has been named as the eighth UK Children's Laureate, after the two-year tenure of Julia Donaldson. Blackman describes the honour as incredibly exciting and slightly daunting: other laureates include Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Rosen and Michael Morpurgo.

The post, accompanied by a Pounds 15,000 bursary, is given in recognition of outstanding achievement, but through the energy of the previous incumbents it has become a way of championing children's interests.

Blackman is keen to promote the return of story time in primary schools (for 5- to 11-year-olds) for 10 minutes a day, every day. She also wants to encourage older students to use stories as a springboard to creative work, not just in their own writing but in art, music and drama, too. And she is keen to take the reins from Donaldson in campaigning for library provision.

Born in London, Blackman is the middle of five children. Her first school was Churchfields Primary School in Beckenham, in the southeast of the city. "I remember at Churchfields we would all gather around and sit on the carpet and the teacher would read us a story," she says. "My love of stories comes from that time when I was read to."

She also started writing. "I had a wonderful teacher who encouraged me and gave me feedback. Once I wrote a poem about the jungle and the teacher said I could read it at parents' evening. So, to rehearse it, she called me up to the front of the class.

"I just stood there saying nothing. 'Why aren't you reading it?' she asked. I said, 'Because I'm shy.' And the whole class cracked up, laughing. I thought, 'That's it. I am never writing another poem.' But I did do it at parents' evening and got a big clap." Blackman still remembers the closing refrain: "and the bright and yellow sun/giving life to everyone".

Blackman's parents were born and grew up in Barbados. Her mother, Ruby, was a seamstress in a pyjama factory and her father, Joe, worked as a bus driver. They had books at home - all non-fiction, about animals, nature, space. "Dad was not a great fan of fiction," she says. "He thought it was an utter waste of time because it was not true. Education, for him, was about getting facts into yourself."

But Blackman, resourceful and determined, discovered the local library. "From the time I was about 7, I would live down the library. I'd make myself a packed lunch, shout, 'Bye, Mum!' She would reply, 'See you later,' and off I'd go. I would read books all day."

As Blackman grew up, education became more complicated. She loved English and science but remembers finding history lessons painful. …

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