The Careers Adviser Made It Clear That Black Girls Didn't Become Teachers, They Got Jobs in Sainsbury's; LONDON JOBS.Co.UK Author Malorie Blackman Believes the Secret of Her Success Is Ignoring Those Who Doubted Her Secret of My Success

The Evening Standard (London, England), October 14, 2004 | Go to article overview

The Careers Adviser Made It Clear That Black Girls Didn't Become Teachers, They Got Jobs in Sainsbury's; LONDON JOBS.Co.UK Author Malorie Blackman Believes the Secret of Her Success Is Ignoring Those Who Doubted Her Secret of My Success


Byline: JOYCE LYNN

MY EARLIEST memory is of our house in Beckenham when I was three. My dad had bought me a walking-talking doll for a surprise.

When he pulled the doll's cord and it walked towards me saying "Mamma, mamma" in its awful little robotic voice, I didn't see a beautiful doll, I saw a horrible monster that had to be destroyed before it could kill me. I hurled it into the fire, where it bubbled and melted horribly.

That early incident with the doll shows I've always had a vivid imagination.

Many years later I came to write my first book as a way of exorcising bad dreams.

My parents were from Barbados.

My dad came here in 1960, my mum came in 1961 and I was born in 1962. Dad had a carpentry business. My mum had been a seamstress in Barbados and worked here in a factory, assembling cutout clothes. They divorced when I was 13.

After that I didn't really see my dad again. Maybe because of the divorce, which was very acrimonious, I was a troubled teenager, but I took to keeping a diary and learned the value of writing down thoughts and feelings. That diary was like my own psychiatrist's couch.

My dad had this saying: "Being a first-generation black person in this country means you need to be twice as good to go half as far."

He would also drum into us the need to get a good education.

"With a proper education behind you, you can do anything." My dad would nag me, my brothers and sister to make sure homework got done and he didn't care if it made him unpopular. At the time we thought he was being a pain but now I totally agree with him.

I passed my 11-plus. By then we had moved to Sydenham and there was a choice of grammar schools in the area. Typically, though, I chose the one with the most romantic-sounding name - Honor Oak Grammar School - even though it meant a very long walk from Sydenham to the north side of Peckham Common twice a day.

I was pleased I'd chosen it because it turned out to be a pretty school with classrooms around a grassy quad and a stream running through the grounds.

I don't think Miss Brace liked children very much, but, boy, was she a good English teacher. Her love of English and Shakespeare and her ability to inspire us were beyond doubt.

When we were studying Troilus And Cressida, she suddenly said: "Do you know, I think Shakespeare must have had a dose of the clap, the writing is so misogynist." Our jaws dropped - we thought we were sophisticated, but we were shocked.

But Miss Brace made me see that Shakespeare was a human being who put his trousers on one leg at a time like everyone else and writers were real people whose ideas came from inside them.

I loved reading. If I had to give up reading or writing, it would be writing. I don't think you can be a writer if you don't read. My dad had the opposite view. He didn't see the point of made-up stories so all our books were non-fiction. I've made up for that now: I must have about 12,000 fiction books in my house.

From Enid Blyton to Dennis Wheatley to the Brontes, I read everything. I really liked Agatha Christie's Miss Marple stories.

Deep down inside my 10-year-old self I knew Christie was a racist and the anti-Semitism in her books was breathtaking, but she could really plot. I learned from her the technique of surprise and how to include blind alleys to lead readers astray.

I'd wanted to be an English teacher since the age of nine.

When I was doing my A-levels I asked the careers teacher for a reference for Goldsmiths to do an English and Drama degree. She refused, saying, "Malorie, people like you don't become teachers." I knew what she meant - black girls don't become teachers. Black girls get jobs in Sainsbury's.

She might have stopped me going to university but my attitude was, "You know what, some day I'm going to be a success, even if it's just to spite you. …

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