Spotlight on Malorie Blackman
By Megan Cradock and Sam Chambers
For Black History Month this year, we have focused this article on children’s and young adult (YA) fiction author Malorie Blackman. She received an OBE in 2008, is a former children’s laureate and has published over seventy books so far, including her recently published autobiography Just Sayin’: My Life in Words. Perhaps most famous for her series Noughts & Crosses, Malorie Blackman deserves her reputation as Britain’s best YA author.
Blackman has captivated readers for more than three decades with her thought-provoking stories. Born on 8 February 1962 in Clapham, London, Blackman's literary career began when she was twenty-eight with the publication of Not So Stupid!, a collection of horror and science fiction stories for children. Since then, she has received numerous accolades for her services to children's literature. Blackman's talent has extended beyond literature, as she has also made significant contributions to other notable franchises, such as writing for the beloved television series Doctor Who. Her works have also inspired adaptations, including the highly acclaimed adaptation of Noughts & Crosses, which premiered as a television series in 2020.
Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Included in the BBC’s 2019 list of “Novels That Shaped Our World,” Noughts & Crosses was published in 2001 and is the first in a series of six books and three novellas.
The first book follows Sephy and Callum, childhood friends struggling to find their way in a world divided by racism and prejudice. Sephy is a Cross, a member of the Black privileged class, unhappy with the societal injustices that her father and so many others seek to perpetuate. Callum is a Nought, a member of the white class seen as inferior to the Crosses, determined to prove himself to all those around him. The pair find that their friendship is changing, evolving into something greater than either of them ever predicted, and becoming increasingly dangerous the more they learn about their world.
Pushed apart by familial and societal pressures, each forced upon their own path heading in opposite directions, Noughts & Crosses is more than a story of the star-crossed lovers trying to find their way back together again, it is a book that questions the reader, asking them to consider the events of not only Sephy and Callum’s world, but also their own. Malorie Blackman’s writing is incisive, full of interesting characters and thought-provoking questions.
Despite being published twenty years ago, Noughts & Crosses remains shockingly relevant to the world today. As such, it is part of the English curriculum in UK schools, attempting to create discussions about racism and equality. It was adapted as a play in 2007 by Dominic Cooke and, more recently, in 2019 by Sabrina Mahfouz. There is also a two-series BBC television adaptation which premiered in 2020. The story’s continued presence in a variety of forms proves its constant relevance today to readers and audiences alike.
Just Sayin’: My Life in Words
In her thematically arranged autobiography, Blackman writes candidly about her experience as a Black girl growing up in Lewisham in the 1960s and 70s. She hints at the possibility of not being neurotypical, although this aspect is not extensively explored in the book. (She also marks herself down as more Callum than Sephy). One of the revelations is her battle with the genetic illness sickle cell disease, which was not publicly known until she recorded an appeal for the Sickle Cell Society in 2016. The book delves into her hospitalisation during her late teens, where a doctor predicted she would not live past the age of thirty, motivating her to pursue her goals urgently. Despite now being sixty, sickle-cell crises still hinder Blackman’s productivity, leading her to contemplate declining the position of Children's Laureate (which she did take and held from 2013–15).
Throughout the autobiography, Blackman expresses her anger toward racism and classism, which served as inspiration for her books. She recalls encounters with crass colleagues, bigoted customs officers, unimaginative librarians and social-media white supremacists. Alongside these personal encounters, Blackman also gives thoughts on broader issues such as Brexit, the hostile environment policy and biased media reporting of events like the Brixton riots and the Stephen Lawrence case. Blackman reveals that she declined a CBE after the Windrush scandal and includes her strongly worded letter explaining her decision. Just Sayin’ winningly portrays Blackman as a determined individual who perseveres through challenges. Her accomplishments and constant resilience is truly admirable.
Malorie Blackman and her works continue to inspire readers and generate conversations. We look forward to seeing what she writes next!