‘Nah, we won’t bother with the train,’ I say to my friend. ‘If we’re going on an adventure to Winchester we should take the car. That way we can bring as much luggage as we want and we don’t have to lug it places.’ Reluctantly, my friend agrees. And so at 7am on Saturday morning we are standing in front of my car, a sorry little scrap of metal that has been spray painted green and keyed with a smiley face.
I swagger round to the front of my car and zap my electronic key towards the doors. They do not open. I try the boot. It does not budge. I insert the key manually into the driver’s door and it opens. But none of the other doors do, even after I’ve climbed into the back seats and tried them from the inside. ‘You reckon it’s going to start?’ my friend asks. ‘Sure,’ I say, and shove her in through the driver’s door, pushing her over the hand-break onto the passenger seat. We jam all our luggage through the gap in between the front seats and then I slot the key into the engine. Nothing happens. I press lots of buttons I’ve never seen before. Still nothing happens. ‘Battery’s flat,’ I say. ‘Yes,’ says my friend. And we lug all of our extra luggage out of the car, across London, over the platform and onto the train…
Hours later we are sitting in an auditorium at Winchester University at the annual SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference, waiting for possibly the biggest name in children’s books today to walk out onto the stage. She’s written over 60 books, won more than 15 awards and has recently been named our Children’s Laureate: Malorie Blackman. Most famous for her fantastic dystopian series Noughts & Crosses, Malorie is here today to talk about what it means to write ‘from the heart’.
Blackman tells us that she started writing as a child. Her diary was an outpouring of emotions, as well as a place to let things go, like her parent’s divorce which happened when she was 13. She wrote – because she knew no-one would read it. But later she would learn just how many of her childhood memories she’d use in her books: ‘In Noughts & Crosses, Callum’s life is often built around my own buried experiences,’ Blackman tells us. Callum is a Nought – an inferior white citizen in a society controlled by the black Crosses. Sephy is a Cross – the daughter of one of the most powerful, ruthless men in the country. In their hostile world, Noughts and Crosses don’t mix. But when Sephy and Callum’s childhood friendship grows into passionate love, they’re determined to find a way to be together.
‘A lot of myself and my experiences went into that book, like the time I bought a First Class ticket on a train and the ticket inspector accused me of stealing it. Or the History lesson where I asked the teacher why he never talked about any black inventors or black politicians and he said there weren’t any… I began to draw on my angry feelings as a teenager. I could have gone two ways as a child and I used this idea in my book Thief! – the story of a girl, Lydia, who is accused of a crime she didn’t commit. She runs away to the Yorkshire moors and is knocked out by a moor pony. She wakes up 30 years later to discover a tyrant is ruling over her hometown, only this tyrant is unsettlingly similar to herself…’
Blackman has the whole auditorium on the edge of their seats. It’s clear this Children’s Laureate is one inspirational lady (even if she did trip up the stairs on her way to collect a Bafta for Best Children’s Drama for Pig Heart Boy). Yes, she’s an incredibly successful author with awards and best-sellers to her name (Noughts & Crosses is up on Moontrug’s Altocumulus Tower) but it’s Blackman’s determination and resilience that really stand out – and this boldness shines through in every one of her books. In her own words, ‘When life knocks you down, keep getting up.’