The day before I met Malorie Blackman at the 7th National Black & Asian Writers’ Conference in Manchester, I was told by the event’s artistic director that she has no time for interviews with reporters. What a crying shame, I thought. There I was, a young Black writer enthused to be attending a conference at which Malorie Blackman, the UK’s first ever Black children’s laureate, was going to be present and I wasn’t going to get to talk to her even if it were just to congratulate her on her laureateship! I was dejected until I walked into the main lobby at the Contact Theatre and saw her laughing with a few attendees. If she has time to laugh at a joke about someone’s cat wearing winter socks in Tenerife, I thought, perhaps she has time for me to congratulate her! Perhaps I could even ask for her advice on Manchester’s aspiring Black writers…oh, and her thoughts on a Black Harry Potter? Ok, well maybe not the last question but I could tell she did not have a rigid approach to time or life in general. In fact, she appeared pleasant and approachable in my humble opinion.
Before I approached her, I checked that I was appropriately dressed; that my shoes were shining like the floor; my face equally as scrubbed up and then I adorned myself with the warmest smile possible.
– CHAPTER 1 –
Malorie Blackman OBE, British Children’s Laureate 2013 to 2015
Good morning Ms Blackman
Oh Hello, How may I help you?
(See she does have time!) I’m great thank you; it’s really great to meet you. How are you? I’m Yasin; a reporter for The Nubian Times.
I’m doing well thank you, nice to meet you too.
Would it be possible to have a chat with you about…
I’m sorry I don’t think I have the time today but if there’s time before I go then maybe later.
Perhaps she has no time after all, I sighed. As the sadness leaked over my eyes and the sheen on my face disappeared I thought, Maybe I shouldn’t have said I’m a reporter! It is astonishing how the latter part of my 30 second introduction so quickly extinguished my initial zeal. Nonetheless, I persevered and stayed positive because that is what good reporters do.
After her two-hour debate on ‘Writing For Children: How to get ethnic diversity into publishing houses and children’s books to end the misrepresentation of Black people?’ in which I was part of the audience, I note that Malorie is book-signing. Perhaps I should try her once more! Once again, attire check and ‘grin’ check. I eventually reach the top of the queue to a smiling Blackman whose shiny pen is poised in her right hand…
Contact Theatre, Oxford Road, Manchester
- CHAPTER 2 -
Hello Ms Blackman, it’s me again! On behalf of The Nubian Times, I would like to congratulate you on your laureateship.
Aw, thank you very much.
What advice would you give to Manchester’s aspiring Black writers struggling to get published?
On the practical side: don’t give up but learn your craft. Join a writing group, get feedback on your work and try to always improve. From the artistic side: write from the heart, what moves you, what makes you angry or sad, what you really feel passionate about and want to explore in the framework of your novel or writing. Don’t be afraid to use your voice. When I started, I didn’t write with my own voice and it didn’t work. When I learnt to be myself, editors started giving me feedback; telling me why the story wasn’t working as opposed to just ‘no, thank you’. So I knew I was improving. To conclude, develop your own style, use your voice and don’t give up.
Do you think the barriers Black writers face, trying to get published, will ever vanish or are they what writers should accept and live with?
I had it easier than when my parents came to this country. My daughter has had it easier than I did. I’m very optimistic. I do believe that we move forward as a society. For every two steps we take forward, maybe we take a step back, but the overall movement is forward. I’m not cynical about it. If you want change, you’ve got to stand up and do it. I used to read children’s and teenager’s books and not see any that featured Black children so I thought, Ok, instead of me whinging about it, I’m going to do something about it. If I can do it, so can you.
And also, get out there and research funding schemes on getting published. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
Any tips on how TNT can improve their literary section?
Cover adult and children’s non-fiction on a regular basis. Seek out what’s recently published and mention books that you recommend. It’s about educating and informing people of what’s out there. This (TNT newspaper) would be a brilliant place to find out what’s out there.
- The End –
- Yasin Chinembiri
Photograph of Contact Theatre by me
Malorie Blackman Photograph from Z-arts