Malorie Blackman might be the eighth Waterstones Children’s Laureate but she is the first to be name checked in a number one single. In “Written In The Stars” rapper Tinie Tempah suggests that he is “a writer from the ghetto like Malorie Blackman”, and for the south London-born author, her upbringing will have a major impact on her new role.
“One of the biggest things I will be trying to do is make sure that all children of primary age have a library card. I didn’t even enter a bookshop until I was 14, because I couldn’t afford books until I got my first Saturday job, but by the time I was six or seven I spent practically every Saturday down my local library reading as much as I could and getting out as many books as I could. If it were not for my local library, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I wouldn’t be a writer. Libraries were a godsend for me.
“I hope to be following Julia’s [picture book superstar Julia Donaldson was laureate from 2011 to 2013] work on supporting libraries. What the public library service in this country is suffering from is a lack of political leadership at the top, it has been left to each local authority to make up their mind, and so it’s become a bit of a postcode lottery.”
Story time in schools
A writer for almost 25 years, with over 60 books under her belt, Blackman also wants to use her two-year laureate stint to champion the role of story time in schools. She says she wants to “encourage every infant and primary school to set aside 10 minutes every day for story time. I remember when I was at school, teachers read to us up to the age of nine and 10 and that is partly where my love of stories and storytelling came from. So I think just getting that love of stories installed in children is something I’m very, very keen on. I absolutely understand that there are so many pressures on teachers’ time, but I think this is such a fundamental idea because reading is the basis of so many things.”
For Blackman, all of these initiatives come under the central aim of getting “more children reading more. My aim is to convince more children that reading is irresistible, especially in these times where there are more demands on (and more competition for) their time. What I want is to try and get across the idea that reading for pleasure is so beneficial. And turn children on who have maybe been switched off reading or never found a love of it in the first place.”
Blackman’s eagerly awaited next novel, Noble Conflict (Random House Children’s), is out this month and she hopes the “next one will be out next year, but my diary is slowly filling up”. Author of the critically and commercially acclaimed Noughts & Crosses teen series (Random House Children’s), which explores racism in a dystopian world, Blackman is also known for promoting diversity and addressing big social issues in an approachable way and her experience of writing for and working with teens will play a huge role in her laureateship.
“What’s wonderful about the role is that you can bring your own experience and personality to it. The children’s market is in a good place, but I think it could be in a better one. One of the things I would like to champion as well is more diversity in fiction. I try to widen the horizons of every child I meet and part of that is promoting diverse forms, be it graphic novels, stories told in a narrative voice or more translated books, as well as more diverse writers and more diverse characters. Books are doors into other worlds and we need to bang the drum for those books.”
Malorie Blackman is the Waterstones Children’s Laureate for 2013–2015. The Children’s Laureate post is managed by Booktrust (www.childrenslaureate.org.uk)