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6 February 2018updated 24 Jun 2021 12:26pm

“I picked that doll up and threw it in the blazing coal fire”

The children’s author talks terrifying childhood presents, Martin Luther King, and Star Trek.

By New Statesman

Malorie Blackman, author of the bestselling “Noughts & Crosses” trilogy, was born in Clapham, south London, in 1962. She worked as a systems programmer before publishing her first young-adult book in 1990. As children’s laureate (2013-2015) her calls for more diversity in children’s books were met with “hatred, threats and vitriol” online.

What’s your earliest memory?

Burning a walking, talking doll that my dad had bought me for a present. It walked towards me saying, “Mama! Mama!” I picked it up and threw it in the blazing coal fire in the room. That doll was terrifying.

Who are your heroes?

My childhood heroes were all the authors who wrote the books I loved – particularly Ruth Manning-Sanders, whose fairy-tale collections I devoured. I also loved music, especially the Jackson 5. My adult heroes include Nelson Mandela, Shonda Rhimes, Muhammad Ali and Serena Williams.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

The Narnia books of CS Lewis – but I must admit The Horse and His Boy and The Last Battle didn’t really do much for me, so I’d definitely have to reread those to be able
to answer any questions on them.

What was the last book that changed your thinking?

Critical Thinking Skills by Stella Cottrell. This is a subject that should be taught to all teens to allow them to analyse arguments and sort the wheat from the chaff. It would certainly help in these times of lies, damned lies and fake news.

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Which political figure, past or present, do you look up to?

Martin Luther King. To be vilified, threatened, bombed and to have kept to his message of peaceful protest is truly phenomenal. He said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” It’s just as true today as it has always been.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

Five hundred years from now, just to see what it’s like. I’d like to think that by then we would’ve learned to cherish our planet and all life on it. I wouldn’t go back in time. I have no interest in living in the past.

Which TV show could you not live without?

There aren’t any I couldn’t live without but I do love Star Trek in all its forms.

Who would paint your portrait?

My daughter. She’s great at portraits.

What’s your theme tune?

What A Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

Don’t give up! I follow it every day.

What single thing would make your life better?

More hours in the day and being able to split myself into three people.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

An English teacher. I wanted to be a teacher from the time I was seven or eight but it didn’t happen. Now I have the best of both worlds. I get to write and then go into schools to talk to children and young adults about reading, stories, poems and books.

Are we all doomed?

Not if we get our act together and stop being ruled by fear. Our fate lies within our own hands. 

Malorie Blackman is a judge for BBC Radio 2’s 500 Words short story competition for children, open for entries until 22 February:

This article appears in the 31 Jan 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The Great Migration