Malorie Blackman is the author of the Noughts and Crosses trilogy -
Book 1/ Noughts & Crosses,
Book 2/ Knife Edge,
Book 3/ Checkmate…
a story, the author says, that is a Romeo and Juliet affair - with a few controversial topics such as terrorism, mixed relationships, sex and alcoholism thrown in along the way! It's compelling reading and not for the faint-hearted!
Interviewed May 2005
- You cover a lot of major issues in O and X - mixed relationships, terrorism, alcoholism, capital punishment, hate, murder, sex, pregnancy - was this intentional & have you ever had any adverse feedback from teens themselves?
- I wanted to base the book very, very loosely on Romeo and Juliet and there were a number of things I wanted to say in the book. But I didn't sit down with a list of issues I wanted to cover. I just told the story of Callum and Sephy as it played out in my head. Writing the book was almost like watching a film in my head and desperately trying to record each detail of every scene.
I've never had any adverse feedback from teens themselves. (So far!!) Certainly not in all the letters and emails I've received to date. A few adults have been made incredibly 'nervous' by some of the themes in the book though.
- Did you plan this as a trilogy or did you write it as one book?
- I originally planned it to be two books. The first one was going to be the story of Callum and Sephy and the second book was going to be the story of their daughter, Callie Rose. However I was three hundred pages into Knife Edge and Callie Rose was still less than a year old so I knew the complete story would need another book.
- Do your characters always do as you want or do they develop a life/plot of their own e.g. did you always know that Callum was going to die … that he wouldn't get Sephy's letter in time?
- For me, if a book is working, the characters always take over and take on a life of their own. After about two pages of the first chapter, Callum and Sephy took over. With most of my books (the mysteries and thrillers) I tend to plot out the whole story. With Noughts and Crosses, I did character biographies (which I do for all my books), but only plotted out the beginning and some of the middle of the story. I trusted that Callum and Sephy would take over and they did. They took me to some very uncomfortable places. And I have to admit, (and this is going to make me sound like a nut job!) writing the end of the book made me cry as I was typing it, which has never happened to me before.
- Your writing has been likened to Robert Cormier's? Why do you think this is?
- I'm thrilled to be compared in any manner, shape or form to Robert Cormier. Maybe this is because, Robert wasn't afraid to tackle 'tough' subjects. And he wasn't afraid of unhappy endings either.
- Why do you think it is that, as readers, we sometimes feel this compulsion to read books that can be very disturbing?
- To reflect what we feel or what we know or maybe to take us somewhere outside of our own experiences but within the 'safety' of a book. As a child, I loved to read books with happy endings. As a teenager, I hated them because I didn't believe them. I wanted books that reflected life as I thought it was. Now I'm considerably older, I know that life is full of happy and sad moments and we all have to deal with both. But maybe sometimes we want books that are not just escapist but books that reflect our lives or the lives of others back to us with the minimum of distortion.
- We know film rights have been sold but have you any idea when the movie's coming out?
- None at all. The RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) have just bought the theatre rights, so hopefully the play will be out soon as well. But you never know with these things. I've got everything crossed!
- Why have you waited so long to write this trilogy?
- I had a number of other books that I needed to write first. All the books I'd missed as a child.
- When is the third one going to be released in NZ? Title?
- The third one in the trilogy is called Checkmate and I'm assuming it'll be out some time this year as it comes out in Britain in June 2005.
- Will we find out whether Callum really loved Sephy or not?
- You will!
- You received 82 rejections within 2 years before being accepted by a publisher. How/what kept you going?
- Stubborn determination.
- You've been quoted as saying 'I long for the day when race is no longer an issue. I would love people to read O & X or Knife Edge and say they don't know what I'm talking about.' Do you think this is ever a real possibility? What needs to happen to make this possible?
- Surely we all have to believe that the human race will get better and smarter with each generation, otherwise what's the point? I call myself a pessimistic optimist, so I live in hope. If I knew what needed to happen to make this possible I'd be one of the smartest people in the world - which I most certainly am not. But it seems to me that people are always at their best whenever a greater threat is faced - so maybe we need a threat from outside the planet (like in Alan Moore's excellent graphic novel The Watchmen) to stop all wars. Who knows?
- Favourite novel read in the past two years?
- Holes by Louis Sachar.
- Best advice ever given to you?
- 'Poo or get off the pot!' This advice as given to me by my first writing tutor when I wouldn't read my writing out in class 'cause I was too shy and when I was still dithering around, trying to decide if I had what it took to make it as a writer.
- Worst advice ever given to you?
- Don't become a writer!
- What do you think of NZ in comparison to UK?
- I was very struck by just how much New Zealand reminded me of the UK. Not so much the houses and the plants and trees, some of which were very different, but the feel of the place and the scenery (especially in Wellington which reminded me so much of Scotland). I really enjoyed visiting New Zealand. In fact I enjoyed it so much, I want to come back with my family and explore South Island as well next time.