Malorie Blackman on vampires, dystopian worlds and brand new book 'The Noble Conflict'

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Sephy is a Cross - a member of the dark-skinned ruling class. Callum is a nought - a ‘colourless’ member of the underclass who were once slaves to the Crosses.

The two have been friends since early childhood, but that’s as far as it can go. That is until the first steps are taken towards more social equality and a limited number of Noughts are allowed into Cross school.

Against a background of prejudice and distrust, intensely highlighted by violent terrorist activity by Noughts, a romance builds between Sephy and Callum - a romance that is to lead both of them into terrible danger...

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Malorie Blackman chats to Sugarscape about vampires, dystopia, her new book and the Noughts and Crosses series

Hi Malorie - for people that haven’t read the series, can you give us the big bad introduction?

It’s a series of four books. The first one is called Noughts and Crosses, and that’s the tale of a girl called Sephy who’s a Cross and a boy called Callum who is a nought, and it’s basically about their friendship and it takes them into their teenage years. It starts when she’s 13 and he’s 15, and it finishes when she’s 18 and everyone around them is telling her they shouldn’t really be friends because she’s a Cross and he’s a nought and in this society the Noughts, who are white, are seen as nothing and the Crosses, who consider themselves superior, are black people and there’s a lot of people who feel that Noughts and Crosses shouldn’t mix because of that. 

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A number of things happen to Callum and he basically becomes involved with terrorists, or as they call themselves, freedom fighters. He’s involved with kidnapping Sephy, because her dad is high up in Government and they want to get stuff out of him so he has to betray her and help kidnap her, and that’s the story! Well, that’s the first one...

The series as a whole deals with some very gritty and challenging subject matter. What influenced you to start writing about this kind of thing?

It was a number of things really. It was a number of issues from my own childhood, it was things that were going on around the country like the Stephen Lawrence case and how the whole case was, to put it mildly, mismanaged by the police. I just remember hearing all this and remembering things from my own childhood and sitting down feeling really angry about it and thinking ‘I’m going to write something about this’.

The idea came to me about a year and a half two years before I started writing but then when I sat down to write I was really ready because I really knew what I wanted to say with it in terms of the effects of racism. Originally I wanted to write a story about racism and the legacy of slavery and when I passed the idea by friends the response was a bit underwhelming. So then I thought I’d actually still like to write a book about how we view each other and judge each other by appearances so that’s how it was born.

So you already knew that Callie’s story was going to be in there when you started writing?

Yeah. I think it’s also about the sacrifices our parents make, a lot of which we don’t really see. I definitely wanted to tell Callie’s story as a teenager, so I always knew it was going to be about Callum and Sephy and then their daughter and I wanted to do a sort of generational thing.

Obviously things have moved on but there’s still stuff going on so it’s a slightly different dynamic in Checkmate and in Double Cross, the last one, because Double Cross is more about Callie Rose’s boyfriend Toby and having to deal with getting on and trying not to get involved in gangs and things going on in the area that he lives.

We wanted to ask you about the end of Noughts and Crosses, because on  the first read it’s really quite shocking and not at all how we expected. Did you actively want to shy away from the whole happy ending structure, or did it always have to end that way?

I think it always had to end that way I mean it’s very very loosely based on Romeo and Juliet and that's the way the story goes, but at the same time I would be lying if I didn’t say that at the time when I was writing it there was some weird sessions where – and this will make me sound like a muppet – but I was in tears writing it, because I didn’t want these anything bad to happen.

But then if it didn’t end that way then you’re not being true to the story. You’re just changing it because you like a fun, happy ending so I had to be true to the story. It’s more real that way as well. And I think that so many people who have emailed me and sent letters – I think it’s the ending in particular that really made them feel the book and actually I’m glad I didn’t give into the temptation to maybe change it, because I think the whole point was that doesn't happen with racism and I couldn’t shy away from writing that into the ending. I had to be true to the story and I think that for a lot of people the ending really got to them and made them feel the characters.

What was it like writing Jude? He must have been quite an interesting character, coming across as one the baddies as it were.

He was actually he was very interesting because I wanted him to be a real person. I wanted you to understand why he was acting the way he did. I didn’t want people to think he was right in the way he was, but I did want people to understand him. Especially in the second book as there’s a scene where he’s trying to get money out of a woman and she’s a Cross and he does something really horrible. I remember when I was writing that a chill ripped down my spine and I thought ‘oh my God’ because he does this really horrific thing. It's really strange because its going to sound really bizarre, but they do become real people to me.

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Although I’m kind of creating them as I’m writing and stuff, I do think of them as real people. So I was almost watching what he was doing and as if I was recording it, so a real chill went down my spine as I wrote that bit, and as I said, I did try and make him a real character, but he really is a nasty piece of work. I think he is maybe the other side of the coin as far as Callum is concerned or you know how some people think there’s only one way to get what they want and that’s violence. So he was a really interesting character to write and I wouldn’t call it a pleasant experience to write him because he was such a vile character.

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Click next to hear what Malorie is working on next >>


What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a book called Noble Conflict and its kind of a war story with a twist shall we say. I’m just doing my final edit and things for that so that should be out next June or July.

Is it a kind of historical thing or is it another dystopian story?

Yeah it’s another dystopian thing. It’s an interesting one for me because I’m really enjoying it because I like trying new things etc so its kind of a dystopian war story. That’s coming out next June or July but I’ve got a reissue of a story I wrote in the 90s, a vampire story called Trust Me. That’s coming out at the end of the year as a new book and that’s kind of about a Vampire love story that turns quite nasty.

Malorie Blackman chats to Sugarscape about vampires, dystopia, her new book and the Noughts and Crosses series

It’s interesting that you were writing about  vampires and dystopian worlds way before it was a massive trend. Did you see the way it took off coming?

No, I didn’t but I wish I did! It doesn’t work that way but it was interesting to me that I wrote this vampire book so many years ago and suddenly there’s a phase of it. When Heather falls in love for the first time she finds out her boyfriend Andrew is a vampire. He makes her a vampire with the idea that they’ll be together forever but then he starts loving the power he’s got and then she realises that actually she’s the only one that can stop it.

It's quite different, more of a vampire story with bite and that was something I wanted to bring out again rather than a love story that all ends happily ever after. I mean I love stories can end happily but it doesn’t always work that way – I think everyone goes through this certain time in their life and I think that’s what’s wonderful in that book because whatever world it’s set in, it might be a world you might not recognise, but the characters should be going through things that you absolutely recognise – their fears and their joys and their hates and their loves and so forth are things that you empathise with. That’s why I think if the characters are right you can put them in any setting because you believe in them and so I believe in their dilemmas and what they have to go through.

I think that’s why I love what I’m doing, because I love exploring different settings but I do like making sure that my characters are characters that people can empathise with.

What are you reading at the moment?

I tend to have about two or three on the go at once and I do love graphic novels. I think they’re undervalued in this country because actually a graphic novel is actually like a story board for a film and I think that what’s interesting is I read Watchmen by Alan Moore and then I watched the film and it was almost like he’d used the graphic novels as a story board for the start of it, because it was almost exactly the same. I love that it adds that visual element to the story and now I think that a lot more books for teenagers are going to come out as graphic novels as well. I think that they are undervalued but hopefully that will change.

Malorie Blackman chats to Sugarscape about vampires, dystopia, her new book and the Noughts and Crosses series

Are graphic novels something you're interested in having a go at yourself?

I would love to I mean I wrote one a while ago called Animal Avengers, but I would love to do Nought and Crosses as a graphic novel. I think that would be amazing but we’ll have to wait and see. I would definitely love to write one from scratch as I think there’s a different way of thinking about it because you have to think of how the illustration will look in each frame and you have to play with that and make sure its visually interesting as well as the story is captivating but I would love the challenge of doing that.

Oooh! So what do you think of all that then? Have you read the Noughts and Crosses series? All the books are out now so you probably should!

Comments please.

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