Monday 11 July 2016

HAY FESTIVAL 2016 | Malorie Blackman 'Chasing The Stars' Event

Hello readers, and happy Monday! Today I am very excited to be able to share with you another Hay Festival post! If you're sick of me banging on about Hay Festival I apologise - but I think you will enjoy this post as it is all about ultimate author bae - Malorie Blackman! 

As I was only at Hay for a few days this year I missed a lot of the YA book events, which I was gutted about, but I was so thrilled when I saw that the Malorie Blackman Chasing The Stars event was taking place right after the YA Book Prize announcement! So obviously I reserved a press ticket straight away.

I was lucky enough to meet Malorie Blackman in May last year at an event, so I knew from experience what a wonderful speaker she was and how she lit up the room with her positive attitude and energy. Every time I hear her speak she is just so uplifting and inspiring, and always has so many amazing things to say about YA literature and young people in general.

This event was all about her new book Chasing The Stars - a sci-fi retelling of Shakespeare's Othello - and the event consisted of Blackman discussing the story and her own love of Shakespeare with Claire Armitstead of the Guardian. 

Blackman began the discussion by talking about what inspiration Othello gave her while writing the book. She said that Chasing The Stars closely follows the format of Othello, however with a reversal of the sexes: Nathan, one of the protagonists of the tale, takes the Desdemona role, while Olivia, the other hero, is the Othello-like character. While Blackman's Noughts & Crosses series deals with issues of racism and terrorism, Chasing The Stars is undoubtedly a book about refugees, a contemporary issue which is so prevalent in our society today than it ever has been before. Blackman stated that Chasing The Stars is a book more about class than race - as the protagonist Olivia is an outsider because of her class position. Interestingly, Blackman pointed out that Chasing The Stars is a book closer to our world than it first appears - in the world described in the book there is very little social mobility, which is reflected in the current catastrophe of the systematic closures of public libraries. As a child growing up Blackman essentially lived in her local library and stated that 'libraries are a great equaliser' which I couldn't agree with more. Blackman stated that with the closure of public libraries the gap between the rich and the not so wealthy members of society gets wider and wider.

Next, Armitstead asked about the hidden politics in Blackman's books, and Blackman spoke about the Stephen Lawrence case and the IRA as both being political events that directly affected and contributed to what she writes about in her books. Blackman also spoke about her position as a black writer within the industry and the discrimination she has faced over the years not only as a black female, but a black female author. She said - 'it was as if because I was a black writer, that's [racial issues] all I could write about'. Thus, Blackman enjoys to play around with people's assumptions and continuously challenges the status quo - a fact which is shown clearly in her writing. This involves clever, sophisticated wordplay on current political rhetoric, such as the description of people 'swarming' onto boats in Chasing The Stars - stark, uncomfortable language that is horribly reminiscent of the kind of newspaper headlines we see today.

However, along with these social and political elements of Chasing The Stars, Blackman concedes that simply, 'I wanted to write a romping read!'

As well as being overwhelmingly socially and politically relevant, Chasing The Stars is also a novel rooted in popular culture - Blackman adores films, comics and TV and was not afraid to incorporate these passions of hers into the book. In response to Armitstead's comment that some might view these as 'lower' forms of art, Blackman replied: 'anything is good which tells a good story'. 

Next, Blackman spoke strongly of her ardent love of Shakespeare. 'If you're going to be inspired, be inspired by the best!' She declared. Blackman's love of Shakespeare was seen in her Romeo and Juliet-esque tale in Noughts & Crosses, and in Chasing The Stars Blackman showed off her proficiency as a writer by making the middle-aged love in Othello work between teenagers in Chasing The Stars

Soon enough the discussion moved onto YA! Blackman said that she is extremely passionate about teens and encouraging them to read for pleasure, and is a firm believer in letting teens read what they want to read, and not telling them what they should be reading. When the conversation moved onto sex and in particular sex scenes in novels, Blackman said it is better for young people to learn about sex and good relationships from books rather than from internet porn - which appears to be the medium most young people use nowadays. In most cases, particular in YA novels, the author has taken great pains to portray sex and the relationship in question in a responsible way. When asked what YA books she would recommend, Blackman highly praised the books on the YA Book Prize shortlist, as well as novels by Melvin Burgess, David Almond, Philip Pullman and Katherine Johnson. 

When it came to questions from the audience (the members of which were overwhelmingly young!) the first question was about which book she had written was her favourite, to which the answer was Noughts & Crosses, even though it was the most painful book she ever wrote because it was so personal. Blackman stated that she always wants to include a sense of hope at the end of her books, and Noughts & Crosses prominently includes this for the next generation.  

Overall, the event was not only hugely inspiring and entertaining, but I also learnt so much about Blackman and her books, and what drove her to write, particularly what made her want to write for young people. It was a great event and I was so pleased to see how many young people were there, who were so clearly inspired by Blackman and so eager to hear what she had to say.

The BBC filmed the event and you can watch Malorie Blackman talk about Chasing The Stars here:

Check out Malorie Blackman here:

Buy Chasing The Stars here:

Check out The Hay Festival here:

Until next time :)

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