Malorie Blackman: UK hate crimes inspired new book

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Image caption Malorie Blackman has just released new book Crossfire

Almost 20 years after she first released Noughts and Crosses, Malorie Blackman is back with the newest addition to the series.

Crossfire, like her novels before it, explores the theme of racial divide with black people ruling over white people.

The series was inspired by the Stephen Lawrence murder case in 1993 and how police handled it.

Malorie has been speaking to Radio 1 Newsbeat about her new book.

“I remember watching a docu-drama about how the Lawrence family had been treated, particularly by the police,” she says.

“I remember being so angry about that, and I thought ‘I want to write something about racism and what it’s like to experience racism’.”

She says before she started the Noughts and Crosses series, she discussed writing about slavery with her friends, but the response was “kind of underwhelming”.

“They were saying why do you want to write about that, it’s so painful and so long ago”.

Image caption Noughts and Crosses will be on the BBC in 2020

“Then I thought – how can I flip it, and make the noughts the minority and the ones who are experiencing racism, the white people the ones who are experiencing racism. And so that’s how the idea was born.”

“I called it Noughts and Crosses because I wanted to make up my own terms for society, where the darker you were it was deemed the better you were.

“Noughts kind of sounds like zero, nothing and so that’s the term I applied to white people and then crosses, who some of them in the book consider themselves closer to god in every way.”

Blackman says there are a number of things that made her write the next book in the series, but mostly “it was inspired by current events”.

“It was what was going on with Brexit, the result of Brexit in terms of hate-crimes and it was also Trump, his inauguration and being made US president,” she adds.

She says she also was concerned by how 20 years on from her first book, attitudes to race in the UK and abroad didn’t seem to be changing.

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Image caption Malorie Blackman with Stormzy at Penguin Presents

“In terms of race – we seem to be going backwards on that one.”

“In March 2018 I was reading something that said there was a rise of 17% in hate crimes, but in the five years to 2018, it’s risen 123%.”

Blackman says other current affairs also inspired her new novel, including a storyline in the book about a white footballer being racially attacked on the pitch.

Image caption Stormzy in Noughts and Crosses

“I was watching something this morning on the news which said that racism at football matches have actually got worse over the last 12 months,” she says.

“We just look at what happened to Raheem Sterling when he got abused by those four Chelsea supporters.

“We can’t be complacent about it and say ‘things are getting better’ because they’re not.”

She also spoke about her relationship with Stormzy – who will star in the upcoming TV adaptation of Noughts and Crosses on the BBC in 2020.

“Early last year I met him [Stormzy]. He was just so wonderful and was telling me how he loved my books and grew up with them.”

“He’s in the TV series, he’s in one of the episodes and he’s also one of these people who puts his money where his mouth is.

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Media captionGlastonbury: 10-year-old Princess K performs on stage with Stormzy at Glastonbury

“He started Merky books with Penguin and they’re looking for more diverse voices and voices that perhaps feel like traditional publishing routes are not for them, but they’re encouraging people to come to Merky Books.

“The fact that he’s paying the tuition of two students going to Cambridge – I just love him for that.”

Blackman also talks about a big cultural moment in 2019 – when Stormzy used extracts from Noughts and Crosses during his headline set at Glastonbury.

“I thought that whole set was amazing and the fact that he had the ballet dancers and it was so hard for ballet dancers of colour to find shoes that match their skin-tone.

“In the same way that, in Noughts and Crosses, I have a scene where a Nought girl comes to school with a dark brown plaster on her forehead, and someone says ‘that stands out’ and she says ‘well they don’t make pink plasters, they only make dark brown ones’.

“I had such a response to that especially when the book first came out. A lot of white teens said to me, ‘I’d never thought about this before’.

“Not just white teens, readers said they’d never thought about the colour of plasters before.

“It’s something that a minority in a society will see that the majority won’t necessarily see until it’s pointed out to them.”

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