The Children's Laureate reveals her top writing tips!
We're not gonna lie; we're pretty jel' of the awesome winner of our Noble Conflict writing competition. Lucky Nina got a Q&A with the amazing author Malorie Blackman (pictured). Here's her interview - hopefully you can learn from it too!
How did you get into writing?
Malorie: I’ve always been writing since I was about seven or eight just for my own amusement but it never occurred to me that I could be a published writer. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties when I decided to have a career change from computing and wanted to do something that I felt was a lot more creative, that I thought maybe I could try and get some of my stories published.
I attended lots of workshops at London’s City Lit when I was in my 20s and thinking about trying to get something published. I started off with a course called Ways into Writing, and then progressed to courses about writing science-fiction, plays, and on women’s writing. Then I went on to attend the National Film and Television School.
I wrote about eight or nine books and had 82 rejections before I first got published, but there was no way I was ever going to give up.
How do you deal with writer's block?
Malorie: I’ve had writers block once and it was terrifying because I wasn’t sure I would be able to write again. I would sit at the computer and absolutely nothing would come. So I decided I’d do other creative things instead. I started having piano lessons and I’d go to art galleries, museums, the theatre and I’d watch films to try and get my creative juices flowing again. It lasted a couple of months and then I started to get back into writing and thank goodness I got over it. It was quite frightening because I thought what if this lasts and I can never write anything again!
Before starting a story, do you plan first or just go straight into writing?
Malorie: If it’s a novel, I plan a chapter breakdown so that I know what will happen at each stage of the book. This gives me a framework for my story, therefore when I start a novel I know where it’s going! That’s not to say that I always stick to the chapter breakdowns. Sometimes, mid-way through the book, the characters may take me in another direction, but by then I trust them to know where they’re going.
I also pay an awful lot of attention to my characters and getting to know them before I start writing so they come across as real people and so that my readers really feel for the characters and care what happens to them.
How do you check your work?
Malorie: I must admit I'm not keen on showing my stories until they are finished or until I feel they are at least in a fit state to show. My editor is lovely! She's very good at working with me to tell the very best story I can. And she's honest, which I need and love! If something isn't working she says so. Good editors are the ones who help the author remain true to what they want to say and who nurture the author's individual voice.
Do you set yourself word count goals?
Malorie: I try to write regularly. I don’t set myself a target of so many words per day, but I do try to write every day.
How do you get your inspiration?
Malorie: I get my ideas from anywhere and everywhere. It’s a matter of keeping your senses alert and your mind open. For example, a number of events inspired Noughts & Crosses; events taken directly from my own childhood, a number of real-life situations that happened to friends and family, things I’d seen and heard about and things I learnt for myself and from others. Inspiration can be taken from anywhere and everywhere if you’re open to it. The Stephen Lawrence case in the 1990s was just one of the catalysts that made me sit down and put a number of those events together into a story
Who is your most influential author?
Malorie: Alice Walker and The Color Purple.
I’ve only read the book once, I don’t know if I’ll ever read it again in its entirety but it is the book that changed my life profoundly. In all the thousands and thousands of books I read as a child and a teenager I didn’t read one that featured a black child like me and I didn’t read one written by a black author until The Color Purple. Reading Alice Walker’s book in my early twenties blasted open a door that I thought was barred and locked to me. To be honest, it blasted open a door that I hadn’t realised even existed - a door which marked UK Black Women Authors. I think Alice Walker and her book directly led to a writing career of my own. The Color Purple was a revelation on many levels. It showed me that not only could we black women become writers, but that we could write stories in our own way, using our own voices.
When you are struggling to finish a story, how do you motivate yourself to continue with it?
Malorie: I think of my bills!
What is your most favourite genre to write in and why?
Malorie: I like to write whatever takes my fancy that day, week or month. As I love both science fiction and realistic stories I write both. The best science fiction holds up a mirror to the real world and portrays real people with real problems and recognisable emotions. It’s just the setting which is out of the ordinary.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring novelists?
Malorie: Read, read and then read some more. After that write, write and then write some more! I don’t believe you can be a writer if you don't read. You have to cultivate a sense for the way words play together on the page. And the way you get that is to read – voraciously! Try reading books from different genres, even genres you’re not so keen on. You may be pleasantly surprised. Give it a try. Try to analyse what you like and what you don’t like in each book you read, to help you in your own writing. Develop your own style, don’t copy anyone. And don’t give up.