It was nearly twenty years ago now, but I vividly remember the day I first met Malorie Blackman.
She came into our Ealing offices (we were then the children’s Transworld list) to meet me and Philippa Dickinson for a discussion about a book called Hacker. It wasn’t the first thing she’d had published (Not So Stupid, a collection of short stories, had just been acquired by The Women’s Press) but it was her first novel for children. (She claimed later to have had over fifty rejections from publishers – all I can say is, thank God she persevered!)
Malorie was vivacious, warm and highly intelligent. Her book, Hacker, though it needed a little editorial work, was similarly lively and original. What’s more, it starred Vicky, a determined, feisty main character who was not only familiar with hi-tech computer language, but loyal, funny and highly bright, like her author! Hacker was one of the first computer thrillers we had read in those days, and Malorie was forging a path in that genre.
In Malorie, I knew we had found a real writer, and a star of the future, Sure enough, Hacker went on to win the WHSmith Mind-Boggling Book Award, the first of many awards for Malorie.
When, in 2001, we published Noughts & Crosses, even I couldn’t have foreseen how much of an impact that book would have. Picked as one of the nation’s favourite books in the BBC Big Read survey of 2003, the novel continues to be one of our strongest backlist titles, and the sequence has now sold in excess of one million, two hundred thousand copies.
The young adult dystopian novel has recently become a fashionable thing to publish, but Malorie was there first! Noble Conflict, her latest novel in this genre, is every bit as powerful and frightening. And yet the world she conjures up is not so hard to believe in . . .
I am now well into my fourth decade in children’s publishing, and Malorie has been (and continues to be) one of the highlights of my career. The day she became Children’s Laureate I felt like her proud mum. Or perhaps, as I wait for her new book to be delivered (the long-awaited sequel to Boys Don’t Cry) it’s more of a proud midwife!
By Annie Eaton