Literature OnBox

Interview with Malorie Blackman, author of Noughts + Crosses catch up on BBC iPlayer

Malorie Blackman OBE is a British writer who held the position of Children’s Laureate from 2013 to 2015. She writes literature and television drama for children and young adults. She has used science fiction to explore social and ethical issues. Her adapted book is Noughts + Crosses is currently on BBC One. Watch on iPlayer here.   It airs on Thursday night at 9pm and is now on episode 6.

How do you feel about your novel being adapted for BBC One?
I love the way it has been adapted – it is so much more than a dramatisation, and there are things in the TV series which are not in the book and vice versa, but that is the way it should be. I like adaptations that take the original material and run with it. Everyone has done a phenomenal job.

I feel the TV series is closer to how I would write the novel if I were writing it now. Actually, changes like Callum being in a military academy rather than at school I really love. That lends itself to him being one of the first noughts allowed in an officer’s school like Sandhurst or West Point in the US so it meant the drama could go in some really interesting directions.

How did you feel when you first watched an episode?
It was really strange, because obviously the characters have lived for so long in my head, and then to see it on the screen was amazing. Noughts & Crosses has been turned into two theatre plays to date, but it is now committed to film. It was one of those bizarre moments where I thought, goodness me, that was inspired by my book! It was one of those moments where you have to pinch yourself.

I hope people will go with it and enjoy it. It is entertaining, first and foremost, and also I think and hope people will find it thought-provoking.

How far do you think we have come in dealing with the problems this book tackles? Do you think we are in a better place?
Unfortunately the facts show there is more hate crime in Britain, and people being judged on skin colour or religion or sexual orientation. It seems like things have improved maybe as far as access to information and knowledge on other cultures is concerned, but unfortunately some people view anyone who is different to them as something to be fearful and suspicious of and that is a damn shame. The statistics show hate crime is on the rise.

Noughts + Crosses boldly celebrates black culture on screen, is that a step in the right direction?
Absolutely. What I wanted to do was have the Crosses / the black people in my story not as victims, but celebrating their own culture. I remember the first time I wore an afro at school I was sent out of the class for being a troublemaker. It was this thing of black people being penalised for wearing our own natural hair. The celebration of African culture in myriad forms gives a different sensibility to what has been on TV before. Also, it sets up the world of the Noughts and the Crosses in a very visual and immediate way.

I do think it is interesting when you do have dramas featuring black people in lead roles in this country, it tends to be detective/crime stories or something about race. What I would like to see are more comedies, thrillers, mysteries, love stories and whodunits that feature black characters in starring roles. There is room for everyone.

Did filming in South Africa bring something extra to the drama?
I think it did. It gave it an African sensibility in a way that would have been harder to achieve had it been entirely filmed in this country. It gives an African vibe to it and you can absolutely believe that Albion has been colonised by Africa. It lends itself incredibly well to creating the whole look and feel of the series.

How involved were you in the process of bringing your story to screen?
I feel lucky because I was sent the scripts and was able to make comments on them, and then I was sent the rough cuts, so I feel like I have been included in the process every step of the way. I know that is not the case with all writers who have had their work adapted so I feel incredibly lucky. We had various meetings to talk about the direction and about the ageing-up of the characters, etc. I feel like I have definitely been a part of it. It is great to do something collaborative like this because you have new writers involved and they will come up with things I may not have necessarily thought of because I have been so close to it. There were new ideas put on the table that were very interesting and exciting.

What will fans of the book think?
The thing is, Noughts & Crosses is my version of Romeo and Juliet. That was the inspiration for it and, from the feedback I’ve had, the teens and adults who have read it absolutely get that. It will be interesting to see how a wider audience will perceive it. Will they get what it is trying to say? We will see what happens.

The responses I have had from people who have read the book have been overwhelmingly positive and I am grateful for that. There are some real hard-core fans out there of the books who are so engaged with Callum and Sephy and their dilemmas. The TV series shows us not just their lives but more of their families as well.

The beating and emotional heart of the story is this relationship between Callum and Sephy. But I do think the whole aesthetic is going to be different and I love that. That in itself poses some stimulating questions and I hope it causes some interesting discussions.

Image Credit: Paul Akinrinlola

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