Malorie Blackman shares emotional truths and other insights from her memoir, Just Sayin’, in a new BBC documentary.

Malorie Blackman
imagine…Malorie Blackman: What If? Photographer: Screengrab
Image copyright: BBC Studios


From being the UK’s first Black writer to become a Children’s Laureate in 2013, to being name-dropped in rapper Stormzy’s, songs Malorie Blackman OBE is undoubtedly a hero to many. Widely known for writing children’s books, the 60-year-old has now picked up her pen to share her own story with her candidly named memoir, Just Sayin’: My Life In Words.

The BBC documentary, Malorie Blackman: What If? shares some of her inspirational story. In the 1hr 10-minute film, she sits with TV presenter Alan Yentob and delivers some heart-rending truths about her life and the journey to becoming an award-winning author.


Where did Malorie Blackman grow up?

In the doc, Blackman shared that she lived in Bromley for 22 years. She even wrote some of Noughts and Crosses there, too. “From the time I was seven, I lived in my local library”, she tells Yentob. Like many Caribbeans back then, Blackman and her parents were invited by the UK government from Barbados: “to do jobs that white people didn’t want to do.” Blackman’s dad switched from working as a carpenter in Barbados to working as a bus driver in the UK. Her mum worked in a factory as a machinist.

imagine…Malorie Blackman: What If?
Malorie Blackman, Alan Yentob
Photographer: Screengrab Image copyright: BBC Studios

Delving deeper into her story, Blackman described the library as a: “Home away from home” for her. As a child, she often moved across South-East London due to her father’s gambling habit. She recalls a point when she became homeless with her siblings and mother. Reading an excerpt from Just Sayin’, the Endgame author said: “There were days when I would walk home silently from tiredness and there were many nights when I just cried.” She shared she had to walk: “to and from school almost three miles each way every day. As I had no money for bus fares, I had no choice.”


The inevitable is here: Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses finds its Endgame


What inspired Blackman to write children’s books?

Blackman shared that as a child she thought: “Black writers didn’t exist”. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that she found out that they actually did. Thief in the Village by James Berry was the first children’s book she saw with a Black child on the cover. “That book is very dear to my heart”, she shared. She then explained that Alice Walker’s The Color Purple was the first novel she read by a Black author.

Speaking on realising that Black writers did exist, she said: “It was a feeling of, not just joy in coming across them and seeing that someone like me was in literature, but it was also this feeling that I’d been lied to. Explaining how this inspired her to become an author, she continued: “I would have loved to have come across these books as a child, but I came across them when I did. And I think they were formative in me feeling that, OK I want to write too. I want to write for the child in me who I felt missed out on having all these wonderful books in my life.”

Malorie Blackman
imagine…Malorie Blackman: What If?
Malorie Blackman – Photographer: Screengrab Image copyright: BBC Studios


Blackman also detailed how being diagnosed with sickle cell acted as a catalyst for her to push further in publishing. “If I’ve got a limited amount of time, I’m going to do it doing something that I love”, she said.


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Speaking on how special she felt when her first book, Not So Stupid! (1990) was accepted by a publisher, a bubbly Blackman said: “I was overjoyed because finally I got someone to say yes, and I could call myself a published author.”

Now in 2022 and three years after her mention in Stormzy’s Superheroes, Just Sayin’ is Merky Books’ first major memoir. Getting more personal, Malorie spoke about her daughter, Elizabeth. She also touched on the miscarriage of her first daughter, Tara. Malorie shared: “They brought her [Tara] to me and… she could fit in the palm of my hand at 14 weeks. Perfectly formed. And it took me a long, long time to get over it.” Reading an excerpt from her memoir, Malorie read: “I do think of you [Tara], often.”

Malorie Blackman: What If? is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

Just Sayin’: My Life In Words by Malorie Blackman is available to purchase.

Buy the book here


Maxine Harrison

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