To Olwen Wymark, – ‘A Thank You’

Why do I look at obituaries?  To admire people I will now never meet? To remind me to stop procrastinating?  To feel the glow of admiration at other people’s successes?

Occasionally, though, there is that stab of sadness when you turn the page and see someone who has helped you at a certain stage of your life.

In 1999, I was accepted on to a Masters in Creative Writing in Film and TV at Sheffield University.  So pregnant, I could hardly walk up the hill, I postponed my course for a year.  When  I resumed in 2000, I found the stars were coming out to teach us.  The late Jack Rosenthal was a tutor, likewise the master of TV adaptation, Andrew Davies.  Steve Attridge had written for children’s and adult TV.  The only woman and, perhaps, the least well-known, was Olwen, who died on Monday, aged 81.

Olwen was assigned as my tutor, and, as luck would have it, lived a mere thirty minute bus ride away.  I was juggling a job, a young baby and one of the best – and most expensive – opportunities to improve my writing I’d had.  She let me into her splendid haven up Parliament Hill and devoted time helping me, not only on my MA script, but with a radio script I was trying to write.  She kept urging me to watch the film ‘You Can Count On Me’, as she felt it would help me find ways to say the things I wanted to say.

With Olwen’s encouragement, I achieved a Distinction for my Masters.

I still haven’t seen the film.  Now, I must.

Jar Jar Binks v Eddie Murphy: Who’s the most offensive?

Jar Jar Binks v Eddie Murphy: Who’s the most offensive?

In his Radio Five blog, the film critic, Mark Kermode, delivers an amusing rant on offensive characters in film.  Much of his ire is reserved for lazy characterisation that relies on weary stereotypes – and Eddie Murphy in a fat suit.  And as a ‘Chinese’ guy.  And as himself.

As a writer who wants to write about people who look like me (and the occasional person who’s the same gender as me), how do I avoid the worthy/stereotype dilemma?  Do I ban any girl from wearing pink, any woman from calling herself ‘a girl’ and any young person who uses the word ‘gay’ as an insult? Do I attempt to blend ethics with irony?  Hmm.  Commercial, that.

A few years ago, I went to a rather novel event about how scriptwriters work with charities to deal with ‘issues’ as authentically as possible.   The stand out presenter was a representative from THT (the Terrence Higgins Trust) whose eyebrow remained determinedly arch as he discussed the Eastenders character, Mark Fowler.  Mark became HIV positive and there was much consultation about his storyline.  I remember bawling lie a loon when Mark’s wife, Gill, dies in a hospice.  According to the THT guy, Mark became ‘as dull as ditch water’, because no one  dared upset the THT volunteer who was giving the advice.

On another occasion, I accosted poor, unfortunate Lennie James at a BBC Writersroom event.  He wrote and starred in ‘Storm Damage‘, a TV film about an idealistic ex-teacher trying to save a doomed young man from crime.  James plays the drug dealer.  I wondered if he felt any caution about writing a black character who was a drug dealer.  He did not.  (Ashley Walters, who has played a few troubled young men, including the lead troubled young man in ‘Storm Damage’ also pops up in the Doctor Who episode ‘Journey to the Centre of the Tardis’, where the Tardis is picked up by ‘an intergalactic salvage crew.  In other words, looters.  All black.)

As a distraction from another edit of my young adult book, I read Tanya Byrne’s ‘Heart-Shaped Bruise’ for inspiration.  Her anti-hero protagonist, Emily, is a young, blonde  woman.  Emily has a burning hatred and commits a terrible revenge on Juliet, a sweet, kind, girl.  The love interest is Sid, southern Europe-heritage, maybe?  Stunningly good-looking, loves is dodgy mum and is a Beasties Boys fan, to boot.

But, would I have loved the book so much if Emily was black?

My new book – Wild Papa Woods

I’m a proud mother.  Okay, the book doesn’t play Green Day’s ‘Basket Case’ on the ukulele or Cat Stevens on the acoustic.

But it’s mine. all mine.wild papa woods

Two tales – one based on an old Trinidad folk tale of Papa Bois, the guardian of the woods.  The other story is inspired by a couple of trips to Lamu, the island off the coast of Kenya, populated by people, donkeys and cats.   (The last time we were there, we were on a dhow sailing out into the lagoon at sunset.  Some cliches are worth it.)

Twelve-year old twins Liani (never without her camera) and Cyril (”outside world – noooo!”) face down hunters, sniff out crapaux and set Spiderface on the path to a long and happy life.

Enough said.

The books that built Malorie Blackman

The books that built Malorie Blackman

I must admit, I wasn’t sophisticated enough for Jane Eyre.  My favourite Narnia book (er-hm, the only one I read) was ‘Voyage of the Dawn Treader’.  I devoured Arthur Ransome’s ‘Swallows and Amazons’ books from our primary school library, before trundling through ‘The Jungle Book’, ‘The Hobbit’, ‘Lord of the Rings’ and the blub-fest S.E. Hintons.

Haywards Heath library – I owe you so much!