If you are a regular visitor to the blog you will be familiar with Jessica Norrie and her Literary Column which ran in 2018 and has enjoyed a revival this year too.
Today Jessica is under the spotlight for a more detailed interview but before we get into the questions, here is a reminder of Jessica’s work so far.
About Jessica Norrie
Jessica Norrie studied French literature at Sussex University, and trained as a teacher at Sheffield. Then she wandered into parenthood, told her now grown up children stories, and heard theirs. A qualified translator, she worked on an eclectic mix of material, from health reports on racehorses to harrowing refugee tales. She taught adults and children, co-authored a textbook and ran teacher training. In 2008 came the idea for “The Infinity Pool”, which appeared in 2015 (and in German in 2018). Her second novel “The Magic Carpet”, inspired by teaching language and creativity in multicultural schools, was published on July 22nd 2019, and she is working on a third. She also spends time blogging, singing soprano, walking in the forest and trying to move out of London.
Welcome to the Sunday Interview Jessica and to start us off can you tell us about the genre that you write in, and how you see it evolving in coming years?
I try to write what it gives me most pleasure to read, usually fiction. As a reader, I appreciate stylish writing with careful attention to language, which some would call literary fiction. I like modern settings around the world (contemporary fiction), sometimes with a galloping plot that makes them commercial fiction. Still thinking in terms of writing what I read, I prefer books where female characters get to occupy the page at least as much as male ones, which could be women’s fiction or perhaps feminist fiction, (looking through my shelves at least half the books I’ve thought worth keeping are by women).
My next book has many passages which refer to several centuries ago, so perhaps I’m writing historical fiction – partly. My first novel The Infinity Pool could be labelled with a travel fiction tag, and once upon a time some readers might have called The Magic Carpet traditional although others would call it gritty social realism. When submitted to what I call lah-di-dah publishers, my books get returned with scornful notes about lowbrow writing not darkening their door, but others say they’re too challenging. I can also tell you what genres my books are NOT – crime, fantasy, romance, sci fi…
Anyone can get an Amazon no 1 in a category so tiny there’s hardly any other books in it. But from somewhere down here in the quagmire of general fiction, I can only dream of a future when genres will mean little and books will be defined by original writing, plots, characters and themes.
What would be your advice for an aspiring author before they put pen to paper?
Er – put pen to paper! Or tap fingers on keyboard. Seriously, if you don’t write something down you can’t even start to improve it. Nobody ever got read, let alone got a publishing contract, with a blank page.
How do you feel we should be encouraging the next generation of writers during childhood, at school and in the home?
This is a theme dear to my heart because my parents encouraged me to write all the time, as did my teachers, as did I with my own children. But there’s more to it than saying “We love it when you write/do show us your wonderful writing.” Nobody can write before they can read. Children need to be surrounded – and I mean surrounded – by books, long, short, funny, sad, with pictures, with chapters, poetry, non-fiction, humour, stories. Books can come from libraries, charity shops, the child’s school, or be swapped with friends – they don’t have to be bought new although obviously we poor authors would like some sales or we’ll starve.
Children need to be read to – four months old is not too early to start. The readers should be all sorts of people, in different voices, with love and tenderness and some willingness to stop to answer questions and share reactions. Boys in particular need to hear men reading to them. Children need to see adults reading too, silently to themselves or aloud to each other, talking about what they’ve read, responding to it, choosing the next book. There are few rights and wrongs – some books are “better” than others but almost all have some contribution to make. (I gave some ideas for how to read and how not to read with children in this blog post.)
THEN the writing can and almost certainly will start.
How did you conduct your research for the book you are featuring today?
The Magic Carpet is the book I wrote to get teaching out of my system – no, that sounds negative. The Magic Carpet is the story I wrote to celebrate the many voices that echoed through my classrooms in thirty plus years of teaching. Confident, stuttering, English, countless other languages, questioning, resigned, joyful children and families who passed through my hands or those of my colleagues. Any classroom with around thirty pupils also contains the back stories of thirty households – in the backgrounds to those thirty lives money may be draining away or accumulating, illness might loom, success and celebration could be around the corner, or death. I did my research over thirty plus years in adult education, primary and secondary schools, and teacher training. It’s not a research project that could ever finish while there’s a school bell that rings somewhere to start the day, so I selected children, episodes, themes and problems that had recurred or stood out and used them in my story.
Please tell us about your next project and when we can expect to see the book.
Hostage to fortune time! I need to hint enough to arouse interest but not give too much away. Suffice to say I’ve finished the first draft of a book set in a village in northern England, not a village where life has ever been comfortable or prosperity taken for granted, but not dirt poor either. Ideas and the families living there haven’t changed much in hundreds of years but there is something very particular about this place that sets it apart from others but also echoes globally and down the centuries. I use the particular fact to explore the global issue, and, as in The Magic Carpet, my narrators rely on storytelling to make their point – until one day they find they need to take direct action too.
Lovely to have over as always Jessica and now time to find out more about The Magic Carpet and to read an extract from the book.
The Magic Carpet – Jessica’s latest release.
Outer London, September 2016, and neighbouring eight-year-olds have homework: prepare a traditional story to perform with their families at a school festival. But Nathan’s father thinks his son would be better off doing sums; Sky’s mother’s enthusiasm is as fleeting as her bank balance, and there’s a threatening shadow hanging over poor Alka’s family. Only Mandeep’s fragile grandmother and new girl Xoriyo really understand the magical powers of storytelling. As national events and individual challenges jostle for the adults’ attention, can these two bring everyone together to ensure the show will go on?
One of the recent reviews for The Magic Carpet
I must admit that I got an expected but completely welcome surprise when I read this book. The magic carpet is an intricate and beautifully told tale of a school project and several families involved. Each child in the class has been allocated a fairy story to take home and make their own any way they wish.
The narratives switches between each family and each chapter is dedicated to a different class member. Diverse, intriguing and almost voyeuristic, we are allowed to peep into the lives of each family as they tackle the homework project in very different ways. All the adults in the story are increasingly distracted by events in their own lives and it’s up to the children to bring everyone together.
I adore that Jessica Norrie has given each family a very unique identity through circumstances. culture and race. Each relationship and situation is delicately written and issues are tackled with sensitivity but bring he characters to life. I became invested in every single child in this novel.
This is a breathtaking and addictive story about stories, families and children.
Read the reviews and buy the book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Magic-Carpet-Jessica-Norrie-ebook/dp/B07TXZP2S2
And on Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Magic-Carpet-Jessica-Norrie-ebook/dp/B07TXZP2S2
Also by Jessica Norrie in English and German
Read the reviews buy the books: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jessica-Norrie/e/B01CEUZF26
and on Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Infinity-Pool-Jessica-Norrie-ebook/dp/B011RA8QZW
Find more reviews on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3270629.Jessica_Norrie
Connect to Jessica
Thank you for dropping in today and I know that Jessica will be delighted to answer your questions.. thanks Sally.