I’m delighted to say that today’s guest is Jessica Norrie, whose books reflect her love of travel and her experience of working with children. Hello Jessica, thanks for visiting the coffee shop. What would you like today?
I’d like a cappuccino, please, in a proper Italian round cup with a saucer and a pretty barista swirl on the top. Since it’s virtual, I’ll add an almond croissant with lots of virtual calories! Thank you!
Oh I do like my coffee in a proper round cup too – no chunky mugs here! It’s great to have a chance to chat about you and your writing. One thing I was wondering – if you could be any fictional character for a day who would you choose?
Generally speaking I think children’s book characters have a more interesting time – they don’t have to worry about love affairs and Brexit and stuff like that. So I’d go back to the classics and be Anne of Green Gables or Laura Ingalls Wilder as children. They’re so positive, enjoy or at least learn from everything they encounter and both have a fantastic imagination. If any of your readers can’t connect to them, how about a few hours as Hermione Granger, mixing up whizzo potions and changing the course of everything?
All great choices – I adored Little House on the Prairie when I was little and who wouldn’t want to be Hermione Granger? How about if you could invite just two authors (alive or dead) to dinner – who would they be?
My father was a London bookseller so we did occasionally have authors to dinner. My mother’s great friend was Joan Aiken who wrote The Wolves of Willoughby Chase series. She was very tiny and quietly spoken but she packed a devastating wit into the shortest of statements and had a sort of whispered chuckle that opened up all sorts of possibilities. I’d also invite Helen Dunmore from beyond her recent and too early grave. I’m hoping she’d tell me how she mixes impeccable research with exactly the right language and readability
Wonderful. I’d love to have met Helen too, having grown up in Bristol where Birdcage Walk is set. How does where you live inspire what you write?
My first book The Infinity Pool was inspired by holidays on a Greek island, but the second The Magic Carpet has echoes of almost everywhere I’ve lived – diverse communities in London and Sheffield where I hear different languages spoken around me and can try fruit and veg I’ve never seen before from shops that stay open until midnight. As a writer in such a place you don’t have to worry about throwing in characters from any background you feel like introducing, because it’s entirely feasible they’d be there (you still have to research them properly though).
What’s the story behind your story?
I was a teacher in communities like the ones I describe above. It’s no exaggeration to say “all human life is there”. At least eight classes a year, thirty children per class, umpteen ethnicities, languages, religions and backgrounds for over thirty years… On retirement, I needed to make sense of all the clamour and individual stories by pinpointing what they had in common and where the conflicts were and that’s what The Magic Carpet tries to do.
So loads of inspiration to draw on for your characters. If you could have a special gift what superpower would you choose?
It isn’t really a superpower, in most people’s eyes, until you start losing it. I’ve inherited my mother’s glaucoma in both eyes and the wonderful surgeons at Moorfields hospital in London are doing their best to safeguard the vision that remains. If they can keep blindness at bay I’ll settle for that.
Yes, it’s easy to take these things for granted, isn’t it? Can you tell us a bit about how you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Oh, a pantser. But it’s less clear cut than that. I start from a setting and themes I want to write about. A character who fits in that setting usually emerges pretty quickly, although sometimes I have to try several to see who’s best (that’s how I end up with multiple points of view which drives editors mad). Then as the character moves through the setting a story arises naturally, albeit often quite a subtle one that I must develop. I’ve never been able to say, like a plotter: I’m going to write a love affair/a bankruptcy/a crime etc without knowing the broad surrounding and some everyday features first.
When did you start writing and what got you started?
I was luckier than most to grow up in a house full of books. My parents both read and wrote, showing their children writing is as natural as eating and drinking. As part of playing we wrote stories, newspapers, diaries, plays… The more you write, the better you get, so I got praised at school, and wrote more. It’s a virtuous circle. But I wish I’d started writing full length novels before I was 50!
How do you deal with rejection?
With judicious amounts of chilled white wine and remembering tomorrow is another day. Rejection is a common part of every author’s life whether or not they ever make the big time; you just have to keep it in proportion like any other dismal aspect of any job.
Thanks, that’s good advice. What’s the best tip on writing you’ve been given?
If you don’t write anything down, you’ll have nothing to improve by editing, so get on with it. But conversely, don’t beat yourself up if you planted bulbs or read books or did something that really does earn some money that day instead.
I agree – writing should be a pleasure not a chore. And what are you working on next?
A novel set in a remote village in Derbyshire. I’ll have to do my research very carefully, as I started it on a whim and can’t let go of the idea, but I’m not sure I have the credentials to write it.
Sounds great – I love Derbyshire. Best of luck with this and thanks for dropping in today!
The Magic Carpet
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?
The Infinity Pool
In this thoughtful novel set on a sun-baked island, Adrian Hartman, the charismatic director of the Serendipity holiday community, is responsible for ensuring the perfect mindful break, with personal growth and inner peace guaranteed. People return year after year to bare their souls. For some, Adrian IS Serendipity.
But Adrian disappears, and with him goes the serenity of his staff and guests, who are bewildered without their leader. The hostility of the local villagers is beginning to boil over. Is their anger justified or are the visitors, each in a different way, just paranoid?
As romance turns sour and conflict threatens the stability of both communities, everyone has to find their own way to survive. This evocative story explores the decisions of adults who still need to come of age, the effect of well-intentioned tourism on a traditional community, and the real meaning of getting away from it all.
About Jessica Norrie
Jessica Norrie was born in London and studied French Literature and Education at Sussex and Sheffield. She taught English, French and Spanish abroad and in the UK in settings ranging from nursery to university. She has two adult children and divides her time between London and Malvern, Worcestershire.
She has also worked as a freelance translator, published occasional journalism and a French textbook, and blogs at https://jessicanorrie.wordpress.com
Jessica sings soprano with any choir that will have her, and has been trying to master the piano since childhood but it’s not her forte.
She left teaching in 2016. The Infinity Pool was her first novel, drawing on encounters while travelling. Her second novel The Magic Carpet is inspired by working with families and their children. The third is bubbling away nicely and should emerge from her cauldron next year.
The Magic Carpet is available at http://getbook.at/TheMagicCarpet
The Infinity Pool is available at http://getBook.at/TheInfinityPool
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