Monday, 24 February 2020

Author Interview: Jessica Norrie

Today it's my pleasure to welcome author Jessica Norrie to the blog to talk about her writing and her latest book The Magic Carpet. Welcome Jessica.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how your writing journey started? 
I was very lucky as a child because my parents both wrote (journalism and fiction) so it seemed an entirely normal thing to me to write down whatever came into my head. However, on leaving home, I let life distract me and didn’t publish my first novel until 2015 when I was in my fifties. I now wish I’d started long before that as that’s when the learning really began!

If you had to give an elevator pitch for your latest book The Magic Carpet, what would it be?
Watch and wonder as the power of storytelling brings lonely people together and helps them grow!  

How did the title come about?
One of the schoolchildren in my book brings home a fairy tale about a magic carpet. She lives in a drab flat with her single mother and they’re both under a lot of pressure. But when they imagine themselves on a magic carpet they feel the world is theirs to command and everything will turn out well for them. The magic carpet stands for the way all the characters find freedoms through learning about storytelling.

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?

Both of your published books feature communities at the heart of them, what inspired you to write about a wider community of people rather than concentrate on a smaller number of characters? 
Foolishness! The more characters you try and include, the harder it is to produce a simple, commercial story that a publisher will snap up. But there it is – I’m more interested in how groups of people behave and how the individuals within them interact. I think it comes from thirty years as a teacher. I swallowed the standard career advice of “wanting to work with people” without realising teaching meant working with thirty of them at once – or actually far more, because their parents, carers and siblings are always in the background too, influencing them, worrying about them and affecting their behaviour. Then I got interested in what it means to be a pupil, a member of staff, a parent, a tenant, a home owner, or to belong to a particular ethnic group, how that affects the way you fit into society and what a healthy community looks like. In my first novel, The Infinity Pool, it’s simpler: there are just two groups, tourists and locals and the story involves the conflict between them.  

What was the first book that you read that made you think 'I would like to write something like that one day'?
The hundreds of children’s books I read took me into different worlds, each unique, and I didn’t think I could imitate them. But when I first started reading “grown-up” books, I was struck by how similar and down to earth many of them were. The teenage me liked Margaret Drabble and Lynne Reid Banks: books set in gritty bedsits with struggling heroines who were then still known as “unmarried mothers”. I was into anything realistic that conveyed the sounds and sights and smells of London but when I tried to write it myself I got bogged down in endless description.

What would you say is the best thing about writing? And on the flip side, what is the hardest?
Writing is the most mindful thing there is. When you’re thinking what words to use, how to make your characters speak, when you’re creating their world and scaffolding what might happen to them, they become so real that you’re completely unaware of time passing or hunger or pain or any other demand on your time. 

The hardest thing for me is constructing plots. Creating characters? I can do that. Deciding the themes, locating the setting, scripting the dialogue: check, check, check. But the plot the whole thing hangs on always seems to dangle just out of reach.

If you could give some advice to your younger self about the whole writing and publication process, what would it be? 
Start much younger. Don’t worry about all the other things you have to do or whether your writing is any good, just get on with it. Get something down on paper so you can start perfecting it, submitting it and get that writing  career off the ground before you hit middle age. But I didn’t. 

If you could write in a collaboration with another author, who would you like to write with and why? 
I’d love support from Philip Pullman or Sarah Waters with my plot construction difficulties, or from any good detective writer like Sarah Paretsky or Nikki French. I’m not sure what they’d get from me in return but I do make a good cup of coffee.

What novel(s) have you read recently that you wish you had written?  
I think the last two novels by Helen Dunmore , “Exposure” and “Birdcage Walk” are beautifully written, with interesting plots that move you on and characters and situations you care about. Perfect examples of how novels should be written. Enough detail to be interesting, not so much you’re bogged down. We’re left wanting more, and her early death was a huge loss to contemporary literature and poetry. Also Elizabeth Strout, the Olive Kitteridge books. Less is so much more.

And finally, what can we expect from you next? 
My third novel is with the agent and soon he’ll either return it to me for redrafting or (whoopee!) tell me it’s ready to submit. It’s a little bit feminist, a little bit historical, a sort of miniature epic if that’s not a contradiction. More individuals trying to interact within a malfunctioning community across the centuries – this time rural villagers in northern England. 

The Magic Carpet
The Infinity Pool
Facebook: Words and Fictions
Twitter: @jessica_norrie

1 comment:

  1. Huge thanks Shaz for giving me the opportunity to do this interview. I really enjoyed answering your perceptive questions - you must be such an attentive reader.