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Today we travel to NE London in the UK to chat with Jessica Norrie. She and I discuss how the Titanic, feeling like a completely different person, a sense of peace, giving up, The Magic Roundabout, being nosey, and a house in the hills come together to form the magic of Jessica’s past and present.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Hi! I’m a retired teacher from the bit of Essex that’s within the boundaries of NE London, UK but is also called Essex (conspiring like Val Portelli earlier in your series to confuse your lovely pin map). I have two adult “children” and since neither they nor any classes of thirty schoolkids take up my time now, I write novels.
In which genre do you write?
I call it contemporary fiction because both my published books and my work-in-progress are set in the present day. Some call it women’s fiction – but men have said they too enjoy my writing. Some call it literary – but traditional publishers say it’s too easy to read for that (the ones who don’t say it’s too difficult to be commercial). Some call it psychological, but I think all fiction must be psychological or the characters would be so boring they’d fall over. On Amazon it’s boring old general fiction. This is no criticism of the question which is a very common one, but I wish people didn’t care so much about genre.
How many published books do you have?
Two novels, The Magic Carpet (2019), featured here, The Infinity Pool (2015), which is about a “holistic” holiday community on a Greek island and how they fall out with the local villagers, and a primary school French textbook, Célébrons les Fêtes, that I co-authored (Scholastic, 2010)
List 3 interesting facts about yourself.
If my grandfather had got the job he applied for on the Titanic, I wouldn’t be here.
If my father hadn’t been whisked away just in time from the “tarantula” (?) they found on his bed when he was seven (they lived above a greengrocer’s shop and it had arrived in a crate of bananas), I wouldn’t be here.
I speak fluent French and some Spanish and when I’m speaking another language I feel like a completely different person.
What do you do when not writing or marketing your books?
I soak in the bath dreaming about spending more time writing and less time marketing.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself through writing?
Usually, when I find something difficult, I give up. But when I’m writing or blogging I seem able to keep going, even after bad days and through poor feedback or self-doubt. Right up to and after publication I’m still surprised to get the positive feedback and reviews that I do get! And yet, unlike skiing, watercolours or Pilates, I don’t give up. That bestseller is just around the corner!
What is the most enjoyable thing you’ve found through writing?
I’m not sure enjoyable is the right word, but the sense of peace when I’ve thoroughly explored a world in a novel – the strange holiday community in The Infinity Pool or the neighbouring families in The Magic Carpet. I’ve said everything I need to say, and cleared it all out of my system, ready for the next challenge. Writing makes sense of disordered ideas the same way therapy does, I think.
If you were trapped in a cartoon world from your childhood, which one would you choose and why?
There was a French series adapted for UK TV in the 1960s called The Magic Roundabout. Adults saw hazy philosophy and drug references in it (there was a drawling rabbit called Dylan after Bob). Children just found it gentle and loving. When everything got too confusing, a peculiar creature called Zebedee, who was a talking jack-in-the-box with magicalpowers,would bounce onto the screen from who knew where. “’Time for bed’ said Zebedee,” the soft voiced narrator would tell us. It ended that same way after each daily five-minute episode and all seemed right with the world.
Which of your personality traits has been most useful and why?
I’m quite nosey and rather judgemental. I suspect this has sometimes worked against me making and maintaining friendships, but it’s ideal for a writer creating characters and conflicts for a story.
What’s your favorite place to visit in your country and why?
My partner has a house in the hills near Malvern, where the composer Elgar came from. We have very close friends next door; there are rolling hills to gaze at and walk in when not writing and the small town has a range of theatre, film, music, art and literary opportunities all within walking distance (if you don’t mind steep walks that are also a bit of a work out). C S Lewis used to meet Tolkien in the Unicorn pub, and is supposed to have based the lamp posts in Narnia on the ones in Malvern.
Tell us about your most recent book and where we can find it.
I published The Magic Carpet in July 2019, available at https://getbook.at/TheMagicCarpet or any Amazon as an ebook or paperback. It’s about how families and communities can comfort their troubles and grow together through the magic of storytelling. It was my response to years of teaching in diverse communities, trying to nurture the imagination and value all the different cultures represented in my classrooms. People have said some lovely things about how it’s moved and entertained them – it’s had a better reception than I’d have dared hope and although it’s set in London, the relevance should resonate anywhere parents and children have to live together and get along.
How do you feel about self publishing as opposed to traditional publishing?
I’d love to be traditionally published as so called literary/general/contemporary fiction is harder to sell as an indie than crime, romance, horror etc. Both my novels had very good feedback from the mainstream publishers my agent submitted them to, but they said they couldn’t work out how to market them. However, once I published them independently, the readers’ feedback was so good it suggests the traditional publishers were mistaken! So far I’ve had relatively good sales in the UK and Australia, but I need to crack the US market – which is where I’m hoping blogs like this one will help. I’d like to thank Camilla here for giving me the opportunity to showcase my work on her excellent site, and I do hope to be able to repay her efforts by becoming so well known she can boast about once having interviewed me!
It was wonderful learning about you Jessica! I’ve added The Magic Carpet to my ‘to be read’ list and cannot wait! Sounds like a great story! All the best to you! – Camilla
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?