the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other authors

Welcome to Jessica Norrie, author of The Magic Carpet

on March 18, 2021

I became aware of Jessica Norrie and her novels through membership of a Facebook Group called Book Connectors. As the name suggests, it’s a place to connect, particularly targeted to authors and book bloggers. It was with real interest that I was drawn to Jessica’s novel The Magic Carpet. There are certain commonalities in our experiences as authors (we were both formerly teachers) and in the subject of our novels. Jessica’s novel The Magic Carpet covers the experiences of five families with children attending Year Three in an outer London school during the start of the academic year 2016. This Much Huxley Knows is set in the suburbs of London during the autumn term of the same year and is written from the viewpoint of a seven-year-old boy in Year Two.

Following email exchanges, I invited Jessica to The Writer is a Lonely Hunter in order to find out more about her experiencesI extend a warm welcome to Jessica and invite her to answer the following questions that occurred to me while reading The Magic Carpet. 

  • Although The Magic Carpet focuses on particular families during a specific time period, did you write this novel with universal truths in mind?

Towards the end of my teaching career, I felt the need to distil thirty years, thousands of individuals, situations and conversations into something coherent, otherwise they’d all continue buzzing round my head and I wouldn’t feel free to concentrate on anything else. As everyone knows, all human children and adults combine their similarities in different ways that make them into individuals but with common interests. I wanted to see if I could get at that. 

  • There is a large cast of characters in The Magic Carpet and the use of multiple viewpoints. How did you plan and write the novel to offer perspectives from so many different community members?

A 7-year-old said one day “If we only write in capital letters, you can’t tell us off for not using them.” That says so much about how children’s minds explore ideas, and what’s good and bad about learning to write. In the book I gave Mandeep the idea, and a grandmother who’s probably dyslexic but never diagnosed and helps with his homework after school, then I filled out the family, added neighbours, worked my way along the street… Actually five families reflect a fraction of what teachers encounter daily. Whenever I was struggling with the multiple POVs I reminded myself I was usually bombarded with thirty at once. It was just a question of keeping order. 

  • As the title of your novel suggests, traditional stories and personal histories are central to the writing. How important do you think traditional tales are to learning and development as a child and throughout life?

I was an exceptionally lucky child because with a bookseller father I had a huge variety of brilliant children’s books. But especially to children from homes without books, traditional tales are essential. They overlap across cultures and they’re stepping-stones to other reading. They help order good from bad too although I think nowadays we’d be rightly wary of handsome princes who break in and kiss us in bed or cripple us in tiny glass shoes. Traditional stories are also versatile to teach with and happy teachers make for happy learners! As opposed to fronted adverbials which are vicious spells cast by bad fairies.

  • James Kelman was accused of cultural appropriation in using an eleven-year-old boy from Ghana to narrate Pigeon English, a novel about gang culture on a south London estate. What are your views on cultural appropriation? 

Pigeon English is a fantastic novel, partly based I understand on Damilola Taylor. Anyone from any background is free to take that story or any other and write it their own way – Edna O’Brian did with Girl, encountering the same accusations. Opinions have hardened in recent years and I wouldn’t dare write The Magic Carpet now. Not because I think I shouldn’t, but because I’m terrified of trolls who expect everyone else to accept their opinion but don’t compromise or listen themselves. That’s not to say that evidenced criticism for poor research, or for perpetuating stereotypes and tropes isn’t absolutely valid and welcome. 

You can’t set a realistic novel in London with only one ethnicity. It’s obvious to anyone who’s lived in diverse streets and learnt in diverse schools. By coincidence, Guy Gunaratne published his excellent In Our Mad and Furious City while I was finishing TMC. It also has five London narrators from different backgrounds. Does he have more right to do that because he’s BAME? He writes Irish, Afro-Caribbean, Muslim yet he’s not any of those. As a white woman, do I have more right than a man to write about domestic violence against women? Was I fair to set it in an Asian heritage household? Sadly, domestic violence exists in all cultures. Fortunately so do good stories and writers. 

If opportunities to write and publish were historically fairer, this debate wouldn’t arise and everyone could develop empathy and imagination by writing and reading whatever they’re drawn to. Until very recently opportunities for writers from any kind of minority have been so limited that it’s logical now to justify ring fencing their life experiences and histories for them. But in the long term if all writers only write about what they know best it will limit everyone.   

Hmm – I’m a bit conflicted on this!

  • Relationships between children, between adults, and between children and adults are at the heart of The Magic Carpet. From your experience as a teacher, do you think this ability to build strong relationships is valued in educational settings? 

I’d like to see a return to a more child-centred school curriculum and home life. I think learning can only benefit from strong relationships between all the adults a child knows, but current government policies force teachers to be defensive and parents to be pushy and competitive about academic learning at the expense of social and emotional development. Hopefully the pandemic months have helped people to understand the value of play again – for all generations. 

  • I understand The Magic Carpet was an independently published novel. What made you decide to go down this route?

My agent submitted it to many publishers and got rave responses, moving and reassuring to receive. But as one acquisitions editor said “It wouldn’t sell in Waitrose”. I don’t like Amazon but have to admit they’re the best designed option for an author on a budget so that’s where it ended up rather than never seeing the light of day.

  • With several published works under your belt, what’s next for you, Jessica? 

Agent is currently submitting Novel Three and I’m messing about with another in a desultory lockdownish way… better get back to it I suppose. Thank you SO MUCH for your time and giving me space to waffle on your blog Gail and I do hope my thoughts are useful to somebody somewhere.

Purchase link: http://getbook.at/TheMagicCarpet , also http://getBook.at/TheInfinityPool

Blog: https://jessicanorrie.wordpress.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wordsandfictions

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jessica_norrie

I hope followers of The Writer is a Lonely Hunter  will agree with me that this has been an exciting and pertinent Q&A. Thank you Jessica for sharing your thoughts and experiences of writing The Magic Carpet. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your novel and can highly recommend the book.

Gail’s review of The Magic Carpet

I admire Jessica Norrie’s skill in creating a novel with so many wonderful characters and viewpoints. (I had my favourite, Mr Chan, a widower from Hong Kong.) Using a light touch, Norrie explores issues of racism, domestic violence, belonging, isolation, identity and much more. Her ability to keep the voices distinct allowed me to tune into a range of personal histories and experiences. The Magic Carpet provides the opportunity to celebrate cultural differences and at the same time it draws upon the shared experiences of families from a range of backgrounds. An entertaining, informative and worthy novel.  


6 responses to “Welcome to Jessica Norrie, author of The Magic Carpet

  1. Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity Gail, and also for your generosity in buying and reviewing The Magic Carpet. It was a pleasure to answer your perceptive questions. Long live books by ex teachers with primary age narrators – a genre with resonances for everyone!

  2. jim bates says:

    What a wonderful and thoughtful interview, Gail and Jessica. I loved it!

  3. […] this blameless person. So she suggested I copy and paste it. But I think it’s better read in its original home on Gail’s blog because then you can also explore her books and the writer services she offers. […]

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