Some few years ago I recall having a conversation with Jessica Norrie about English teaching and education and when she got in touch to tell me all about her latest book The Magic Carpet, I was so sorry I just couldn’t add it to my TBR to be read any time soon. However, I decided to set Jessica a challenge because we’d spoken about a writer’s audience both in person and over email so I asked if she would kindly write a guest post for Linda’s Book Bag and luckily she agreed.
The Magic Carpet is available for purchase here.
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?
Visualising my readers
I was cheeky to ask Linda to review The Magic Carpet, as I knew her TBR pile was taller than the Shard. I asked because she taught English, and I’d welcome the half million UK teachers as readers. I hoped Linda could help me contact them. Instead she gave me homework – write a guest post imagining my readers. It was a fair cop.
If you’re sitting comfortably, here’s the back story. I retired from teaching after thirty odd years (some very odd). I’d started my career believing education should be creative and child centred. After seeing too many pupils struggle with dull worksheets, I still hoped for a world where families and schools fretted less about test scores. I wrote The Magic Carpet to make sure that happened, in fiction if not the real world. I hope parents will be as keen as teachers on my story of five families wobbling, succeeding, and wobbling again when the school asks them to work on performing a traditional story. Some struggle, some run with the project, meeting each other as they work. Their deeper worries come to the fore, and their own life stories blend with those their children have brought home.
I set The Magic Carpet in the children’s homes, with a few key scenes in their diverse London primary school. I hope both parents and teachers will appreciate being represented. It can be cathartic when a book holds up a mirror – one reviewer certainly thinks so: “The characters were beautifully drawn and real. I’ve taught children like this. I’ve spoken to parents like this at the school door. I’ve seen how communities like this can unite and give hope.”
My five fictional pupils have single mothers, a widowed father, grandparents covering for working parents, and a childminder. Vignettes from my own children’s after-school life came back as I wrote, and at least one parent found echoes after she commented: Loved this book. Fabulous story telling and wonderful believable characters. Brought back happy memories of (NE London) School. There are 4.14 million 6-10 year-olds in the UK. I may have started writing the book as post retirement therapy, but now it’s published I’m thinking: if one carer of each read it along with those teachers, my UK readership would near 5 million.
Whether parents or not, we’ve all been children. My daughter’s friend, in her 20s and childfree, said “There were so many intersecting plots! It was like where I grew up!” That’s 8.71 million interested readers aged 20-30 for my potential audience. I won’t labour the point – they could be any age! Actually, I will labour it. The Magic Carpet includes rounded (though one is very thin), believable grandparents of different ages, abilities and outlooks. I hope the 14 million real grandparents in the UK may relate to them, so I’m pleased the website Books for ‘Older’ Readers is to feature the book.
My invented families are diverse – Somali, Gujarati and Punjabi speaking, Hong Kong born and “White British”. I could have included others; the children I taught had families with roots all over the world and all London schools are multicultural in different ways. I researched everything the best I could, but readers from those backgrounds are welcome to contact me if they find any glaring errors. The beauty of self publishing is details can quickly be changed – but please remember my characters are fictional, flawed, quirky individuals, never intended to speak for a whole race or religion. I hope many readers will find parts of their realities, reflected and discover others.
Perhaps you’re thinking it sounds a bit worthy? Please don’t worry – I set out to tell a story, and a story there is, with several others within and a cast of engaging characters reviewers say they cared about long after the end – (happy or sad? Read to find out). My characters resemble us: human beings who hear and tell stories to make sense of life, whether in traditional book form, water cooler gossip, memes or articles, blockbuster films or the epitaphs on gravestones. So I think the audience for my story about storytelling is actually limitless. When my agent submitted The Magic Carpet to publishers, several loved it but turned it down because they couldn’t define the market for it. I like to think they missed a trick. The readership is, potentially, pretty much everyone in the English speaking world (then there’s translation but that’s another story).
(Argh! You’ve made me really want to read The Magic Carpet Jessica. Having taught in a school that some 30 years ago had 76 different home languages I think it could be just my kind of read. Maybe my TBR needs to be as high as the Shard plus one more book!)
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 here.
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 (available here) 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.