I’m happy to welcome Jessica Norrie onto my blog today, as part of my ‘What I did at 50’ series – or, as Jessica puts it: What I did at 50 plus a bit, minus a bit. Jessica is the author of The Infinity Pool and The Magic Carpet. Welcome, Jessica, and tell us your story…
Thank you. First, I was born, at University College Hospital, London. I don’t claim any special credit for that, but it wasn’t long before Christmas. My father talked about watching processions of nurses in their red capes marching briskly through the snow below the ward window – I think the NHS was more glamorous then.
At school I loved writing stories, but that’s hardly surprising because both my parents were journalists, my mother on Glamour and Mirabelle magazines before she was married (glamour again) and my father for local papers until he got fed up with being sent to report weddings and found work as a bookseller, publishing novels in his spare time. So I thought writing was as normal as eating which gave me a lucky boost most children never get.
I studied French, lived in France teaching English, came back and trained to do it properly and somehow writing took a back seat. But when I married and had children, I earned a few pounds writing columns for mother and baby magazines (think inept mother makes silly mistakes, not helpful tips or advice. Fortunately my children were quite easy going and survived.) On maternity leave from teaching, I studied translation, and earned enough for our family holidays for a few years. Translating is great – a bit like editing/writing rolled into one without having to think up the plot yourself. Again, I’d never have got the diploma if the children hadn’t been predictable babies who kindly slept while I did the assignments.
There’s a lot of fast forwarding to do now. Career highpoints of the next few decades? I enjoyed visiting different schools to assess (with interpreters) bilingual children who were struggling for one reason or another – saw lots of age groups, situations, individuals – all human life was there! Refugee children, children with disabilities that had never been diagnosed, perfectly ok children who were just taking the developmental time they needed to start using another language but it didn’t fit with the exam schedules. Then the funding for that was withdrawn.
Later, it was hard work but fascinating entering the school advisory service to set up language teaching in primary schools. I made some great new friends and rediscovered my own love of learning languages. Then that funding was withdrawn. Back into school teaching I went, armed with lots of new methods and expertise and proud co-author of a textbook.
My own children were now adults and I found I wasn’t so well in tune with what makes young children tick. The primary curriculum too had become as dull for the teachers as the government seemed to be trying to make it for the pupils. My heart wasn’t in it any more. I had become more interested in what made adults tick, especially slightly odd ones, which inspired my first novel, The Infinity Pool. It did surprisingly well for self-published literary fiction. I had a number one in Australia, overtaking The Girl on a Train in the charts for over a week. I was amazed how long it took to market it and spread the word, though. No time for teaching, so I took early retirement, and following an amazing holiday of a lifetime in Japan, got down to novel number two, The Magic Carpet, which has just been published. This is not for children, but it is about them, and without my teaching career would never have been written. As a teacher, I think I learned at least as much as I ever taught.
All the while, I’ve been singing, in choirs, bring-and-sing days, workshops, holidays and with anyone who’ll accept my thin high soprano and slightly slow learning. There’s always someone with a richer, better voice, which stops me getting prima donna airs. I cannot recommend singing highly enough, whatever standard you are (or think you are), Rock Choir to Oratorio. It’s about breathing, muscle work, discipline, mindfulness, teamwork, concentration, self-expression and release. Though sheer good luck, I’ve sung at the Festival Hall, on Radio 3 and at the opening ceremony for the 2012 London Paralympics. Singing has made me lifelong friends and it’s how I met my partner. When we’re feeling flush, we also love to watch others at the opera – do go, it’s neither as expensive nor as elitist as you may think.
Jessica at La Scala Opera House
I’ve finished the first draft of novel number three, which is – why not? – about adults and children. Surprising how few novels are, when you stop and think about it. So many stories for adults ignore anyone under eighteen completely, as if we all sprang into the world at voting age.
The view from Jessica’s study in Malvern, Worcestershire
So that’s my 50s – three novels started, two finished. Two children sent out into the world. I’ve just stepped over the hump into 60 (no snow this birthday) which has started well – my partner has moved to Malvern, Worcs where this is the view from my study! And started badly – I won’t be seeing the view much longer without a trabeculectomy at Moorfields eye hospital this August. So it looks like I’m back where I started, with the NHS in considerably straitened circumstances but still doing its best. From the cradle – well let’s hope not to the grave, just yet. There’s still that third novel to finish!
Thank you for having me on your blog, Tracey, it’s been interesting to find the shape in my life through doing this piece of writing. Hope it’s of some interest to your readers too.
Tracey: I’ve enjoyed reading your story, Jessica. Thank you for telling it to us. Find out more about Jessica from the links below, and take a look at her books…
The Magic Carpet
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
Blurb: 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.