Friday 20 September 2019

The Magic Carpet by Jessica Norrie @jessica_norrie BLOG TOUR #GuestPost #RandomThingsTours

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 Magic Carpet by Jessica Norrie was published in July 2019.  As part of the #RandomThingsTours Blog Tour I am delighted to welcome the author here to Random Things today.
She's talking about her inspiration for The Magic Carpet.


The inspiration for The Magic Carpet? One word comes to the surface.


When writing most of it, I’d been teaching over thirty years, with many different age groups. The last few years were mainly with younger ones. I’m not gooey about children, and my own experience of broodiness manifested more as overwhelming curiosity (“What would it be like?”) than anything soft or sentimental. But I do find children fascinating, and I think the adults who curate their lives have a duty to help them develop their imagination and sensitivity, for all our sakes.

Some of you are parents, a few teachers, but you’ve all been children. Think back to how important it was to feel secure. Whether only just past toddling or about to leave school for ever, the pupils I succeeded best with were those who felt safe – from bullying, family disruption, poverty, hunger, illness or crime, from intimidation and unfair pressure to succeed. For children to feel safe, the adults who look after them need to feel it too. I wanted to write a story where ordinary individuals, and groups worked out ways to live safely together and protect each other. I’d seen aggression and hostility but also many unsung stories of simple human kindness coming through the damage. I wanted to create a community which liked itself, overcame barriers and emerged stronger.

Since publishing The Infinity Pool in 2015 I’d sketched out characters for a new novel based on children and families I’d worked with – always careful to change identifying details, of course. I’d start with a real person, and as my ideas took shape they’d develop into someone else, until I no longer needed to worry about betraying the original model. Nathan and Xoriyo, in The Magic Carpet, were inspired by real children I taught, although I’ve changed their quirks and talents and given them new parents. I can see Xoriyo wagging her finger at me now, about some of the things I’ve made her say and do, but like the original, she does herself credit in the end. I once taught a child as preoccupied by her own beauty as Alka is in The Magic Carpet, and in real life it was just as hard to get the parents to see that isn’t the be all and end all of bringing up a daughter! I wanted to pay homage to Mandeep’s grandmother, who lit up an adults’ English class I ran, but I’ve changed her background and religion. Only Teresa is completely made up. I’m interested in the people who are left behind when communities change; I wanted to show her vulnerability, her confusion, and her essential goodwill.

Every teacher has delightful moments they giggle kindly about in the staffroom, in their way just as inspiring. Seven year old pupils can be funny at face value but their words cover serious issues underneath. In The Magic Carpet I do quote a despairing, possibly dyslexic child’s comment: “If we just wrote everything in capital letters I’d never get told off for leaving them out.” But in this novel at least I couldn’t find a place for the excitement of two real boys telling me “my dad knows his dad Miss!” They certainly did – one dad was the local beat copper, and the other had just been sentenced.

Next I had to fit my characters together. But my writing was angry – about the curriculum and funding, because I was always tired and felt as an older teacher that I’d passed the point when my experience was respected. My lovely characters kept butting up against my anger. They were worn out, a bit like all of us now faced with endless Brexit. There are children present, my older characters reminded me. Can’t we have some fun? Can’t we play? I was grumpy, and couldn’t work out how. I shoved them in a drawer, deciding the book wouldn’t work.

That summer I holidayed at Dartington Summer Music School in Devon. I go there mainly to sing and enjoy world class music, staying in listed medieval buildings in glorious countryside. But there was a creative writing course too, run by the inspirational Dame Marina Warner. She called it “Cross-currents in the Ocean of Stories”. In the prettiest of rooms, with the most stimulating group of people, she led discussions of fairy stories, myths and legends throughout the world, teasing out the similarities and contrasts, finding meanings and mysteries, setting us the task of writing our own modern tales among the magic in everyday life. That isn’t hard at Dartington. It’s an enchanted garden of turrets, statues, and topiary with an ever spreading mulberry tree.

The Dartington effect stayed with me, helped by never having to return to school – I’d retired that July. With a new spring in my step and Marina freeing up my writing. I realised my book could begin as simply as “Once upon a time…” (although I didn’t, in the end, start with that). I needn’t despair over how to cheer everyone up; I needn’t worry how to bind my characters together. I needn’t even write any new plots. The magic was all there at our fingertips, in our universal heritage of traditional stories. I could even use it to sweeten the anger of my points about government policies endangering creativity and imagination, etc, blah blah.

The children I was writing came alive, eager to play with the stories I’d found. The adults breathed a sigh of relief. Children and their stories got The Magic Carpet airborne.

©Jessica Norrie 2019

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 at

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 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.

The Magic Carpet is available at
The Infinity Pool is available at

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