I should be at the Romantic Novelists’ Association annual conference tonight, drinking and chatting with a couple of hundred writers, before delivering a blogging seminar to them in the morning. Well, thanks to Covid-19, that’s not happening. Instead. I am enjoying Friday Night Drinks with author….. Jessica Norrie.
Thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?
We’re drinking a blush rosé from Provence. I read that you don’t drink wine but I promise this won’t give you a headache; it’s from an organic grower and so delicate. Mmm…
I will give it a go if you promise it won’t give me a headache! If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?
Oh, somewhere we could chat without interruption. How about one of the sofas on the balcony terrace at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden? We could watch the comings and goings on the Piazza below, and if it rains we can go into the beautiful Floral Hall bar.
If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?
Since we’re at Covent Garden, I’ve chosen two classical musicians (although I like other music too). I’m inviting Pavel Kolesnikov to play the grand piano in the bar. He has the most delicate touch I’ve ever heard. If you ever need to feel calm and held, listen to him. My other guest is the Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho, another musician whose style is delicate, modest and true. She takes all the stereotypes of an opera diva and behaves and looks the opposite, and her acting is heartrending. People think opera is for posh people but she really does make everyone welcome.
So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. What have you got going on? How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?
My third novel is currently clogging up the publishers’ inboxes. It was inspired by a pub sign I saw on holiday, definitely NOT the sort of pub to serve French blush rosé or even make every customer welcome. I imagined the locals and a story grew from that. I’m hoping a traditional publisher will like it enough to give me a contract, as with my first two novels I was pipped at the post by somebody’s casting vote and had to self-publish. I’d like to make respectable sales and get people thinking, but I’m not bothered if it doesn’t go stratospheric. One advantage of staying unknown is you don’t get trolled..
What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?
My first novel The Infinity Pool unexpectedly went to no 1 in Australia, overtaking The Girl on the Train and Harper Lee’s long-awaited Go Set A Watchman. That raised my expectations: I assumed something similar would happen with the second, The Magic Carpet, and it didn’t. So the biggest challenge now is accepting just chugging along and not giving up. I still have things to say, and I mustn’t mind if the audience for them is rather small.
What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, it’s just us talking after all!
Having said I don’t care if my books don’t go stratospheric, I keep my Booker prizewinning speech updated, just in case! I’d also love to get noticed by BBC Woman’s Hour which has informed and entertained me all my life or be asked for my Desert Island Discs.
I’d love to be on Desert Island Discs! What are you currently working on that you are really excited about?
I’ve only just started novel 4, so I’m still very much at the brainstorming stage. This time I’m determined to plan properly, have a clear genre and main character and hit the zeitgeist. But I’m a bit of a creative writing class rule breaker and find my words don’t come so easily when I follow the proper paths. I’m not “really excited” yet as these things (for me) take years, but I do have a small glow inside that my idea has potential. I write about what’s important to me – travel, how people operate in small groups, children, education and language, women, and music so this will reflect some of those.
I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?
When teachers retire they often go somewhere amazing in September to avoid high season and send gloating postcards to the staffroom. I went to Japan, and I’d go back. I wrote one of my favorite blog posts about Hiroshima here, but these photos are Mount Fuji and the Golden Pavilion temple near Kyoto.
I have been really tempted to go to Japan after being inspired by a recent read. Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself that people might not know about you.
There aren’t any. I wear my heart on my sleeve and have always wished I could keep secrets.
Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?
I think you have children? And didn’t always find lockdown easy? And I know you have a great sense of humour, sympathy with difficult women, and like to get lost in a book, so the perfect choice for you would be We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson and also her non-fiction, Life Among the Savages. Calling them savages probably isn’t very acceptable nowadays but it was life with her own small children she was writing about!
Living in the Blackwood family home with only her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian for company, Merricat just wants to preserve their delicate way of life. But ever since Constance was acquitted of murdering the rest of the family, the world isn’t leaving the Blackwoods alone.
And when Cousin Charles arrives, armed with overtures of friendship and a desperate need to get into the safe, Merricat must do everything in her power to protect the remaining family.
I have a copy of this on my Kindle, but haven’t got round to reading it yet. I’ll have a look at the other one, though I probably wouldn’t go as far as calling my children savages! So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?
There are no cures, only prevention and lots of water. But a long soak in the bath or lazing in a swimming pool can help, on the principle of hydration inside and out.
After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?
I’d go to Wimbledon and watch the most beautiful tennis players in the world. Venus Williams and Naomi Osaka on a good day and I’d cheer as our very own Heather Watson won a doubles cup to add to her pile. I’d eat strawberries and cream and everything in the garden would be rosé.
That sounds fantastic. Roll on the days when this kind of thing is possible again! Jessica, thank you for keeping me company this evening, it has been great fun.
Jessica’s latest book, The Magic Carpet, was one of my Top Ten Books of 2019 and you can read my review of it here.
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?
If you would like to get your hands on a copy of this marvellous book, you can find it here.
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.
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.
Next week, I will be joined for drinks by blogger, Camilla Downs, so why not join us then?