Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Author Interview - Jessica Norrie @jessica_norrie

This is the life...sat on the "perfect" beach, with an ice-cream in hand - the sea is so blue and so calm. Perfect! This exotic location is the perfect spot to interview contemporary fiction author,
 Jessica Norrie.

So while we eat our ice-creams, why don't you take a quick look at Jessica's latest book.

The Infinity Pool

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 the real meaning of getting away from it all. 


Ice-cream finished - let's crack on with the interview.

MY: Hi Jessica, it is a pleasure having you on the blog today. Could you tell us a little bit about your journey to becoming a published author.

      JN: I was suddenly inspired by a holiday I went on – both the setting and the way the holiday was run which encouraged people to be creative. The more I wrote the quicker my ideas came along. It took about three years to write a quarter of “The Infinity Pool” but the fourth year I wrote 60,000 words – whoosh! I was lucky to be accepted by the first agent I asked. After 17 polite, helpful near misses when publishers liked it but “not quite enough”, I got fed up and the agent published it for me.

      MY: Good for you! What does the 'average' writing day look like for you?

JN: On a bad day I can fit in a nail bar, a hairdresser, Facebook… On a good day, at my desk by 9am to look over what I did the previous session, chucking out about half and rephrasing a lot. Then I may write another 2-3500 words, and stop for very late lunch. I have an instinct for when the day’s freshness has gone and I’ve started using words in a routine way. Then it’s time to go outdoors or to stop completely.  Sometimes I do a little more late at night just before bed.

      MY:   Are there any authors that you particularly admire? And if so, why?

JN: Well written children’s books – I still enjoy Laura Ingalls Wilder and Joan Aiken. They write of very different things but share a really clear detailed style. You can imagine exactly what they’re describing. They’re very good on mood and character and much more grown up than people realise. I like clever, funny writers – Dorothy Parker and more recently AL Kennedy, and sad writing because it’s often so beautiful: Jean Rhys or Helen Dunmore. They mirror feelings I’ve had myself which helps me get over them. There are brilliant male writers too but women come to mind first.

                  MY: I agree with you!
                  Could you tell us what you are currently working on?

JN: I’m trying a sequel to “The Infinity Pool” but the story’s gone down a dark depressing alley, which I’m not sure I wanted. So I’m writing shorter articles instead for blogs. I’ve been a teacher most of my working life and I have a good collection of stories from that which can make their way into fiction once I’m not identified with a particular school anymore and can’t upset the parents!

      MY: If you could give advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?

JN: Stay off social media if you want to focus on your writing. Notice little details as well as thinking about big plot lines. On the other hand, build up your online presence so readers will know about you. But the writing must always come first. Before the nail bar anyway, although the nail bar’s a good place for noticing how people behave!

      MY: Or stop writing blog posts - that would be another one! Authors are often portrayed as being cat owners who drink a lot of coffee. Is this true for you?

JN: Cats are beautiful but I’m allergic to their fur so I can’t have them. More than one good coffee a day would make my plots go crazy – I’d buzz too much to focus. But my family nickname used to be “teapot” so that tells its own story.

      MY:  What does your ‘perfect’ day look like?

JN: Lie in or go out in early sunshine, write well for two hours, late lunch in the garden, a hour’s successful clothes shopping, play the piano, learn to sing a new song, drinks and dinner with friends and partner, long bath…have I run out of hours yet?

          MY: I think you just described my week! What is your biggest vice?

JN: Not getting down to writing because I’m faffing about on Facebook.

      MY: I think that is the biggest vice of every author! It is so easy to get sucked into the world of social media! If you could meet anyone from the past, who would it be and why?

JN: Any of the great feminists – the Pankhursts and Millicent Fawcett who campaigned for the women’s vote, Marie Stopes who campaigned for the right to contraception,  Virginia Woolf who pointed out the barriers to women becoming artists, writers, and musicians as easily as men could, Simone de Beauvoir who showed why women sometimes build those barriers themselves and how to avoid them.

      MY: Last question then I think a dip in that beautiful sea. It looks so tempting! Where do you see yourself in five years?

JN: No longer teaching (both I and the pupils need a break!) I hope I’ll be well into writing my third novel, having published the second sometime between then and now. That could be at home in London or in a place I haven’t thought about visiting yet. I’ll let you know!

MY: Thank you so much Jessica, for taking the time out of your day to answer my questions. Do you think you could share a excerpt of your book for us?

JN:  Of course. 

Book Except

In this extract from chapter 3, Maria, a nineteen year old local girl who works in her parents’ village café, has just met Adrian, who directs the peculiar holiday settlement nearby. He’s offered her a tour of the facilities: 

Maria was utterly dazzled and excited. The only older men she usually spoke to were in her family, or they were village characters known and taken for granted by everyone. But whatever their status, they never treated her like this. They expected work or obligations from her, good manners and decoration; they joked a little and admired a little but they were stern men and any feelings they presumably had were a closed book to her. Whereas this man, he talked about happiness! About wanting to be happy! As though it were an ambition in itself, worth pursuing above all others, more than a job, marriage, children, home and family. And he looked at her in a different way too. The idea that people from northern Europe could be attractive had never occurred to her before, but this man - she couldn’t quite get a handle on his name - had beautiful deep set eyes and he seemed to listen to her when she spoke. They were talking with each other, not to each other - she had not realised the difference before. He made her glow, and she was aware of it, and glowed more.
And what he was showing her here! The cabins were so basic; why did all the rich people - for they must be fairly rich - choose to put up with such discomfort in the middle of the summer heat? At home she had heard her father sneer that they were paying for a taste of the simple life, but it all seemed rather complicated now that she was seeing it for herself. What if you needed the WC in the middle of the night, or you wanted light or warmth or to cool down? She was a country girl, so bats and owls didn’t worry her, but what about putting your feet down onto a mouse, or a snake? Didn’t they ever worry about their things being stolen - there was no serious crime that she knew of on the island, but she had no illusions about how some of the locals might feel if they knew all these rich people’s things were unsecured, either from dishonesty or from plain childish curiosity.
Adrian gestured they should move on. “What do you think of the cabins now you’ve seen inside?” he asked.

“I think hot, and no space, but nice smell. But why two beds?”

“People share.”

She stopped in disbelief. They were so tiny! And the beds were small, too. “Husband wife?” 

“No, mostly people come on their own. Then we put them two in a cabin. Friends can ask to be together but lots of people don’t meet until they get here.” Madder and madder! Why would anyone want to share with a stranger? And these mad people had money! There was a hotel in the next bay where they could have space, air conditioning, comfort, bathrooms… He laughed at her consternation. “I know,” he said. “That’s why I’ve stayed in the hotel the last few times. I need the space and the time to myself. But then I do have a job to do while I’m here.”

“You stay in hotel?” Maria said. “I never go in there. Is hotel nice?”
“Sure. I’ll take you there for a drink if you like.”

But he had moved too fast.

Constraint came quick and cold between them. The image of the hotel, with a double room that locked and a private bathroom, hung in the air. Maria didn’t understand how her thoughts had arrived at that point. If she had been asked that morning whether she would consider making love with a man before she married him, she would have been adamant in her denial. Yet here she was, propelled into thinking, as she knew he was thinking, about how it might be….with a man she’d met twice, her father’s age, who didn’t live on the island, who didn’t speak her language or know anything of her life, and whose eyes were suggesting so much, when even just a drink in the hotel bar would be stepping way beyond familiar territory. It was too sudden a blow to the values she and her family had built solidly around her all her life. 

Her eyes went cold. She shivered. “Oh no. No, I must go back soon. Thank you. You show me – everything very interesting, but I go now. Thank you.”

She turned, bewildered – the paths were so rambling. Then she heard the sound of a car engine on the road below and it helped her to orientate herself. Refusing his offer to show her the way, she stumbled away, half running. She needed to get out of there.

© Jessica Norrie 2015

 Where can I buy this fabulous book?

About the author 
Jessica Norrie was born in London and studied French Literature at the University of Sussex and Education at the University of Sheffield. She studied and taught in France, and in the UK has taught English, French and Spanish. Her youngest pupil was 3 and the oldest was at least 85! She’s always tried to make language learning approachable and fun even for the most nervous students, a bit like being a kind dentist or driving instructor. She’s also been a freelance translator, published occasional journalism and collaborated on a Primary French textbook (“Célébrons les Fêtes”, with Jan Lewandowski, Scholastic 2009).

Jessica lives in London with her grown up daughter - a translator, and son - a teaching assistant. In her spare time she sings soprano with the Hackney Singers and plays the piano – slow pieces suit her best as she needs lots of time to figure out the chords.

Soon she will leave teaching to concentrate on writing. “The Infinity Pool” is her first novel, drawing on lots of travel and encounters, and she already has ideas for several more.
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