I am delighted to welcome Jessica Norrie to my blog today as she shines the spotlight on a character in her book, The Magic Carpet.
Please can you introduce your character…
My character is a little girl with the Somali name Xoriyo, which means “freedom”. She’s nearly eight years old and has just started at a new school after moving from a different London borough. Her parents are divorced, and she has no brothers or sisters. She speaks Somali and English at home with her mum, who also grew up in the UK and is now a part-time pharmacist. They have a good relationship, but it’s a bit intense because they’re new to the area and there’s just the two of them in a small flat. Xoriyo, like her mum, is intelligent, independent, and also very stubborn! She’s important in the story because the challenges she faces represent those faced by everyone in the book to a greater or lesser extent, and if she can resolve them, they will too.
When did you create Xoriyo?
I was a teacher for three decades and there was often a Xoriyo in the class – a proud, stubborn girl who thought she knew best and was usually right. This particular Xoriyo is a mix of all those girls, brought up to date to be eight years old in 2016 when my story happens.
Did you write the book to accommodate Xoriyo or Xoriyo to accommodate the book?
The book is broadly about the power of storytelling and creativity; how stories can unite, teach, and comfort if individuals have the space to tell them the way that suits them best. Xoriyo is a very conflicted child – she has a wonderful imagination and loves exploring books with her mum. But she’s been “the new girl” in too many schools and doesn’t yet trust anyone around her. She puts up barriers to avoid getting hurt if her new schoolmates won’t accept her. She turned up naturally in my story because, as I say above, there’s often a Xoriyo in any group (adults or children). Then I had fun watching her blossom as her joy and pride in telling her story overcomes her defensiveness and fear. Xoriyo is a child, but many adults faced with equivalent challenges would behave the same ways she does.
What do you like most about her?
At times Xoriyo runs rings around her mum, her teachers, and her schoolmates, but she’s always kind and caring and she understands and tries to help when others are feeling vulnerable too.
What do you like least about her?
It’s hard to dislike anything about a child character you’ve written, because when they do unattractive things, there’s usually a reason beyond their control that made them take that route. But when Xoriyo grows up, she’ll have to compromise more or people may not always take to her.
Did your early readers/editorial team like her to start with or did you have to change her in any way?
My editor and agent both liked her character but found her name hard. I could see their point because words a reader can’t pronounce even inside their head do interrupt the flow. But I wanted this name. I solved it (I hope) by having another pupil talk about how to pronounce it in the early pages of the book (“This new girl’s called Zo – Zo something”) so the reader would know from then on.
Does she have any similarities with anyone real?
See question 1, but also yes, when I was writing Xoriyo I always had in my mind’s eye a very thin, focussed Somali heritage girl I taught when she was an infant. Her family were poor, and her brothers had multiple special needs. She was a survivor though – just put her head down and ploughed on, bottling up her emotions and making steady progress. Xoriyo looks and sounds like her, but of course I’ve changed lots of things to avoid identifying her.
What are your plans for her?
All the things I very much hope happened for the real child I describe above. A successful career, happy relationships, healthy children, safety and security in a tolerant society that loves her and appreciates her strengths. Fictional Xoriyo’s chances of that may be higher though.
Would you be friends in real life?
Xoriyo’s a bit young but I hope I’d be friends with her mother, having met quite a number of similar spirited, imaginative, warm Somali heritage women.
Thank you so much, Jessica. Xoriyo sounds like a wonderful little girl!
Bookworms, if you’d like to find out more about her, here’s the book’s blurb…
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?
About the author…
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 https://jessicanorrie.wordpress.com
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 http://getBook.at/TheMagicCarpet
The Infinity Pool is available at http://getBook.at/TheInfinityPool
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Thank you so much for this opportunity Emma. It was lovely to bring Xoriyo to life again through your interesting questions.