Are you sitting comfortably? Former teacher and Woodford Green resident Jessica Norrie has a story to tell. Her novel – The Magic Carpet – was inspired by her experiences of teaching and living locally
I’ve lived since 1988 in Walthamstow or Woodford, and taught Redbridge pupils and adults until 2016. Teaching’s a two-way process; we learn from students while they learn from us. I liked and celebrated them, but by retirement, my head was crowded with three decades of lives brought into my classrooms. Thousands passed through, from all income levels, speaking over 50 languages, practising at least 10 religions or none, with single parents, step-parents, carers…
It’s a teacher’s job to help pupils organise their thoughts by telling or writing news or stories (much like a therapist, but with spellings). I decided to make sense of my experience by doing the same, and began writing The Magic Carpet.
It’s a story for grown-ups, involving three generations in a multicultural community from a street very like some in Redbridge. The target readership is aimed at parents, grandparents, anyone who’s worked with children… human beings.
Various memorable ex-pupils clamoured to be main characters, but the ones I describe are completely fictional and ‘Home Farm Primary’ is invented (though it could easily be a Redbridge school).
In my novel, a Year 3 teacher throws away the phonics in favour of an imaginative project for all the family, inviting the generations to perform a traditional tale together at a storytelling festival. As the project unfolds, I tell of the lives of different family members too, including a grandmother born in Punjab, a Hong Kong-born widower father, single mums from Essex and of Somali heritage, and Alka, aged seven, who’s cared for by Gujarati-speaking grandparents – all backgrounds I worked with locally.
Some parents welcome the project and enjoy creating rich, funny, moving stories. Others find it a nuisance. One poor child may end up with no story at all.
Over six weeks in autumn 2016, my families get to know each other. (They all live on ‘Ditchfield Close’ after the Leyton toy shop my own children loved.) My initial aim was to celebrate the magic of storytelling, but I found I was also exploring whether, when more serious issues threaten the peace, my small fictional community would prove as resilient as most real ones in Redbridge and Walthamstow. Why not find out if there is a happy ending?