I am delighted to be part of the blog tour for The Fox Girl And The White Gazelle, a lyrical middle-grade novel about friendship and tolerance. It is the story of Caylin and Reema, who meet on a Glaswegian council estate when they care for an injured fox and her cubs.
Author Victoria Williamson has written a guest post about animals, and how they bring us together. Thank you, Victoria for your time. Animal Friends
Like most children, I spent years begging my parents for a dog when I was growing up. “It doesn’t need to be a big one,” I’d say, “A little one would do, and I’d walk it every day and feed it and clean up after it and…” My parents knew better than to take my word for it though, and eventually got me a lower-maintenance rabbit instead. I called him Sam, after Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings, and soon he was joined by Hazel, a female version of the Watership Down character, and her sister Katy from the What Katy Did series. It didn’t take long for three rabbits to become seven, then twelve, then…
Despite the extra work involved in looking after so many rabbits, who seemed to appear despite our very best efforts to keep the males and females apart, I was thrilled by the new arrivals. It wasn’t just because the baby rabbits were so cute, it was because of the new friends they helped me make. Like many aspiring writers, I was a shy teenager who lacked confidence in talking to people at school. But the baby rabbits brought classmates to our garden in droves, and people who had never spoken to me before in school were happy to chat away as they stroked the soft fur of the tiny rabbits they’d heard about through the grapevine.
That was my first lesson in the power that animals have to bring people together and forge new friendships, and it’s one I never forgot. Animals appeared regularly in my own stories, from the first trilogy I wrote about a clan of foxes living in a forest under threat from a pack of wolves, to a monkey sidekick in a pirate book and a wombat companion in a distant planet colony.
It was a family of urban foxes in my debut novel though, that really reflected my own early experience of animals providing an opportunity to make friends with people I previously thought I had little in common with. In The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle, Reema and Caylin couldn’t seem more different. Caylin’s a Glaswegian school bully, all defensive and prickly-edged on the outside, but lonely and longing to make a connection to other people on the inside. Reema’s a Syrian Muslim refugee, homesick and resentful at the war that’s uprooted her family and stolen the big brother she adores. When the girls first meet their reaction to each other is mistrust and unease. It isn’t until they find an injured urban fox and her family in the back garden of their apartment building that they discover a shared purpose, and eventually forge a strong friendship.
Most people are familiar with the idea that a pet is not just a companion in the home, but a great way to break the ice with strangers. People who would normally stride on past when out on a walk are happy to stop and say hello, smiling at a dog and asking it questions directly that are really meant for the human owners. A purring cat curled up in your lap is one of the quickest shortcuts to feeling at home in a stranger’s house, and even a less cuddly tortoise or a hamster can provide endless topics to discuss when the conversation starts to flag.
Why do people so often feel more at ease talking to animals than to humans? And why do Caylin and Reema initially find it so much easier to make friends with a fox and her cubs than they do with each other? I think one of the reasons for this that animals are multicultural – with Hurriyah there is no language barrier to cross and no sense of being judged for being different. Caylin and Reema can just be themselves around Hurriyah and tell her what they’re thinking and feeling without the stigma of the labels other people apply to them. With the foxes, Caylin is no longer ‘the bully’, ‘the girl with the lisp’, or ‘the girl who doesn’t wash her clothes’, and Reema isn’t ‘the refugee’, ‘the Muslim’ or ‘that girl with the headscarf.’ They are just themselves – two girls who, when all of the surface differences are stripped away, are more alike than they realise. Both have suffered loss, both care about their family more than anything, and both have a real passion for running.
Their willingness to care for the foxes eventually morphs into a willingness to care for each other, and by the end of the book it becomes clear that rescuing Hurriyah, the fox called ‘Freedom’, is a metaphor for the girls’ struggles to overcome their own difficult circumstances together. In literature and in real life, animals often help us see past our own differences, and making friends with one can often lead to us befriending another person who is more like us than we could ever have imagined.
Check out the other stops on the tour: