And welcome to my stop on ‘The Fox Girl And The White Gazelle’ tour. Today Victoria gives us an insight in unlikely friendships, their strength and what positive outcomes can arise as a result of conflict something that is very familiar in her book.
Asterix and Obelix, Tintin and Captain Haddock, ET and Elliot, Marlin and Dory in Finding Nemo, Woody and Buzz in Toy Story, Wilbur and Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web, Emma and Harriet in Jane Austen’s Emma, Doctor Who and pretty much every companion he (and now she!) has ever had…
The book, TV and film and worlds are full of unlikely friendships between people who, on the surface of it, seem to have very little in common. I’ve always been drawn to stories where characters have to overcome their differences in order to work together. Some characters, like Asterix and Obelix, begin as best friends and as the story unfolds it becomes clear that their strengths and weaknesses are complementary and they’re stronger together. Other characters rub each other up so badly the wrong way when they first meet the friction creates fireworks that sets the story alight. Watching these characters make their mistakes and misjudgements, fighting, compromising, and then finally accepting each other, we learn about empathy and discover the power of seeing the world through the eyes of another, which for me, is what reading fiction is all about.
That’s why I chose to write two very different characters for The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle who think they couldn’t possibly have anything in common.
Caylin’s a tough Glaswegian girl who’s a bully and a thief. But she’s not quite what she seems at first. She steals to buy food for herself and her alcoholic mother who slid into depression when Caylin’s grandad died. She misses her grandad badly, and wishes she could remember her granny who was a talented runner. That’s why Caylin runs: to remember.
Reema’s got problems of her own. She’s a refugee in a foreign country, homesick and missing her brother who was lost during the Syrian war. Everything about Glasgow is strange and new when she arrives, and she can’t imagine herself ever belonging there. Reema’s favourite memories are of running through the streets of Aleppo after school with her brother, so Reema runs to remember too.
At first their shared love of running is just another source of friction. When they run their first race together round the school playground, the reader sees just how differently each girl views the outcome. Reema says:
I have won. I have proved to them all that I am the White Gazelle, and I am fast.
Caylin may be faster than me over a short distance, but that is alright, because I am stronger.
I will always outrun her in the end.
Caylin on the other hand thinks she was the winner:
I totally beat her. If Miss Lindsey hadn’t made us run a stupid marathon instead of a straight race then I would’ve crossed the finish miles ahead of Reema.
It wasn’t a fair contest.
[…] As long as I know I can outrun Reema, that’s all that matters.
It’s not until the girls have to work together to save the injured fox and her cubs hiding in the back garden of their apartment building that they start to overcome their initial prejudices. Even then it takes time to build trust. They start to open up and share their secrets, and find despite their many differences – language, culture, and outlook on life – they have more in common than they could ever have imagined when they first met. That’s when they find the shared strength to rescue their foxes from their unsympathetic neighbour who has called pest control, and then to run together for their school in the sports competition.
This is the real secret behind the appeal of unlikely friendships in fiction. It’s not just the fun of watching the fireworks as characters argue, or the vicarious thrill we feel when a character is misunderstood, just as we so often are in real life. It’s satisfaction of seeing the complementary strengths and weaknesses of characters fit together like pieces of a puzzle, and getting to see the whole picture emerge where before there were only glimpses of the characters’ true potential.
Very often in real life we choose friends who are just like us, with the same backgrounds, similar stories, and enough in common to make conversation easy. Perhaps we could learn a lesson from the unlikely friendships in fiction though, and make an effort to seek out those who seem as unlike ourselves as possible. And who knows, perhaps, just like Caylin and Reema, we might just end up befriending someone who is the missing puzzle piece that completes us.