What is Who is Fitzy Fox? about?
I think the story is about a search for identity, but more than that, it’s about the uniqueness of each individual and being valued for who we are. It’s about having the courage to identify and solve a problem and being willing to go to extraordinary lengths to do so.
It also has an important message about sharing your worries; if you talk to someone you trust and love, any worry will usually become smaller…. even disappear.
My mum says it reminds her of a T S Eliot quote “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”. She says you could almost describe it as a children’s version of his very philosophical quote. I’m not sure I can dare to compare myself with T S Eliot but it is a universal theme regardless.
Where did you get your idea?
Feeling a little homesick, I wrote the first draft for Who is Fitzy Fox? on a scrap piece of paper five years ago while I was living in Scotland. Everyday the Number 5 bus with the beloved Maisie of Morningside (Morningside being a suburb in Edinburgh and Maisie being a little Scottish cat) would go past and I would think, I want to write a book that Melbournian children and parents adore just like the Scottish people treasure Maisie. I wanted to write a story that became the fabric of Melbourne – a story so important that it has it’s own bus! Fitzroy being my home suburb was a natural choice and with alliteration in mind, I created the character Fitzy Fox.
However, I also wanted to write a story that connected with children on a deeper level, regardless of where they live. Having a sense of belonging and feeling connected is integral to human existence and so I wanted to explore these universal themes. Fitzy Fox’s journey enables him to come to understand who he is and find confidence himself – a message I wanted to share with all children.
Actually, I have just read that on 17th November 2015 Aileen Paterson creator, author and illustrator of Maisie was awarded an MBE at Buckingham Palace by Prince William. That would be nice! Prince George is peeping through the window of the Buckingham Palace on page 16 when Fitzy Fox visits London in Who is Fitzy Fox? so one can dream!
Why did you choose London for Fitzy to visit?
Well maybe being in the UK at the time was an influence but it really came about because Fitzy needed to find answers about whether or not he was a fox and who better to ask but the British? Being keen foxhunters, the Royal Family was my natural choice. I thought they should be the first ones to ask on arrival in London. I also lived in Nottinghill for a while around twenty years ago and I used to love seeing the foxes come out at night and skulk around the private gardens. I love thinking of them wearing their union jack napkins eating dinner together.
Why did you write it?
I wrote Who is Fitzy Fox? because after years of working with children as a primary school teacher, I came to realise that one of the most powerful ways of connecting with children is through story. Illustrated picture books start conversations and these are often conversations that wouldn’t normally be had.
In my first year of teaching, chasing my tail, I randomly picked up Shaun Tan’s The Red Tree from the library thinking it could be good to start a lesson about visual literacy. Well, when I asked the students if anyone could make personal connections to the story, I was completely amazed. One boy who had barely uttered a word for weeks put his hand up and said “Some days I feel like nothing good is ever going to happen to me but then usually it’s not as bad as it seems; just like in The Red Tree ’. Something in the story allowed him to express something that not even he realised about himself. I wanted to write a story that might start an important conversation like that.
Is there anything personal in the message of this story?
I wrote it at a time when I had just moved to Scotland for my husband’s work. I didn’t have a work visa and while at first I was excited about having some time off, I realised that I missed the structure of work, I missed having the daily feedback and engagement, I wasn’t earning money and I think I fell into a bit of a slump of feeling low and thinking about my identity without a career and what made me, me. Subconsciously this story came out. At the time I didn’t see any connection but on reflection I think there was a bit of me in Fitzy Fox trying to work out who I was. The bit where the mummy gives Fitzy Fox a cuddle and explains the meaning of his name is a special part of the book for me too because there is just something about the comfort of a parent telling you everything is alright and tucking you into bed – even at forty years old!
What is your hope for this book?
My hope is that Fitzy Fox is embraced and championed by Fitzrovians and Melbournians and that children everywhere grow to love the character of Fitzy Fox. My hope is that children who might feel a bit lost themselves can benefit from identifying with the story and realising the importance of sharing worries and fears. Hopefully they learn that with a bit of seeking and searching, down the track they will come to find an answer. I also hope that teachers use the teaching resources and wellbeing package that all link to the Australian Curriculum. I would also love to think this story could be a valuable resource for counsellors and social workers to instigate a conversation with kids.
What has been surprising about the process?
One of the unexpected joys of this process has been the creative collaboration that my little story has created. It started off as just mine but handing it over and collaborating with the publisher and illustrator has made it something that is much bigger than me. While the text has fundamentally stayed the same, the illustrations have evolved over the last months and my little Fitzy Fox has developed into a character who now has a life of its own. I love that Jennifer Bruce has brought him to life and I am so excited for her because this is her first picture book and her talent is immense. I love the fact that the publisher was so excited about Fitzy being so ‘Fitzroy’ while keeping his innocence and quirkiness. It took him in a different direction but he remained my little Fitzy. Yes, I think of him as one of my children! So many other people have helped me and it has been nice to have the support of so many friends and family.
My student whom I tutored in ESL is doing the website, my son’s music teacher is writing a song for the book trailer, there have been a number of authors who have emailed me with advice, local librarians, teacher friends and the list goes on. It has made me realise that people are really excited about creative processes and are so generous. I can’t wait until someone I know reaches out to me for my expertise!
How long did it take from beginning to end?
I wrote the story about five years a go. It took two years to overcome my self-doubt and actually send it to publishers. I have been working on it with Little Steps since September 2015.
Is there a sequel?
Yes, I have drafted a sequel. Without giving the story away, Fitzy Fox visits some cousins who don’t live in Fitzroy but a long drive away and finds life there quite different to life in Fitroy!