The Sunday Post (Newcastle) - - CONTENTS - By Sally McDon­ald

Ten bril­liant new reads for chil­dren.

IT was an ar­gu­ment in a class­room that set the wheels in mo­tion for teacher Vic­to­ria Wil­liamson’s de­but novel.

Two six-year-olds, a boy and a girl, were locked in a dis­pute over a wizard’s cape.

Vic­to­ria re­calls: “The lit­tle boy was from Su­dan. He yelled that she couldn’t be Harry Pot­ter be­cause she was a girl, and she yelled back, ‘ Well you can’t be Harry Pot­ter ei­ther – you’re black!’

“They had al­ready de­cided what roles they could play in life be­cause of the books they were read­ing and the films they were watch­ing.

“I re­alised that in the books I wrote, I wanted to re­flect a wider range of chil­dren’s voices.

“I had worked abroad a lot and saw the same prob­lems of chil­dren look­ing at books that weren’t re­ally re­flect­ing their life ex­pe­ri­ences.”

Vic­to­ria hopes to change that with The Fox Girl And The White Gazelle.

In­spired by her time teach­ing asy­lum seek­ers in Glasgow, the book tells the story of 12-year-old Reema who has fled Syria for a new life.

Her un­likely but blos­som­ing friend­ship with Glaswe­gian class­mate Caylin breaks down bar­ri­ers – some­thing Vic­to­ria hopes the novel will do for its 10-12-year-old read­er­ship.

She says: “It is about grow­ing em­pa­thy. On the face of it, the girls seem re­ally dif­fer­ent and don’t seem to have any­thing in com­mon.

“They don’t have a cul­ture in com­mon, they don’t have lan­guage in com­mon but they do have life ex­pe­ri­ence in com­mon.

“They have both lost fam­ily mem­bers that they loved and they be­gin to un­der­stand each other through the ex­pe­ri­ence they have of shar­ing a fam­ily of foxes in the gar­den.

“They get to be­come friends.

“It is all about over­com­ing these kinds of cul­tural bar­ri­ers and that is what I wanted to help chil­dren to see.”

The au­thor car­ried out ex­ten­sive re­search for the work, im­mers­ing her­self in lit­er­a­ture on Is­lam and refugees, as well read­ing the Ko­ran and hear­ing and see­ing first­hand the ex­pe­ri­ence of refugees.

Vic­to­ria re­veals: “I had a Mus­lim gen­tle­man who did the sen­si­tiv­ity read­ing to make sure I had not made any mis­takes with Is­lam.

“He said he was very moved by the book, it made him feel like a child again and some bits made him want to cry.

“He came to the book launch in Glasgow with his daugh­ter. That was lovely.”

It is not dif­fi­cult to see why. The Fox Girl And The White Gazelle is tipped as an im­por­tant and timely read in to­day’s po­lit­i­cal cli­mate.

Pub­lish­ers say an es­ti­mated 2,000 refugees have re­set­tled in Scot­land over the last two years.

More than that, it is up­lift­ing, heart­felt and full of hope. And 20% of its pro­ceeds are go­ing to the Scot­tish Refugee Coun­cil.

But the novel is also very much a prod­uct of the au­thor’s own past.

She knows books – hav­ing al­ready writ­ten a dozen which have yet to be pub­lished – and she knows di­ver­sity.

Orig­i­nally from An­nies­land where her de­but is set, she grew up in Kirk­in­til­loch. She re­calls: “My mother read to me and my broth­ers ev­ery night and that’s how I got into sto­ries.

“She put on all the voices for the char­ac­ters and my fa­ther read all the time, so in our house we al­ways felt that books were im­por­tant.

“We went to the li­brary pretty much ev­ery week­end.”

Sur­pris­ingly she later went on to grad­u­ate with a physics de­gree from Glasgow Uni­ver­sity, as well as gain­ing a de­gree in Man­darin Chi­nese while liv­ing and study­ing in China.

And she spent years teach­ing in Africa – both in Cameroon and Malawi.

Vic­to­ria says: “By the time I was in my thir­ties I re­alised that what I wanted to do more than any­thing was to be a writer.

“It is ex­haust­ing be­ing a teacher and when you come home at the end of the day you have mark­ing to do.

“Al­though some peo­ple can, I just couldn’t con­cen­trate on any­thing else. I couldn’t fo­cus on be­ing a teacher and writer.

“I knew that if I wanted to be an au­thor I would have to do it full time and that’s what I’m do­ing just now.”

Since pub­lish­ing her book she has vis­ited about 50 schools in Scot­land to dis­cuss the is­sues it raises.

She smiles: “I am hop­ing to visit more schools even­tu­ally and am more than happy to come any­where in Scot­land and speak to chil­dren about refugees.”

Vic­to­ria Wil­liamson hopes her de­but novel will break down bar­ri­ers

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