Children’s author looks forward to West End book launch in aid of young refugees

By Ian Marland at

When Victoria Williamson was teaching in Africa she soon realised the limitations of Western books for children from different cultures.

“I found that children there couldn’t relate to the characters and the books that were donated from America and the UK,” she told Glasgow West End Today.

“The characters were always white, and the books were talking about things like snowmen and ice cream and baseball – and the children in small villages had no idea what these books were about.

Fox Girl and the White Gazelle

The book launch takes place this Saturday in the West End

“So I bought more West African stories for the school library – and then I really saw how the children loved these stories and could really identify with these characters.

“These books were now about things in their own lives that they could identify with.”

It was these experiences that gave Victoria the inspiration to break the mould and write books that relate to real lives and situations.

Now the former teacher’s first children’s book has finally been published.

And ‘The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle’ sees its launch this weekend (Saturday April 21) at Hillhead Library.

As well as a talk about the book and its inspiration, guests can enjoy food and a raffle.

The Fox and the White Gazelle

Breakthrough: The book is the author’s first published work

Proceeds and 20% of the royalties from the book are going to the Scottish Refugee Council.

‘The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle’ is about the friendship between two girls in Scotland, one a local girl and one from a refugee background.

Victoria says: “Children really want to see characters that reflect their own life experiences.

“When I came back to the UK I started writing different characters – because in the UK, especially in Glasgow, I taught a lot of children with special needs, and also children whose families were seeking asylum.

“That’s why for this book I chose to write a Glaswegian character who’s struggling with her mother’s depression and alcohol addiction – and also a Syrian refugee character.

“So two very different characters who have a lot in common – even though it doesn’t seem like it.

“There are two main characters, and the narrative switches between the two of them, so they get a chapter each each time.

The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle

Location: Hillhead Library on Byres Road

“Caylin is an 11 going on 12 year old school girl whose grandfather passed away the year before and her mother slid into depression because they were very close and started drinking.

“Caylin is a school bully and she beats up other children for money, and at first it seems like she’s this horrible character.

“But actually it turns out her mother’s actually drinking the benefits money – and she doesn’t have any money to buy food – and that’s why Caylin is stealing from other children.

“She’s quite a lonely girl – and no-one really likes her.

“And then Reema’s got her own problems – she’s a 12-year-old Syrian girl whose family fled the war and her father was injured in a gas attack.

“They were given refugee status in the UK – taken from one of the camps in Turkey and given refugee status here.

“She is given a home in the block of flats that Caylin lives in – and at first the two girls don’t think they have anything in common at all. They don’t get on really.

“But then they discover an injured urban fox living in the back garden of their block of flats and they both start caring for it.

“They start to become friends, and they discover they have this shared passion for running – so they enter the school competition together.”

Victoria Williamson: “Children really want to see characters that reflect their own life experiences.

“… in the UK, especially in Glasgow, I taught a lot of children with special needs, and also children whose families were seeking asylum.

“That’s why for this book I chose to write a Glaswegian character who’s struggling with her mother’s depression and alcohol addiction – and also a Syrian refugee character.”

The book is not based on any one situation Victoria has come across in teaching.

She says it is a combination of “lots of different voices from lots of different children”.

Over the coming weeks Victoria will use the book and its themes to tour schools across Greater Glasgow.

The aim is to help raise awareness of some of the issues surrounding refugees living in Scotland and the lives they lead and have left behind.

“It’s about asking children things like ‘If you were fleeing a country what would you bring with you?’ – there’s no right or wrong answer,” says Victoria.

“It’s to help them understand some of the issues and to help children build empathy.”

Victoria, 38, taught in schools around Glasgow before focusing her time on her writing.

She graduated from the University of Glasgow and lived in the West End for four years after returning from a stint teaching abroad.

“The West End is somewhere I know well.

“When I lived in the West End I did work for Action for Southern Africa (Actsa).

“They had a book packing project at the time at Hillhead Library and I would often go there after school and pack books for their project.

“So I know the library well and the area. I’m looking forward to seeing as many people as we can on Saturday and talking about the book.”

* The event starts at 2pm. For more information visit the Scottish Refugee Council’s Facebook page here.