I’m a country girl at heart and so I’m delighted to be part of the paperback launch celebrations for Foxes Unearthed by Lucy Jones. Lucy agreed to answer some of my questions about her writing, about Foxes Unearthed and about her love of nature.
Published in paperback today, 16th March 2017, by Elliott and Thompson, Foxes Unearthed is available for purchase by following the publisher links here.
As one of the largest predators left in Britain, the fox is captivating: a comfortably familiar figure in our country landscapes; an intriguing flash of bright-eyed wildness in our towns.
Yet no other animal attracts such controversy, has provoked more column inches or been so ambiguously woven into our culture over centuries, perceived variously as a beautiful animal, a cunning rogue, a vicious pest and a worthy foe. As well as being the most ubiquitous of wild animals, it is also the least understood.
In Foxes Unearthed Lucy Jones investigates the truth about foxes in a media landscape that often carries complex agendas. Delving into fact, fiction, folklore and her own family history, Lucy travels the length of Britain to find out first-hand why these animals incite such passionate emotions, revealing our rich and complex relationship with one of our most loved – and most vilified – wild animals. This compelling narrative adds much-needed depth to the debate on foxes, asking what our attitudes towards the red fox say about us and, ultimately, about our relationship with the natural world.
An Interview with Lucy Jones
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Lucy. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?
A pleasure. Thank you for featuring Foxes Unearthed. I’m a writer based in Hampshire. Foxes Unearthed is my first book. I was a journalist at the Daily Telegraph and then NME, writing about music and culture, but over the last few years I’ve started writing more about the environment, wildlife, nature and science, for BBC Earth, BBC Wildlife, The Guardian and others. I love words, moths, owls and nudibranchs.
(I didn’t know what nudibranchs were and had to look them up! They look fascinating creatures.)
Please could you tell us a bit about Foxes Unearthed too?
Foxes Unearthed is an investigation into the truth about foxes in Britain and why Vulpes vulpes is so passionately loved and loathed. I delve into fact, fiction, folklore and my own family history to find out what our attitudes towards the red fox say about us. I travelled across the country talking to scientists, farmers, activists, researchers and pest-controllers, and went out with hunt saboteurs and hunters, to see both sides. Personally, I was interested in human attitudes to foxes because I realised at a young age that they could incite strong passion in both directions.
When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?
I wanted to be a writer from the age of around eight and wrote stories, poems and diaries from then on (they are all awful). My father used to say “that’s a very interesting question” to me when I was little, which I loved, and it encouraged me to be be inquisitive and, eventually, choose a career in which I’m paid to ask questions. I got my first job as a journalist at a local paper out of university and then had a couple of other office journalism jobs in The Daily Telegraph and then NME. Even though writing books was always dream, I had low confidence about my writing until recently. I think I only realised when Foxes Unearthed was published last year that it was OK to call myself a writer. Now I feel thrilled and very lucky to say that I write for a living.
Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?
I find conducting and writing up interviews pretty easy, because I’m used to doing them now. I find translating scientific studies for a general audience challenging, because you so want to get it exactly accurate, and have to be so careful because simplifying someone’s research can alter the meaning.
What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
I am most alert between 7am and midday so I do my writing then. In the afternoons, I conduct less cerebral tasks such as interview transcriptions or emails. For Foxes, I made myself write 1,000 words every morning for 60 days. I typed out a page of Joan Didion’s non-fiction before I started writing because I love her sentences. I have a shed I’m doing up to write in, which is surrounded by a curly willow. I’m going to paint it the colours of the YSL garden in Marrakech. Or I write at a table next to my tortoise looking out at a couple of long-tailed tits, a clutter of starlings and a charm of goldfinches. Or in the library. Cafes don’t work for me; I hate noise when I’m working and can’t bear any music.
Of all the animals available for you to write about, why choose foxes?
Foxes are a flint for emotions and inspire so much debate. People either love foxes, or hate them, and I don’t believe there is another native animal to Britain which so divides people – and has done for years. Also, the fox is an intriguing prism through which you can view human activity through British history, in different stratas and socio-political groups, town and country, rich and poor.
How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your writing is realistic?
For Foxes Unearthed, I spent weeks in the British Library, poring over newspapers from the 20th century and lots of old texts. To counter all the sedentary research, I wanted to go out in the field, travelling around to interview people, going out with a pest-controller, visiting a huntsman on his farm, sabotaging a hunt. Meeting characters and people and trying to have as much empathy with their situation is always a motive.
Since researching this book, how have your own attitudes towards foxes altered?
I’ve always loved foxes but my research into their behaviour gave me a renewed sense of respect and awe at what is such a successful predator and carnivore. Foxes are brilliant.
To what extent do you think foxes make a good metaphor for humans?
I suppose the most well-known one is the ‘foxy vixen’, the women who can’t be trusted and uses her wiles to trick men. What sexist nonsense! I love Jimi Hendrix’s Foxy Lady but, really, it’s just a way of shaming and vilifying women for their sexuality – and foxes for their alleged craftiness.
I know you’re very interested in nature. How important is nature to our mental health and well-being do you think?
More important than we realise, I believe. As of 2010, more of us live in urban areas than not, and I fear we’re only starting to see how that might affect our mental health. Saying that, some people aren’t affected at all, mentally or emotionally, by nature, and I think that’s interesting, too. I support the calls for a Nature GCSE because I think, for psychological health, nature is essential for so many of us and education and access for the young is key.
You’ve recently had a baby, Evelyn. How has motherhood affected your writing and your view of the world and nature?
Well, she is six months now and I’m starting to get a bit more sleep so hopefully that will make writing easier! I recently wrote a piece about my experience of a 43-hour labour, and I found that very cathartic. I want my daughter to have the opportunity to experience as much joy from nature as I do – and I hope I can use my writing to draw attention to the natural world and environmental issues in some small way.
(Blog readers will find Lucy’s ‘labour’ post here.)
Do you have other interests that give you ideas for writing?
I’m interested in psychology, neuroscience and mental health, having experienced mental illness on and off over the years. I also did a year of training to be a psychotherapist. I’m interested and concerned about climate change. It’s mainly reading but I love documentary films and podcasts, which can often throw up ideas.
The fox on the cover of Foxes Unearthed has an ambiguous expression to me making it appear quite mysterious. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey?
A fantastic designer and illustrator called Nathan Burton was the artist behind the cover, commissioned by the brilliant team at Elliott & Thompson. The objective of the design was for the fox to look quite neutral. I found the reaction to it very interesting, actually. My mother, who’d been brought up in a hunting family, thought the fox looked too benign! Others thought it looked too conniving. Again, it just shows our conflicting attitudes to foxes.
If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?
Tough one. Words are really the thing I love so I can’t imagine not using those as my primary material. Maybe a stained glass window artist, I’d have liked to learn that. At the moment, I chill out by making cards for people with a growing collection of rubber stamps. I’ve always liked doing crafts, it switches my mind off for a bit.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?
I like American 20th century fiction most of all. Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, Zora Neale Hurston, Thomas Pynchon, Hemingway. At the moment I’m reading Tove Jansson’s adult stuff; I love the Moomins. I like Annie Dillard, Jay Griffiths, Rebecca Solnit, Barry Lopez, Robert MacFarlane, Nell Zink and Nan Shepherd. I read only non-fiction for a while but since having my daughter I’ve a thirst for fiction again.
If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Foxes Unearthed should be their next read, what would you say?
If you love foxes, I hope you’ll like this. If not, it’s also about humans, too.
Thank you so much, Lucy, for your time in answering my questions.
About Lucy Jones
Lucy Jones is a writer and journalist based in Hampshire, England. She previously worked at NME and The Daily Telegraph. Her writing on culture, science and nature has been published in BBC Earth, BBC Wildlife, the Guardian,TIME, Newsweek and the New Statesman. She runs the Wildlife Daily blog and is the recipient of the Society of Authors’ Roger Deakin Award for Foxes Unearthed.