On a plot of Hackney waste ground a fox brought a gift to a Dalston woman: a literary debut

Brer Fox takes over a garden wall in Dalston Lon E8 © ∂å
The foxes on this page were photographed in another E8 garden. (No novel resulted from those sightings)

A PATCH of neglected council land behind journalist and mother Paula Cocozza’s back garden in Dalston was becoming increasingly untidy. So she and a few friends got to work to clear it.

Then she noticed something strange: when she dug a hole, a fox dug a hole inside it. When she laid turf, a fox pushed it aside. Every day she went outside she’d see signs of intervention.

© Christian Sinibaldi
Paula Cocozza: wild in the city

It occurred to her that the fox could be addressing her in a recognisable language of gesture and action. She was building a form of relationship with a creature that though increasingly urbanised in our city is still wild, potentially ferocious.

This was the genesis of The Guardian feature writer’s first novel.

Cocozza set How to Be Human in two neighbouring houses and their gardens, focussing on this tiny area, everything outside its rim a hazy blur.

In the story a fox enters and exits the world of the main character, Mary, like a ghost, appearing to bring her gifts. As he listens to her, so she listens to him. And, says the publisher’s press release, she goes through a kind of emotional re-wilding.

Author Hilary Mantel says: “Cocozza shows us that the line between the wilderness

Young fox in Dalston garden June 2013 © david.altheer@gmail.com

and the city is thin, easily transgressed; the ghost breathing in the thicket is our own wild nature.” Or, as the late Jimi Hendrix put it, Foxy Lady.

Hamish Scott 140417

* How to Be Human (Hutchinson), hardcover £12.99,  also in other formats

* Backstory: Novel success for a Dalston writer 

All pictures on this page © David.Altheer [at] gmail.com, for sale for reproduction, apart from Cocozza pic, © Christian Sinibaldi

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