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Write On Ottawa: The strange powers of Zoya the fox

By Alejandro Bustos on December 2, 2015


DrJekyllsFoxesWriters often find inspiration in interesting places. For local author Neven Humphrey, who has lived in the National Capital Region since 2000, the idea for his novel Dr. Jekyll’s Foxes came in a dream.

The book, which is aimed at readers 12 years and up, tells the story of Zoya, a cub from a farm just north of Kyiv, Ukraine.

A gentle animal the friendly cub is adopted by a local family. However, soon after starting her life with her new owners, Zoya senses a frightening presence before blacking out.

When she awakens her face is covered in blood. What happened to her and what did she do? Wanting to find out, the young fox begins a quest in which she soon learns that she possesses unique powers.

Curious to learn more about Humphrey’s literary work, Apartment613 spoke with the author of several books — To Save a Wolf (2005), The Honourable Athletes (2008), More Honourable Athletes (2010) and Dr. Jekyll’s Foxes (2013). A fifth work, Tales of Conscience, is set to be published in 2016.  Below is a transcript of an email interview which has been edited for style.

Apartment613: You came up with Dr. Jekyll’s Foxes in a dream. What was it like to put it down on paper?

Neven Humphrey: It was a fun challenge. The dream gave me the main characters and a few basic elements of the storyline. All I needed to do then was fill in the rest.

Apt613: The passages from the perspective of a fox were interesting. How does your creative process work when thinking of an animal’s point of view?

NH: You have to know how the animal lives, and how it may perceive things. In this story, I had to differentiate between a tame fox’s view of the world and that of a wild fox. I had done a lot of research on foxes in the past, including seeing live specimens in the wild and in captivity, so I knew my subject. Nevertheless, I did check and recheck my facts while writing the book to make sure I got everything right.

Apt613: You are a passionate defender of animal rights. How does this perspective shape your writing and in particular Dr. Jekyll’s Foxes?

NH: The term “animal rights” can be misleading. Myself, I believe carnivores shouldn’t be killed just for fun, or to make a fur coat out of them. But I wouldn’t compare myself to some of those radical groups who smash up medical laboratories in order to “liberate” test rodents. I eat chicken and I drink milk, too. When I put in characters who hate carnivores, (in the case of Dr. Jekyll’s Foxes, the Arzipovs) in my novel, I make sure people know they are the bad guys. So I make them cold, heartless, and trigger-happy.

Apt613: As someone who has suffered from visually impairment your writing career is an impressive feat. What does being an author mean for you on a personal level? [Editors noteHumphrey lost his left eye to cancer soon after birth. His right eye wasn’t very strong growing up and he nearly lost that eye to cataracts in 2006.  Luckily, surgery has allowed him some reasonable, but not perfect, sight in that eye].

Neven Humphrey

Neven Humphrey

NH: Writing, to me, is therapeutic; it helps me express things that would otherwise drive me crazy. If I had been an artist, I would have expressed myself through painting. If I had been a dancer, I would have expressed myself through choreography.

My way of expressing myself is through the written word. It’s also a source of pride for me: lots of people say they want to write a book, but very few do.  And even less get their works published by an independent publishing house.

Apt613: Any plans to publish anything new in the near future?

NH: I have plenty of plans for new novels, including my autobiography. As, well, I`d like to have the third book in the Honourable Athletes trilogy, (Still More Honourable Athletes) published.  As well, I have started a space science fiction novel and might even dabble into horror.  I haven’t settled on my style yet and maybe I never will.


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