Dragon Skin by Karen Foxlee (published by A&U)
“If you find a dragon you need a friend.” (Dragon Skin)
Every new book from Karen Foxlee comes to us with great anticipation. She brings magic into the world in both her realist and fantasy stories. Her books resonate with readers of all ages and her wonderful, aching characters edge into our hearts.
Her new novel Dragon Skin reminds us that a child should be nurtured. Pip needs a friend – and finds a baby dragon. Her mother has a manipulative, violent boyfriend and they are not safe at home. As Pip cares for the dragon, she demonstrates the love and care that she should receive.
In Dragon Skin, as in her other books, Karen Foxlee lauds kindness and love.
Thank you for speaking to PaperbarkWords about your novel Dragon Skin, Karen.
Pip finds the baby dragon in the creek. Why is the creek a magical place for Australian children?
That’s a great question. It really is isn’t it. I’m not sure there’s just one answer though. As an outback kid it was definitely something to do with water and the great rhythms of nature. The creek was nearly always dry but then once a year it would run and it was completely magical. We all went to watch it, the force of it was awe inspiring and the whole landscape changed, from faded yellow to green, the water suddenly teaming with life, new birds came. But in the dry it was such a great place to explore too. Weird and wonderful things were left behind when the water receded and we loved searching for this treasure. Mum let us go alone from when we were small, maybe seven or eight. You can’t get lost near a creek – maybe that’s part of the allure in the bush. You just have to keep following it to get back to where you started. We made cubbies in burned out trees, and “hideouts” where we escaped the blistering noon sun. Maybe creeks represent freedom, that’s how those days felt to me as a child looking back. We were explorers in our own land. The days were vast and we were really in touch with nature. I don’t mean that in a cliched way; we were touching trees, naming them, digging in dirt, reading mysteries into the termite marks left behind in bark, crying over dead goannas, telling the time by the sun in the sky. I think creeks let children explore and be free and connected to the earth.
How is Pip’s friend Mika like the dragon?
I guess he needs to be tended to at the start, just like the dragon in the beginning. Despite his bravado he’s been injured by where he came from. His great-grandmother feeds him up, gives him a safe space. But I think also he’s kind of temporary, like the dragon. Although I don’t like that word, temporary. That doesn’t sum up Mika. He’s arrived from elsewhere and there’s always this sense that he’s not going to be there for long. He’s tracking his mother’s imagined journey across the centre of Australia back to him on his map and in his heart. To me Mika was always almost as magical as the dragon. He had a Peter Pan type feel, a boy from elsewhere, somehow aware of bigger things, always feeling magic around him. Always open to magic.
What is the significance of some of the themes you have crafted into Dragon Skin?
I think Dragon Skin can be read both as simple story and as a more complex one, depending how much you want to delve into these themes. It certainly on one level simply a story about saving a dragon. On another it’s about finding the strength to escape a violent relationship, about toxic masculinity, about love and grief and the transformative power of friendship. Themes never come first for me though. They bubble up to the surface through the writing. At first, I thought I was only writing the ‘saving a dragon’ story, but the more I wrote the more I learned about Pip and what she was facing at home. And I really embraced the chance to add my voice to the conversation we need to have in this country about the epidemic of domestic violence. I was adding my voice in the only way I know how, through story. It’s really important that we talk about these things, discuss them, have them out in the open. I hope Dragon skin is a great read but that it sparks some of these conversations as well.
Thank you for the transcendent experience of reading Dragon Skin, Karen. Within it you share a compassionate exploration of friendship and the possibility of courage and hope. Thanks also for answering these questions about the novel with grace and care.
Lenny’s Book of Everything at PaperbarkWords blog
My interview with Karen Foxlee about Dragon Skin and her other novels continues in Magpies Magazine (November 2021).