Gentle and Fierce is a new book of illustrated memoir essays by Vanessa Berry. 

Gentle and Fierce/ House Bear

When I started writing the book that became 'Gentle and Fierce', I didn't know that these qualities would be its underlying tension. My initial ideas were in the form of intentions, wanting to write about relationships between humans and animals. How these occur in the present and thread through memories, and how meaningful relationships with animals can occur through mediated encounters as well as direct ones. As in all my writing, I wanted to think about memory, how it is expressed and shaped, and how it can be a connective force.

As the book took shape I became interested in gentleness as a quality that is felt and transmitted and is a way of being with others. Humans have given a name to it, but it is present in the ways of certain animals and their behaviours, and thus is a description often used for them. Ferocity, its counterbalance, was the same. I recognised both these qualities within me and in others, human and non-human.

In the essay 'Gentle and Fierce', the last in the book, I move through different phases of my life at moments when animals have been present, reflective of these qualities. The illustration for this essay is the shadow puppet bear that is on the book's cover, inspired by my polystyrene 'house bear'. Sometimes the light in the room at night would be such that the house bear's shadow would move across the wall. If I found the shadow menacing I'd blink, and it would turn into a benevolent shadow instead, and so on, back and forth, never quite settling on one or the other.  

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