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Friday, 12 October 2012


I flogged one of my books to a lad I know at work, who has limited interest in my soap opera style epic fantasy, but has a missus who loves the stuff. She's a big Dave Eddings fan, and as my book has some similarity to the linear fantasy of the Belgeriad, I hoped she'd enjoy it.

I bumped into him the other day and asked how she was getting along with it. He said she was really get into it, but had to stop reading it one evening as a scene was terrifying her. I was a little taken aback- after all I chanced my 10 yr old lad reading it, and he wasn't fussed about the occasionally visceral scene or two, and he certainly wasn't scared (well I couldn't hear him scream whilst I watched telly downstairs).

It would seem it was an early scene where a Dark-mage chases the heroine Emelia through dark cobbled streets, and corners her in an alley. So, yeah, creepy... but, enough to make you stop reading?? Admittedly it may have just been her excuse, and she thinks it is a bobbins book....

It got me thinking about the nature of fears. It's a topic that comes up a lot in our house; after all, fear is a salient aspect of childhood. There's a commonality to fear with my two older kids, and then a divergence which typifies their personalities. Both had the separation fear, and the fear of loss that all kids have. That's something that lurks inside all of us, I think, that terror of isolation, of loneliness. They had a common fear of me and the wife splitting up. That stemmed (logically) from an abrupt swathe of people we knew separating. So every time me and t'wife get the arse on with each other about pointless stuff (I didn't tidy up, usually) the kids were wailing like drunken banshees about us not loving one another etc etc. All rational thus far.

But it's the differences which fascinate me. Charlie, with his vivid imagination, his heart on his sleeve, has fantastical fears. His fears were of the mythical and supernatural. I can recall him being scared witless by a kids spooky story where a boy gets turned into a doll. And that Dr Who episode where the girl traps a boy in a drawing. He was really freaked by it (actually I get that fear... I was disturbed by it too!!!). His has always been the monsters and the vampires and the ghosts.

Evelyn, ever pragmatic, was first scared of dangerous beasts. Sharks in the sea in Devon; box jellyfish in the English Channel; snakes, lions, venomous spiders in Yorkshire... She's moved on now to disease, after an ill-advised trip to Thackray's medical museum in Leeds. Now I'm continually questioned on a range of dire pathologies by her, whether small-pox is coming back, and how worried she needs to be about anthrax. It's like having a mixture of House and Jack Bauer inside an eight year old.

I think back to my childhood, and my fears were no less rational. I had the standard (for my generation) Dr Who scared moments (the Ruton in Horror of Fang Rock; the robot ventriloquists dummy in Talons of Weing Chiang... in fact anything involving Robert Holmes and his love of Gothic horror on Saturday tea-times). The ghosts and ghouls less so, but I recall one episode of the sci-fi series Sapphire and Steel, wherein people from photographs came to life... and this soldier had no face. I was terrified for weeks after that...

The only fear that remains is one of loss, and I suppose by extension of that the fear of death. These are the common fears of most. As you grow old you become afraid for others-- afraid my kids will run into problems, get hurt, get knocked over, and this eases your own somewhat. But every now and then you get a wrench in your gut about something...

So with all that lingering in the rear of our minds, why do we seek fear for entertainment? Why do we like to be scared? There's a huge market for horror, and by that I don't mean paranormal sparkly vampires, I mean good old fill your pants and spill your drink TERROR. And every weekend people jump off perfectly safe bridges with elastic bands on their back, just to get the feeling of hurtling towards a river four hundred feet below and not dying. We invite fear back into our lives quite readily. Why?

I suppose fear shares the same physiological response as any adrenaline surge: extreme excitement, preparing for battle, fighting, running for your life. But the situations we create now are sanitised, they are safe fear, far more than our ancestors ever could. The invisible spirit on Paranormal Activity isn't going to come out of the TV and drag you across the floor. The bungie rope is going to hold. The parachute will open. The free fall rollercoaster style ride won't splat you all across the bored queue below. And with any buzz, repetition equals less thrill. You can see as a society we seek more and more thrill, more condensed controlled terror, to sate our needs. Everything now is 'extreme.'

Yet,ironically, the fears we carry from our early days never really leave. The fear of loss, the fear of passing away perhaps before you have had time to do what you want or say what you need to. Is there a way of facing these fears, these anxieties, in a sanitised way? I'm not sure there's a way of making it cuddly, or disposable, or easy--but I think that by sharing fears with others, by accepting we all have those basic anxieties in common, we can learn to live with them a lot better.

Hang on... there's a scratching on the window....

(yeah, yeah, Salem's Lot joke... couldn't leave you on too much of a downer



  1. Oh shit, clowns!

    But seriously, I happily zip wire and abseil of the Royal Liverpool periodically, but get freaked out if I have to go into a neighbour's empty house whilst they're away.

  2. Imagine if your neighbours were clowns!
    Thanks for reading and commenting, Pete.

    1. I think we are each subject to innate 'fear' triggers within our psyche that cause us to react in certain ways to particular stimuli as part of our survival mechanism. Perhaps the manifestation of our fears adapt and adjust in accordance with the landscape of our evolution but essentially the raw primal element remains the same....Just like now when after all these years you've managed to drag from my 'fear archive' a memory of the same shudders I experienced watching that very episode of Sapphire and Steel!..Thanks for that!!!
      Anyway, loved reading your stuff...very enjoyable...look forward to more!

    2. Sorry about trawling your 'fear archive", Lynn! Thanks for reading and for the comments. There's definitely a primordial fear intrinsic to us all that horror capitalises upon. I recall taking Charlie as a 3 yr old to a Halloween party, and he was terrified by the people in costumes. The leering monster faces and devils must tap into an intrinsic fear. He was clamped onto my neck all night!! (kind of cute)

  3. Love the way you've written this post, Ross! I'm only just discovering your writing style and I really like the humor you inject into it. As for fears, yes I have one too, but I ain't telling...yet. ;) Oh, alright, you can stop twisting my, really you can stop now...LOL Actually, I can't watch scary movies, the darn things won't leave me alone afterwards. :)