There couldn't be a better post to herald the end of the Halloween blog tour today. Author Rachel Ward bravely shares what scares her the most. I wasn't expecting such a poignant, thought provoking post and I feel honoured that Rachel wanted to share it on my blog.
I'm the scarediest of scaredy-cats. My children delight in making me watch slightly scary films because they know I will squeal and gibber on cue. I squealed my way through Ghostbusters, The Goosebumps Movie and the Jurassic Park films. I know. Lame, right? Curiously, I managed to watch Stranger Things on television without wetting myself – perhaps things are a little safer on the small screen.
So what am I scared of? Heights, spiders, snakes – all the usual things. Failure, obviously. Every time I start a new book or painting, there’s a frisson of fear that it won’t work out, that I won’t be able to make it work. It’s grounded in the knowledge that not everything does work out. You can’t be good at everything, all the time, unless, I suppose, you stick to a formula that works. You never push yourself, or worry away at the edges of what you’re capable of. But I don’t want to live like that.
And, of course, I’m scared of death.
Ten years ago, I found I was pondering mortality every day. I realised it wasn’t entirely healthy to be so consumed with it, so I decided to write about it. A character called Jem popped into my head. Jem could see death dates … and so the Numbers books began.
The Numbers trilogy deals with love and loss - the vulnerability that the former brings and the inevitability of the latter. The books that followed, The Drowning and Water Born, are a different take on the same thing. Unfinished business carried on after death. They are very contemporary ghost stories – ghosts in a damp flat above a row of shops, because our deepest, darkest fears aren’t somewhere romantic, like a castle or spooky country house, they are everywhere, part of everyday life.
Over the past twelve months, I’ve said it to my daughter, and she’s said it to me, a few times. Sometimes in the middle of the night, when we’re both wide-eyed, unable to sleep. Sometimes they’ve been the first words of the morning, waking up to a day which seems impossible to face.
I’ve asked my husband, too, ‘Are you scared?’
Unable to speak, almost immobile, a slight nod of his head, a flicker in his eyes, a tiny squeeze of my hand has told me that he is.
‘It’s all right. Everything’s okay.’
I’ve stroked his forehead, rubbed his feet, and hoped that my words would soothe his mind, while my hands soothed his body.
Everything’s okay. Words saying the exact opposite of the truth. But forgiveable lies. They were shorthand for, ‘Everyone’s doing what they can. You’re cared for. We love you.’ And I said those words too.
I think I also meant, it’s okay whichever way this goes. Knowing that living was very hard, I didn’t want him to be scared of dying. I wanted to try and help him accept whatever was coming.
The physical response to terror is a surge of adrenaline – fight or flight. But sometimes you can’t run away, and you can’t fight the thing you’re scared of. You just have to endure.
I’ve talked a little bit with my husband about the fear we both faced. Although we’ve been through the same events, we have very different experiences of it. He has been utterly stuck in the middle of things, often unable to move or talk. ‘I’ve spent a lot of time just breathing.’ (I might say,
that breathing, too, was difficult for him a lot of the time.) Are you still brave if you don’t have any choice? If you are just enduring a frightening situation? Yes, I think you are. ‘Just breathing’ was one of the bravest things he’s ever done.
I actively avoid writing about people or situations from my own life. And yet, in strange ways not always clear to me, as a writer you can’t avoid ‘the self escaping into the open.’* I’m currently writing about murder on a space station. Obviously, I’ve never been on a space station, nor have I experienced violence in real life (thankfully), but the environment in this book is very claustrophobic, the terror is real. In my mind’s eye, the cramped corridors and cabins don’t look all that different to hospital corridors and rooms.
I’ll be glad to finish this book – it’s taken a very long time to write. And I’ll be glad when hospitals are a now-and-again, visiting-for-a-check-up places again. After fifteen months in hospital, my husband is on the mend and having the physio he needs to get him back home. Then perhaps we’ll watch Ghostbusters together … if he can stand the squeals.
*‘Creative writing is communication through revelation – it is the self escaping into the open.’ –E.B.White.
The Drowning and Waterborn are both published by Chicken House
What happens if you've done something terrible? But you can't remember what. And you don't know how to put it right ...When Carl opens his eyes on the banks of a lake, his brother is being zipped into a body bag. What happened in the water? He can't remember And when he glimpses a beautiful girl he thinks he recognizes, she runs away. Suddenly he knows he must find her - because together they must face the truth before it drowns them.
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