FEEL THE FEAR AND WRITE IT ANYWAY
Cass Green on why she draws on her own worst fears to evoke terror in her readers, the brilliant authors who inspire her, and what she’s just too afraid to write about…
In my new book, Don’t You Cry, my character Nina is on a miserable blind date with – frankly – a bit of an idiot. She is just plotting her escape when she pops an olive into her mouth and that is the moment her date clumsily propositions her.
Here’s what happens next:
A surge of hysterical laughter rises in my throat. I inhale sharply and the olive shoots backwards, covering my windpipe. I try to cough it away but my throat just spasms uselessly, silently, failing to budge it. The olive is a solid mass. There’s a split second of disbelief before I accept that I’m choking. My pulse thunders in my head and there’s a whooshing in my ears.
I can’t breathe . . .
I can’t breathe.’
When I wrote this, I got so hot and clammy I had to stand up and walk around a bit. Because you see, choking like this is one of my biggest fears. I once got a fish bone stuck in my throat (thank you, M&S goujon) and I swear I saw my life passing in front of me for the moments it took for me to hook it out again with a shaking finger.
In my last book, In a Cottage in a Wood, my character Neve has to let herself into a horrible creepy cottage in the middle of nowhere. In the dead of night, the lights fail, and she realises someone or something is in the room with her…
And there is another one of my more fundamental terrors, right there: the night-time intruder.
I have previous form for this sort of thing too, having started out writing YA and covering both a haunted fairground (roller-coasters and ghosts – check) and drowning (yep).
So why the hell do I keep writing about things that scare the bejaysus out of me? Maybe by forcing myself to imagine every second of that choking scene, for example, it will offer some sort of mental buffer if it ever happened in real life?
(Spoiler: it won’t.)
Perhaps it is more that I genuinely want to cause my readers to have clammy hands and thundering hearts when they read my books, and the best way I can replicate that is to dig deep into my own fears?
I’m not alone in taking this approach, it seems. Shirley Jackson, author of, among other things, the brilliant spine-tingler The Haunting of Hill House, once said, ‘I have always loved to use fear, to take it and comprehend it and make it work and consolidate a situation where I was afraid and take it whole and work from there.’
Master of the chills himself, Stephen King is not above roping in some of his own private horrors too. He has said in an interview, ‘There’s a scene in the book where they find this dumping ground where there are all these discarded appliances, and there’s a refrigerator… And one of the things I remember is we were all told: If you’re playing and you see a discarded refrigerator, don’t go in that, because kids can get in there and get locked in there and die. So I put a discarded refrigerator in the book and when one of the kids opens the door of it, it’s full of these leeches that come out… And that scared me…’
I’ll probably continue to explore the things that scare me in my writing, even if it does make me uncomfortable while I’m doing it. But if you are ever hoping for a book that features giant spiders, I’m telling you now that there are some places I’m just not prepared to go.
Don’t You Cry is out now!