What is your greatest fear?
Death, in relation to myself or my loved ones. I’ve always had an exaggerated sense of mortality, even when I was very young. I’m the eldest of six children, and I was always counting heads in the park or worrying about illness. As a teenager, I went through a bad period of hypochondria, with my main fear being that either I or someone I loved had eaten glass. Then after I had my first child, I developed terrible anxiety, in which the whole world felt like a dangerous death trap. I haven’t felt like this for a long time–good therapy and maybe getting a bit older and wiser. But still now if I wake at 4:00 a.m. my mind will play with illness and death. I cannot stand the thought of either being left or leaving behind the people I love most, which maybe has quite narcissist roots, in that I mentally have put myself at the centre of these lives? I’m not sure where it comes from, as I had a happy, stable childhood, although my father is quite neurotic and was often overly protective or worried. As the eldest child maybe I absorbed some of this?
What is your earliest childhood memory of fear?
One Halloween when I was probably 7 or 8, my mother put a cut-out of witch on our front door. It had movable arms and legs, was as tall as an adult human and, looking back now, a real work of art. The next day she said it was so pretty she couldn’t bear to throw it away and pinned it to a cupboard door on the landing outside my bedroom. I had to walk past it to get to the toilet at night, and it completely terrified me. I would lie in bed trying desperately to hold in my pee and then, when the need became urgent, I would race past the witch, trying not to even look at her. Funnily, I told my mother about this recently and she was mortified, saying she couldn’t believe she’d put it there and wondering why I’d never said anything. It seems crazy that I didn’t just say something, as Mum would have taken it down, but as kids I think we totally internalise fear, which of course is not the best lesson for later life!
Is there any fear you’ve overcome in your life?
The anxiety that I was talking about in my first answer was the worst fear I’ve felt in my life. And it went on for years. At first, I tried to ignore it because I felt embarrassed. I also had a baby who needed looking after. But fear doesn’t like to be ignored, and I ended up avoiding things and feeling generally dreadful. I finally started therapy when I began to find it hard to go to the supermarket or take my son to the park. It was a long road, but it totally changed everything. For many years now I would say I’ve had a healthy relationship with fear. I know my limits, I don’t put myself knowingly in dangerous situations, and I have a perspective that helps me to rationalise what’s worth getting frightened by.
What person living today terrifies you the most and why?
Elon Musk, for so many reasons. Firstly, billionaires in general terrify me. I don’t understand why they don’t use their money for tangible good like solving climate change or ending world hunger, which makes me think they fundamentally can’t be good people. Secondly, their wealth gives them access and power they haven’t earned, so they can even end up as president of the United States (which brings another terrifying individual to mind). Thirdly, I think Musk takes advantage of the worst of social media, one of the most damaging forces in our culture. It has created a society without nuance, that asks you to take sides, that cancels people for opinions. It has reduced everything down to its lowest common denominator, usually for the purpose of selling us something we don’t need. It has made a king of individual feelings at the expense of wider societal debate. Ultimately it aims to isolate us to control us. And the people who run it, with Elon Musk as the most dangerous in my mind, terrify me.
What is an urban legend that really freaked you out?
When I was a teenager, there was a story doing the rounds about a woman whose dog sleeps next to her bed every night. One night she goes to bed and dangles her hand over the side, as she does every night, and the dog licks her fingers. But there’s an annoying dripping sound in the house, so she gets up to check the house. Finally she works out the sound is coming from the basement (of course), so she goes down to find her dog hanging upside with its throat slit and blood dripping on the floor. Pinned to the dog is a note that reads, “Humans can lick, too.” I’ve just got shivers typing that up!
What is your greatest fear as a writer?
Not selling and bad reviews! You are in control of the process up until that point. Although there can be a scary moment when you’re writing where you know you’ve got something wrong, or you want to get somewhere but can’t make it work. Once it goes out into the world however, it’s totally out of your hands. And even with the best marketing and publicity, a book can sometimes fail. I always feel terrified of that, not just on a personal level, but also because by then so many amazing creatives have put so much time into it.
Do you have a childhood memory of your parents or other trusted adults being truly terrified by something?
I was a child in the ‘80s, when everyone was less concerned about health and safety or the psyche of kids. Every Saturday my parents would let me go up to Blockbuster video and take out films. My younger brother and I got obsessed with horror films, and over the course of a couple of years we watched them all, from Texas Chainsaw Massacre to The Shining. It became a thing we’d do every Saturday as a family, and so I was well used to my parents hiding behind their hands and jumping from fright!
What’s the scariest place you’ve ever been?
This is an interesting question because it’s so dependent on who you are and your life experiences. It’s something I’ve really tackled in my latest book, One of the Good Guys, which asks the question, “If most men claim to be good, then why are most women still afraid to walk alone at night?”
I would say that the times I feel most frightened are when I’m walking home on a dark street, or in a secluded wood with my dog, and see a man approaching. Obviously we all know most men are good people, but I think women live with this constant little bit of fear in the back of their minds that this time they could come across the bad man at the wrong time. It makes me so sad and angry that we still have to navigate our way around the world in this way, and I don’t think we’ll achieve real equality until we make our environments safe for everyone.
Araminta Hall is the critically acclaimed author of four novels, Everything & Nothing, Our Kind of Cruelty, Imperfect Women and her latest, One of the Good Guys, which is published under the Gillian Flynn imprint at Zando. All are under option, with Imperfect Women being developed by Elisabeth Moss’ production company for a series with Apple TV.