Fun fact: Helen and I were twins in another life. Now in this life we are almost-sisters. I’ve only known her for about three years, but she’s one of my favorite people in the world and she’s a kick-ass writer. Too bad there’s an entire ocean between us, keeping us from hanging out in pubs every night and singing karaoke. However, I’m convinced one day we’ll be old and retired and sitting on a porch drinking lemonade spiked with gin and laughing about nothing at all.
Enough sentimentality, though. Let’s get to the terrifying shit.
What is your greatest fear?
I have one or two people I just can’t imagine life without and I’m no-filters terrified of something happening to them. I’m never far removed from the raw, existential sense of all of us as a bunch of small, soft animals clinging onto the surface of a rock, alone in infinite space. I don’t really understand how we’re supposed to live day to day with the knowledge that everyone we love is going to die. This makes me a LOT of fun at parties.
But seriously, it’s a scary old life, and I think the ability to forget this has never been hardwired into me in quite the same way it seems to be for some people. I suspect this proximity to mortality and the baffling, shooting-star fragility of life is one of the things that makes us write. I know if I said this sort of thing in a pub, most people would suddenly recognize someone they knew on the other side of the bar and not come back, but writers would nod in silent recognition and get another bottle of bourbon for the table. And then we’d all get really drunk together and do karaoke and have a rare old time. Because there’s nothing like an awareness of the ephemeral nature of everything you care about to make you want to really live, while you’re here.
Anyway, in practice this translates to me worrying horribly when someone I love has a health scare and doing reassuring things like crying when they tell me stuff because I can’t bear to think of them being really sick. And writing stories about apocalypses and singing in the darkness at the edge of the world. It feels like the pandemic has kind of brought everyone else to where I am, in terms of trying to work out how to live alongside this inescapable awareness of death, and suddenly everyone’s writing about how fragile everything is. I’m a bit Get your tanks off my lawn about it, honestly.
What is your earliest childhood memory of fear?
I grew up on a ‘70s TV diet of action movies and the Dukes of Hazard. Every TV car crash I’d ever seen ended up with the car blowing up in a spectacular fireball, so when I was nine and the car we were travelling to our holiday in suddenly lost its steering, flipped over and over and landed on its roof in a field, I knew exactly what to expect. I remember the interior of the car spinning around us like we were in a washing machine, and then the next thing I knew I was standing on the other side of the field with my little brother shoved protectively behind me, waiting for the explosion and the blooming cloud of flame. Of course, nothing happened. It was a solid, ancient Volvo estate; everyone was fine, even the dog (who I’d forgotten about, and who was in the boot with a load of deadly projectiles in the form of camping gear and food cans). I was the only one to execute that classic run and dive into a protective hedge I’d seen modelled so many times. So the scariest part of the whole experience never actually transpired, which you’d think would be a lesson in not being scared of things that might not happen. It was pretty freaky, though.