Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Hidden Fears

Picking up on the theme of nostalgia from the previous post, I visited a few local schools and colleges this week and a student asked me which book had had the most impact on me when I was a child. That is such a long time ago! Does anyone read Just William these days? Treasure Island, Heidi, Little Women... There are so many new and exciting contemporary authors writing for the youth market nowadays: Anthony Horowitz, Michael Morpurgo, Phillip Pullman, to name just a few. It makes it all the more dismal that so few children are reading, and even fewer teenagers. There are many other, easier, opportunities to fill their time.
In a different context, I had another 'trip down memory lane' recently. On one of my school visits this week I tried to impress on my young audience how ground breaking Dr Who was when it was first broadcast in the 1960s. From Andy Pandy to daleks was a qualitative leap for an unsophisticated viewing audience. Dr Who was the first television programme to employ special effects and it succeeded in terrifying a generation.
I was intially entertained when a dalek asked me to sign a copy of CUT SHORT the other week. Of course I agreed. What author will refuse a sale? The top (lid?) of the dalek duly lifted up and . . . a hand emerged . . . a human hand! . . . proffering money. Of course I knew it was just a plastic shell in dalek shape concealing a man inside, but I couldn't bring myself to put my own hand inside the dalek. Instead, I handed the change to someone else to deliver to the man-inside-the-plastic-dalek.
How ridiculous! But our early childhood fears run deep. The child we once were lurks inside us all, (I won't say like the man concealed inside the dalek - it's too obvious!)
When I'm writing crime novels, I play with my readers' fears . . . a character wakes at night, alone in the house, and hears a door closing . . . a woman walking along a dark deserted street hears footsteps . . .
I knowingly draw on my own irrational terrors in my writing - but holding back from touching a plastic dalek - that was a surprise even to a scaredycat like me! Surely at the ripe old age of mumble (OK, I was watching daleks in 1964) I should have outgrown my fear of a plastic inverted bucket waving a sink plunger? Especially one who had just bought a copy of my book! Of course, without my irrational fears, my writing would be less scarey, but I wonder if anyone has been caught out by a more ridiculous irrational childhood fear , or do I win the wimpy prize for this one?
Leigh Russell


  1. Leigh, I like to make my readers afraid too..just imagine if there had been a monster inside the shell, just waiting for your hand to reach into the darkness...Sorry! Thanks for coming to the Page!

  2. A monster . . . in the darkness . . . I'm so glad I didn't risk it!
    In reality, about an hour after The Terrifying Encounter, a charming young man introduced himself to me. 'I'm the dalek who bought your book,' he grinned. 'Can I leave my bag under your table for a few minutes?'
    If I wrote romance, I could build a whole novel out of that!

  3. I recently read something I had written to a friend of mine, his reaction was, "You scare the hell out of me." I loved it. If anyone were to meet me in person, they won't imagine someone like me writing what I do.

    As for irrational fears - that would be "A Christmas Carol". Just as I did when I was a kid, I watch it every single Christmas Eve and I still get goosebumps and won't open my eyes till the next morning. Strange I know. (Hugs)Indigo

  4. Hi Indigo - Why is it fun to be scared? I suppose because it happens in a safe kind of way. None of it is real - except the daleks, of course!
    One of my local readers said that having read CUT SHORT she doesn't like going to the local park any more. That wasn't my intention, although I did try to write some scenes that scared me so I am pleased when I learn they have an impact on my readers too.