Month: May 2013

Feedback about Fear

A few days ago I asked generally about the fears that people have.  Lots of people shared theirs and here is a brief roundup of what they said (all put here anonymously).  Do you share any of those below?  Can you add anything?

My own:

Heights and the prospect of falling, including gravity being reversed and falling into the sky, a certain type of insanity in other people, the idea of being buried alive.  Probably lots of other things I haven’t thought of.  Ghosts fascinate me, but I’ve never seen one, and I’m sure I’d be terrified if I did.

Random fears kindly supplied by others:

‘Being sick (vomiting)’

‘Living forever as the world gets dumber and more reliant on technology’

‘Flying daddy long legs’

‘Dogs, liver, clowns, beards, evening dress, gas fires and celery’

‘9PM at night, I walked thru the nursing home my mum was at, all the Red call-button lights on, with no responding nurses’

‘Brash colours, loud noises and all things garish are a huge assault on the senses’

‘I think my greatest fear is my imagination. Once I start to imagine a bad scenario I find it impossible to let it go until it is proved that it is just my imagination’

‘Heights, I feel is a very logical fear – you know, you could fall and be in a lot of pain for quite a while if it didn’t kill you. I think all of us fear the possibility of inescapable excruciating pain. And many, if not all of us, fear the unknown’

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What are you afraid of?

page11-1003-thumbThis post is all about fear.  Not so much the fear of being late for an appointment, of making a mistake, or of getting sacked from your job.

I’m talking about the kind of thing that makes you absolutely, gut-churningly, terrified.

There was a recent TV programme about the amazingly brave Frenchman who specialised in walking across trapeze wires attached to high buildings. After weeks of work and surveillance and reconnaissance, he contrived with the help of friends to throw a rope between the twin towers in New York (in the 70s, long before the disaster of course) and trapeze-walked across the two of them, simply carrying a long pole as a balance, to the consternation of the watching crowd below.

How on earth must he have felt?  As I watched I tried to glean myself into his mind, and I just couldn’t do it.   The very idea of it absolutely chills me to the bone.  That man has to be the bravest man on earth.

What are the things that terrify you?  When I was a child I was afraid of seeing the figureheads on old sailing ships, they looked so huge and scaring.  But it wasn’t just the horror of the giant carved wooden face, so savage and dominating, with the horrible garish colours.  I remember it was more the terror of all the things that the figurehead would have seen, what’s underneath the sea, the thought of all those terrifying nightmare things there must be: drowned people, skeletons, old shipwrecks with slimy fish darting in and out of portholes, horrifying monsters, rotting timber and blackness and green nightmares of sheer liquefied terror.

There’s another kind of fear: the one of being enclosed in a tiny space that just gets smaller and smaller.  I once had a ‘death mask’ made of my face in a sculpture class.  John, the teacher, was a really nice lovable guy, who was kind and considerate.  He rubbed Vaseline over my face, then wet plaster was applied progressively, and I had a straw to breathe through.  I’m not nervous by nature, but words cannot describe the feeling of sheer terror as the light through your closed eyelids gets darker and darker, the pressure of the drying plaster gets more and more heavy and you feel as if you’re literally in your grave. I kept calm, but if I’d had an overactive imagination I might easily have pulled the drying plaster from my face, just to be able to breathe and see and feel as if I was back in the world again.

And did anyone reading this see the Kill Bill films?  In one of them there’s a scene where Beatrice Kidder, the heroine, is beaten badly, and her legs and hands bound and she’s placed in a coffin that’s nailed securely shut, then she’s buried in a grave: the works, 6 feet of soil shovelled on top of the coffin lid.  Before incarceration, her killer/torturer, takes delight in telling her that he’s leaving her a torch so she can see for those last moments before she runs out of air.  The horror as Beatrice is alone in her grave, the sheer terror of her knowledge that nothing can save her is heart-in-mouth time at its most sublime.  Needless to say she gets away, and it’s absolutely spellbinding to see her escape.  But those moments, where we’re actually ‘with her’ alone in the coffin are timeless slivers of fear that are hard to replicate in your worst dreams.

There’s another thing that lots of people are afraid of, me included.  Insanity.  In ourselves of course, but more usually in others.  Here’s a story that illustrates what I mean.  Years ago I went to a portrait-painting class.  The model was a bit strange, in fact truth to say she was weird, sinister, but not so much so that you could actually pin things down, just someone you’d steer clear of.  One of the painters, a friend, was a very straightforward likeable unimaginative character, a middle aged man, let’s call him Arthur.  Arthur had painted the model and took his painting home to work on in his studio.  He came back the following week without the portrait, and started all over again.  “Where’s the one you were working on,” someone asked, “the one you were doing was really good.”  “Well,” said Arthur, “I got it home, and I was alone in my studio working on it.  And her eyes bloody well terrified me, I don’t know what it was but I hated that look in her eyes.  I just had to burn the portrait, I couldn’t stand looking at it.”

I think that insanity in other people goes beyond the obvious fear for our own personal safety.  There can be a gleeful madness that we can reecognise are stark pure evil and that’s what scary, a hidden malevolence that razor blades your mind.  Yuk.

I’d say that most of our fears are rational and reasonable.  Most people dislike or are terrified of spiders, perhaps because of the poisonous variety that are hard-wired into our system to be afraid off, same goes for snakes.  But how about those irrational phobias?  Some people are terrified of open spaces, or to put it more accurately they’re scared of the unreasonable reaction that they might experience whilst out in crowds or in wide-open spaces.  Claustrophobia, yes a pretty natural fear, but of course many people can’t stand lifts or any kind of confined space at all.  There are phobias for all kinds of things: birds, leaves, the underground, dentists, nasty brown envelopes with bills inside, probably dozens of other things I haven’t even thought of.  But for those people who suffer from rare phobias those things are no doubt as terrifying as being attacked by a knife-wielding killer.

There’s also that fear, maybe we all have it, of losing control somehow in a public place.  As a schoolboy I had an irrational dread of standing up in school prayers and shouting out ‘God is a stupid fool’.  I didn’t think it, I wouldn’t have done it, but the terror that some ridiculous force might make me do stand up and make a fool of myself in such a ridiculous way, scared me stiff until I thought about it rationally.  The idea of standing alone in a crowd and being the object of ridicule is a very real fear for so many of us.  Just think of the number of people who tell about their dreams of being in a crowded office, school, or public place with no clothes on, and everyone else is fully clothed.

And what about walking through a cold deserted graveyard at midnight?  How many of us would want to do it?  However irrational it might seem, the idea of the sheer spookiness of such a place is something we’d avoid if we can.

It’s interesting how we can actually almost enjoy our fears to some extent: that’s where writers of novels and film makers come in to their own.  Horror film makers combine the element of surprise, the great old trick that always works of building up the tension: the monster stalking the heroine through the house, seen from the monster’s point of view, the heroine being unaware.   And then, it’s forgotten until completely without warning the shrieking ghoul puts in an appearance as it does its worst.

Film-makers work hard to terrify us.  Remember the scene from The Exorcist, where the little girl’s head swivels through 180 degrees, and she projectile-vomits and swears in a deep deep voice?  It was too over-the-top to scare me.  I prefer more subtle stuff, such as ‘Tales from the crypt’, where 7 victims who’ve met terrible ends all recount their experiences.  And at the end each one starts all over again, as if their suffering just goes on and on in perpetuity. Now to my mind that is scary.

As for real life the prospect of evil people, truly evil people, can always send a shiver down our spines.  There was a recent TV production, based on fact, where a social worker acted as the ‘responsible adult’ , helping killer Fred West give his statements to the police.  West’s horrid mixture of childlike charm and almost innocent ghastliness apparently got under this poor woman’s skin to such an extent that she was deeply affected.  And I’ve read books about West, where it was reported that Fred West’s father referred to forcing a child to have sex with an adult was ‘something that a man wants to do’.  To think that a child can have that sort of twisted unspeakably awful, evil thinking inculcated into its psyche at an early age, now that’s scaring too.  There again, it’s pure undiluted evil and it’s as if the evil is a disembodied thing with a life of its own that scares us; because we hate to think that it exists (if it does exist, who knows?)

Other things that have scared me? The sight of the shrivelled yellow-face of a woman in a morgue drawer when I worked as a theatre porter and had to help deliver my ‘first’ body.  Stepping off scaffolding onto a house roof to dismantle a ‘stack chimney’ and feeling my foot begin to slip along the tiles.  Throwing a huge sheet of lead from a high up roof and just that split second of blind panic when the heavy weight almost pulled me with it.  Being shown around the crypt beneath Kensal Rise cemetery and seeing the rows of shadowy cobwebbed coffins stretching out into the darkness, or, on that same day, seeing a long cortege of black-leather clad rockers on Harley Davidsons, decked out in mourning gear, doing some kind of creepy funereal ceremony that I didn’t understand.

So what else scares you?  Walking home alone in the dark and hearing footsteps behind you?  The sound of a lonely dog howling in the night, à la Hound of the Baskervilles?  The feeling that you’re being followed in the darkness, yet you know you’re on your own?

I’m not a scaredy cat.  If anything unexplained happens I look for the obvious answer, I don’t think of ghosts and ghoulies.  If there are such things as ghosts I suspect that I wouldn’t be particularly sensitive enough to be aware of their presence anyway, deep empathy isn’t exactly my thing.

I live alone, or rather alone with two cats.  In the night they often knock things off tables, clunk about, even meow out loud for no reason.  One night when I was in bed recently I heard a loud clonking somewhere, reasoned it was one of the cats larking about, thought nothing of it and fell asleep again.  Then I woke up.

Both cats were outside in the garden!

My mind span into gear.  What had made the noise?  My heartbeat cranked up high.

I knew all the likely answers: wood contracting due to variations of temperature, something falling off  a shelf that wasn’t securely put there in the first place.  With both doors locked and no open windows I knew a burglar would have made much more noise.  But alone in the middle of the night the rational explanations take a hike and your imagination spins out of control.

You know what?  I think I’ve changed my mind.

Maybe it’s not so nice to think about what makes us scared.

But go on tell me.  What really makes you scared?  I’d really like to know.

What happens in the bedroom?

 

In my opinion the so called ‘bedroom tax’ is the most pernicious and terrible idea that has come about in the last 15 years.  I read some time ago that Ian Duncan-Smith, who is undoubtedly a well meaning, decent and highly intelligent and accomplished individual, had been researching and doing in-depth studies into the welfare system with a view of overhauling it for the good of everyone.  I respect his abilities and ideas.

Which is why it’s so astonishing that he’s brought in this new tax that has been rolled out in several boroughs, and will presumably become ubiquitous very soon.

A friend, who is currently unemployed, lives alone in a flat that has two bedrooms.  She is at rock bottom financially and has been told that her housing benefit is being reduced (effectively charging her a tax) by £17 a week.  £17 a week, when you have literally no money to spare, is, frankly, impossible to find.  With thousands of people in the same impossible situation it wouldn’t surprise me if many of them chuck morals out of the window and embark on any kind of illegal activity they can to bridge the gap.  And I wouldn’t blame them.  What else can they do?

Okay, the idea in principle: that people in council accommodation that have more space than they actually need, should move into somewhere smaller, is one point of view, albeit a cruel one.  That, presumably, was the original intention of the legislation. Even allowing for the fact that it is surely cruel and wicked to expect someone to give up the home they’ve lived in for years, the cold hard and relevant reality is that in many areas (perhaps most) there simply is not the option to move into somewhere smaller.  So local authorities tell a council house tenant that they have to find extra money every week if they stay where they are – their other option, presumably, to sleep in the street.

I have heard otherwise apparently highly plausible radio presenters on LBC saying, quite seriously, to callers to their programme “What are you worrying about?  All you have to do is let a room!”  For heaven’s sake, no one wants to let a room in their own home, unless it’s of their own free choice.  Most people value their privacy, and why shouldn’t they?  To be railroaded into taking a stranger into your home, your only refuge in times of trouble, is the ultimate indignity.  And if you are unemployed, having to go through the indignity of declaring every penny you earn to the authorities, you would have to declare this ‘rent’ anyway, and presumably your income would be reduced accordingly.

It makes me angry when I hear fatuous rich people in lovely rewarding jobs, mouthing on about how good working is for you, and that if you are unemployed it would ‘do you good’ to get into the habit of employment.  I have had long periods of unemployment in my life, and I can tell you that going into the job centre to sign on is the most horrible, miserable, ghastly experience you can have.   I loathe the kind of people who say that ‘I have never been unemployed.  If I was I would be  parking meter attendant, do cleaning, do anything at all rather than sign on.’  I bet.  Perhaps they have never faced the indignity of having to do a ‘restart course’ (as it was called years ago), when you are told how to go to a library and find a book, how to prepare e a CV, and how to be ‘motivated’.  Most people want to work in order not to have financial worries and to have the lifestyle they enjoy, and they want to do a job that suits their intellect, their interests and also so as to have the company of like-minded people.  Above all to have the things they want in life, and to have a measure of freedom.

More to the point, I would also guess that the majority of people in council accommodation are in employment anyway.  Perhaps doing hard, low paid jobs that they heartily dislike, for long long hours.  Or part-time work in reasonably paid jobs, because there simply is no full time work in their field. I met a man in Staples who told me that because the branch of Staples where he worked full time had closed he was taking any work he could: in his case part-time work in another branch of the retail store.  He was being hit with having to pay an extra £20 a week.  I am sure this is the kind of situation replicated all over the country, to people with families, who are doing the utmost to get by.

Kicking people when they are down is degrading and disgusting, and anyone who has hardly any money needs help, encouragement and support, not to have a splinter of terror inserted underneath their fingernails.  Your home is your home, whether it’s owned by the council, a private landlord or your great-great-great grandfather in 1700.  It’s the place where you ought to be able to feel safe.

It’s time for the government to have some compassion and to face the reality of their mistake.  If Mr Cameron does not see sense soon the ‘bedroom tax’ will be for him what the council tax was for Mrs Thatcher.  His downfall.

Generally I like Mr Cameron, and on the whole I support what he’s doing. Let’s hope he realises that this is possibly the biggest mistake of his coalition government, before the people who have no voice are defended by those that have.

Because the French revolution was not started by those that had nothing.  It was begun by the middle classes who cared for those at the bottom who had no bread.

Second class citizens in a warm cosy club

I’ve been trying to sell my two books, Rock’n’Roll Suicide viewBook.at/B009XA5SQ4   and Doppelganger viewBook.at/B00B6U64B2  (both on Kindle for 77p) for around 6 months now, and I feel as if I’ve been blundering around in the control cabin of an old steam train, trundling along on an interminable journey that never seems to end.

I started off thinking lower the price – even try doing the free (KDP) offer, just get the first book out there, the more people see it the better my chances of it catching on.  And it was rewarding, because lots of people seem to like the first, and the second book , I’m building up good reviews (and one resoundingly bad one that Amazon put right at the top of the am.uk page as a comparison).  The reality is though that it seems as if you can only get so far and there’s a kind of ceiling you can’t break through.  I don’t mind admitting that I’ve sold very few copies – what’s the point in lying?  I’ve heard that lots of other people are seeing low sales too.  Whether it’s because of the recession, or maybe there are just so many people out there doing it and there’s such competition I don’t know.

My idea of the Jack Lockwood Diaries http://jacklockwood.wordpress.com/  seemed as if it might be a way of selling the books: I write a short story every now and again, put it on the blog and hope people like it, and be inspired to buy one of the books because they like the character.  John Locke’s book (How I sold a million copies on Kindle) gave me this idea of creating a ‘brand’ around a character.  And I like doing it – there’s not so much work involved as writing a complete book.  But do I have lots of followers?  No.  I have 11.

But aside from all the effort and enthusiasm, I get the feeling that us independent authors – or maybe a more honest way of putting it is ‘authors who can’t get a publisher or agent’ – are viewed as second class citizens in the publishing world.  The successful Dan Browns are out there really doing it, and we are trying this, trying that, helping push each other’s books on twitter.  But as writers we are still treated as second class citizens, and it seems sad, when so many independent authors are clever, talented and really good writers.  What’s even more relevant is, we are like wanders in a storm: some of us probably need editorial guidance to improve the work, which we’d get if professionally published, but we go ahead and put out our work, and someone ‘in the business’ might easily spot snags that could easily be eradicated and improve the product.  But we are all on our own, having a go, like architect, builder’s labourer and planner building an office block, with no rule book to guide us and no one to help.

Of course lots of people are doing it for vanity.  Some are doing it purely for fun.  But I’m doing it because I like telling stories, I’m sure that if I could only reach a certain type of reader, I could give up my other work and make enough from writing to do it all the time – not a fortune, not riches, just enough to live on.  This is probably what we all aim for, and let’s hope some of us achieve it.

A very unexpected thing that had happened in all this ‘adventure’ is meeting via twitter so very many kind, generous, lively and helpful people, who genuinely want to help me and other people by doing nice reviews, offering encouragement and support, and sharing their journeys and experiences.  It’s nice to feel that if you’re on a long journey, at least you’re not alone, and I must say the company is the best you could ask for.  Like the person (you know who you are) who has spent ages giving me lots of helpful advice and suggestions of what approaches to take, who to follow etc etc, when I was new to it all, and still helps me out if I have a problem.  Or the other twitter friend (who I’ve now met and is a ‘real life’ friend) who spent ages telling me about the formatting process, pitfalls and mistakes to avoid.  Or the friend who is famous for championing other writers’ work, who produces a newsletter and gives as much help as she can to anyone who needs it, and has helped me particularly.  And the many other twitter friends in the UK and in other countries, who offer nice words and praise and make me feel as if people enjoy what I’m doing and it makes it all worthwhile.  Following blogs is something I never even knew about but now I do it and it’s very interesting.

The generosity and kindness of twitter active writers is incredible.  Other writers want their work to succeed, but it seems that they’re; keen for you to succeed too, there’s no competitive spirit, just mutual support.  Many people catch sight of someone  who’s doing a free offer and go  all out to help them if they can – I certainly do.

So we might all be second class citizens when it comes to the world of professional writing.

But we are in a warm cosy international club.