In her first guest post she spoke about the thriller elements to her series and this time she tries to scare herself in the name of research!
Soul Beach, the first part of the trilogy has been a great success and I'll be tucking into Soul Fire very shortly.
Playing with Fire -
why do we love to scare ourselves silly?
I don’t make a habit of offering dating tips, but here’s one you might find useful: if you want to be a hit with your date, scare them!
Yes, research shows that we’re more likely to be attracted to someone if we’re a little bit frightened when we meet. I’m not suggesting you turn up in a Halloween mask carrying an axe. Better to go to a funfair or – as the researchers did – arrange to meet on a high bridge. The object of your desire will feel their pulse quicken – and that might well make them want to see you again.
Fear is weird – why would we crave a feeling that should warn us against danger? Yet most of us do seek thrills – whether it’s watching a scary movie, or bungee-jumping into a ravine.
As a first-time thriller writer (my Soul Beach trilogy follows seven romantic comedies), it’s something I have a professional interest in. I want to keep readers on the edge of their seats. So, even though I’m a bit of a scaredy-cat myself, I’ve decided to try to terrify myself in the interests of research – to understand why we love fear.
Scare test 1: scary books
I recently unpacked a box of childhood books – and one of my most read was the Beaver Book of Horror – but now I tend to favour reading funny novels. So, as stage 1 of my experiment, I bought Kindle edition of Hold my Hand by my friend Serena Mackesy which has lots of reviews saying how frightening it is.
Result: I really loved it and kept reading but was actually too distracted by the terrific writing and setting to be properly scared. Plus, it’s a ghost story and I’m not convinced ghosts exist. So my results:
Fear Factor: 2/10
Fun Factor: 9/10
Scare test 2: scary movies
The first movie I remember really scaring me as an adult was Pacific Heights, about a crazy lodger. At the time, I was living in a shared house with a rather psychotic landlord… so, maybe one of the key factors is feeling that the cause of fear is close to home.
Result: That could explain why my randomised sample – Final Destination, The Walking Dead, Contagion – didn’t scare me at all. I am no longer in high school and I hope I’m unlikely to encounter zombies soon (though Brighton on a Saturday night does have its similarities).
I am Legend scared me a tiny bit – but only because I was worried about that poor dog. And with all of these movies or shows, the pleasure is undermined by the feeling that we’re being manipulated so obviously.
Fear Factor: 5/10
Fun Factor: 2/10
Scare test 3 – scary reality
The two scariest things that have happened to me in the last five years were – being mugged by a motorcyclist, and catching burglars in our flat while my boyfriend was away. But in both cases the fear came afterwards and I had no control of either situation.
So I decided to try something scary for pleasure: the correfoc – or fire run – in Barcelona is an event where thousands of people flock onto the city’s streets and squares, racing after devils and dragons that spew fireworks and firecrackers, while a deafening drum beat plays. Though locals are blasé, you can easily get burned –you just launch yourself into the crowd and hope for the best.
Result: I can’t say I totally loved it – running at people armed with firecrackers didn’t feel natural, or safe. But it did give me the biggest buzz - not just from the danger but also from the group experience.
Fear Factor 9/10
Fun Factor 7/10
Playing with fire
So, at the end of my non-scientific study, what are my conclusions? I understand more why the adrenalin rush is addictive – and I also realised fear is strongest for me when it’s close to home. Zombies don’t cut it.
Scientists suggest we might be programmed to enjoy fear for evolutionary reasons. Exploring and hunting has led to human progress so being rewarded for risk-taking makes sense.
But when it comes to scary stories, I think it’s about wanting to experience fear second-hand, via the hero’s adventures – it’s why most thrillers end with some kind of positive outcome. We want the good guys to win so we can believe that we’ll win our real life battles too.
That’s certainly where I’m coming from in Soul Beach – I want my heroine to be braver and better than the rest. Though as I approach the end of the trilogy, I’m wondering if it’s realistic to have her win… I am genuinely scaring myself as I put her in more and more danger.
But outside my writing, I won’t be booking a bungee jump any time soon. Fear for me is a bit like the gym – so much better when it’s over!
Kate’s second instalment in the Soul Beach trilogy, Soul Fire, is out now, published by Orion. www.kate-harrison.com
Many thanks to Kate and Indigo for arranging this.