What Scares Sarah Rees Brennan? (+Giveaway)

What scares you? That’s the question I asked YA authors for this blog series. Stay tuned for interviews and guest posts as authors visit and reveal their frightening—even surprising—fears.

Today’s guest author is Sarah Rees Brennan, author of Unspoken and the Demon’s Lexicon trilogy. (And be sure to enter the giveaway to win a signed finished copy of Unspoken!)

What scares Sarah? Read on to find out.


Guest post by Sarah Rees Brennan


I live my life in a constant state of fear. Enemies are lurking all around me.

Let me list some of my greatest fears: seaweed, of course. And bed springs.

…You may be surprised by these fears. But they make perfect sense. I WILL EXPLAIN.

The seaweed is because I grew up by the sea, and once I was lying on my bed with the window open and a storm coming in, reading a book called The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’Shea. I’m Irish, and people often ask me why I don’t write a book set in Ireland with Irish mythology. The answers to that are myriad, such as a) one day maybe I will b) loads of not-Irish people use that mythology a lot, that mythology is in no danger of being underused, c) the mystical faerie hill of Tara is covered in sheep poop and beer cans, but one of the truest answers is BECAUSE IRISH MYTHS ARE ABSOLUTELY FREAKING TERRIFYING.


So there were these plucky kids and the Morrigan was looking for them so her dread birds could rip out their eyes or somesuch. You know. Pleasant normal stuff. And then… there was this storm and… the seaweed crept out of the sea like a living blanket and just swallowed this dude, suffocating him but also tentacling him and slithering up him so it was like drowning and quicksanding and being slimy sea monster’d all at once and the storm outside my window just rose and rose and the air was thick and metallic-tasting and the sky was dark and I knew, I knew the seaweed was coming.

I no longer live by the sea. I remain a prey to my own imagination.

Bed springs, I can also explain. (Not so I sound any less deranged, you understand.) I had a dream once that I woke up and found myself impaled on a bed spring. Upon actually waking, I slept on the floor for a month before my parents relented and bought me a futon, which I then slept on for seven years. I am STUBBORN about being an irrational cowardy custard, is what I’m telling you here.

What are my other fears?

Rats, but lots of people are scared of rats, and their terrible scaly tails! …However, not many people take it further, and reject other animals on the basis of similarity to rats. Just say no to guinea pigs. Nevermore to hamsters. Don’t even get me started on squirrels. Rabbits? I know that ratty hearts lurk beneath those cute, floppy ears. I know! Rabbits have everybody fooled but me.

I saw an American possum on an episode of Hoarders, and that ratty face haunts my dreams. I had never previously seen a possum before, since I live in Ireland, a beautiful land untouched by snakes or possums. I was innocent, once. Those were happy days. What has been seen cannot be unseen.

I saw the movie Alien at the age of seven, and it’s possible that is the reason I’ve always been pretty against the idea of having kids. (Yes, I know they say most babies don’t have sharp teeth and tentacles. But that’s what they WOULD say to lure you in, isn’t it?)

I used to even be scared of babies. I think I had a strange lurking fear that if I liked them, someone would come along and make me have one. ‘Vague positivity shown to infants, madam! It is TIME for CHILDBED!’ (Well, I also had the completely reasonable fear I would damage one of their TINY, TINY FRAGILE HEADS.) These days, I have a little more confidence… not that I can definitely get what I want out of life, but that I can choose what paths to walk on and not to walk on, to some degree. And it’s meant that I’m like ‘Aw, baby’ and can hold them and also throw them up in the air and murmur nonsense to them. Babies! Adorable! Hate to give them back, love to watch them spit up on someone else.

I think it’s really interesting that the things we fear are such, well, not ostensibly scary, silly things. (I admit mine might be sillier than most.) They’re fears shaped by our own imagination, offered up by our minds: they’re about ourselves, really, and not the world. Nothing in the wide world is scarier than your own soul.

I mean, I always knew this, in a way. My two series are about the terror of being truly known, and the horror of finding out that you yourself are the monster:

Nora Ephron said, ‘Be the heroine of your own life.’ I want to be the heroine of my own life, so badly: the shining hero who took the reins, who made mistakes but learned from them, who was no sooner really seen but loved, who set the course to victory. But what if you were the villain? ‘Be the goofy sidekick of your own life’ doesn’t have such a ring to it. Even worse, being a bit player in your own life, fading to translucence in the background beside more vivid players, until you disappear to irrelevance.

We wake up in the night cold with sweat thinking about monsters, about dark shapes behind the curtains: but it’s a very, very similar feeling to wake up in the night cold with sweat thinking about something you’ve done, or failed, or what people must have thought of you, when. The dark shapes behind the curtains are our own thoughts and fears. We don’t really think they are material. They don’t need to be.

All fears, to me, are built on one fear: the fear of yourself, the fear of being less than you know, in some secret yet sure part of yourself, you can be. Fear comes hand in hand with inspiration and with love. What scares me most is the mirror of my soul, and the thought of seeing myself look out of it, disappointed.

George Eliot… actually didn’t, it was a misquote, but it’s good stuff!… say, ‘It is never too late to be what you might have been.’ And that is an enduring comfort, in the midst of a myriad fears, that today (not tomorrow, why put it off?) we can be braver, stronger, more able to face our own fears, look into the dreaded glass and be, for a moment at least, without fear.

Thank you for sharing your fears with us, Sarah! Readers: Be sure to enter for a chance to win Unspoken—(just scroll down for giveaway details).



Sarah Rees Brennan was born and raised in Ireland by the sea, where her teachers valiantly tried to make her fluent in Irish (she wants you to know it’s not called Gaelic), but she chose to read books under her desk in class instead. The books most often found under her desk were Jane Austen, Margaret Mahy, Anthony Trollope, Robin McKinley, and Diana Wynne Jones, and she still loves them all today.

After college she lived briefly in New York and somehow survived in spite of her habit of hitching lifts in fire engines. She began working on The Demon’s Lexicon while doing a Creative Writing MA and library work in Surrey, England. Since then she has returned to Ireland to write and use as a home base for future adventures. Her Irish is still woeful, but she feels the books under the desk were worth it.

Sarah’s newest book is Unspoken, a romantic Gothic mystery about a girl named Kami Glass, who discovers her imaginary friend is Jared Lynburn. He is one of the mysterious Lynburn family who have returned to the sinister manor on the hill that looms over her town, and who may or may not be involved in dark deeds in the woods. It’s lucky that she’s a sassy girl reporter determined to discover all the secrets that have been kept from her by the town, Jared, and her own family.

Visit her online at sarahreesbrennan.com.

Follow @sarahreesbrenna on Twitter.


Want an INTERNATIONAL chance to win a signed copy of Unspoken?

This giveaway is now closed. Thank you to everyone who entered! The winner will be announced soon.


Here’s what you missed so far in the What Scares You? series:

And come back tomorrow for more… The next writer to share fears is: Timothy Braun, with a Halloween fable for us!

Series art by Robert Roxby. Email to contact the artist directly.

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