So, in this post, I’d like to speak about…fear.
What do we fear, and why do we fear it?
Those are some of the questions explored in THE ANATOMY OF FEAR, a gripping multi-genre horror anthology project where fear and fantasy meet.
The authors who are part of this anthology are award winning, highly lauded writers, who’ve fused horror, fantasy, grimdark, gaslamp, and modern gothic influences to create twelve very unique stories.
Holly Tinsley, Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) Finalist, of We Men of Ash and Shadow fame, is the brilliant writer who leads the project.
Holly recently sat down with three of the twelve talented writers from the anthology, Sean Crow, Tim Hardie, and LL MacRae, and interviewed them, posing some fascinating questions about the project.
Read the interview below, and find out about what inspired some of the individual stories behind The Anatomy of Fear, what themes pervade some of those stories, some of the author’s individual phobias, and more insights.
I am thrilled to be supporting this amazing anthology, and honoured to be writing the foreword for highly-anticipated The Anatomy of Fear!
INTERVIEW BY HOLLY TINSLEY, FEATURING SEAN CROW, LL MACRAE, AND TIM HARDIE.
Holly: Can you tell us a little about what inspired your Anatomy of Fear story?
Sean Crow: I have been toying around with a dark, flintlock fantasy story that I would like to move into once I finish the last novel in my Godless Lands series. This felt like a great opportunity to dive into a world I have really only touched in on once or twice. The Anatomy of Fear concept really allowed me to explore the horrible nature of the world I have been developing and I enjoyed how it turned out.
Tim Hardie: As the anthology title suggests, the stories in The Anatomy of Fear are all inspired by specific parts of the body. I was a bit late off the mark when people were choosing their favoured body part, so all the good bits were gone! I toyed with the idea of sentient dandruff, which has both comedy and creeping dread potential. In the end, though, I settled for ears. Even then, I was struggling for a bit to come up with a concept. It was only when I switched things around and focussed on hearing that the idea for my story, The Whisperers, started to come together. What if sound was a weapon and what set of circumstances would give rise to that situation? How would society change if sound was the thing people feared the most?
LL MacRae: It’s very difficult for me to write about anything dark or horror-adjacent, as so much of my usual writing is light-hearted, adventurous escapism! I honestly wasn’t sure I could make up something that would be solid enough from an author’s perspective, so I looked inward to the things that inspired fear and discomfort from my own life and childhood. I’ve always enjoyed the moral theme of usually helpless people given power and what they might do with it, as well as being stuck in one place due to guilt, shame, or fear. It’s a very human experience and one that many people have been through (or know of others who have been through similar). Both ideas came together quite naturally for a short story where bones—and the breaking of them—can have a supernatural effect and create something quite powerful.
Holly: What themes did you want to address in your story and was this difficult?
Sean Crow: Normally, I’m a heroic fantasy guy with lots of Grimdark tones that can be seen throughout my work and readers will probably see some of that in my story. That said, I wanted to explore a tale, not from the eyes of a hero, but from those of a survivor. I wanted to highlight the terrors of a world where dark magic is real and get into the minds of those willing to fight against it. As I don’t really write horror, this was difficult for me. I can write disturbing stuff but trying to elicit real fear from my readers… that’s a tough one. Not sure how well I managed that aspect, but I think readers will still enjoy the story.
Tim Hardie: I’ve mentioned some of these in relation to what inspired my story. As I built my society the main challenge was ensuring the adjustments forced upon my world by weaponised noise were consistent throughout the setting. The Whisperers required a brand-new fantasy world, Assanda, to tell this story, so it was important the worldbuilding was convincing without dominating a relatively short story. I also wanted a positive representation of religion in society. The people in this story have come together under the protection of their church as they face the horrors of the world. Whilst it’s a made-up fantasy religion, I still wanted to show how faith can be a force for good, offering spiritual comfort and practical support to a world that’s in distress.
LL MacRae: Essentially, it was the horror of domestic violence from a child’s perspective, and the helplessness, vulnerability, loneliness, and fear that comes with it. Very often we see domestic abuse from the partner’s perspective, but rarely do we see some of the (more negative) long-term trauma it has on children, and what a child might do if given a touch of power. Especially beyond the overt abuse of physical or sexual violence—there are many more subtle horrors experienced and witnessed, too. It’s about a dark, hard world creating dark, hard people. But surviving that doesn’t mean you have to behave in the same way. There is still a place for good-heartedness—always a place for it, in fact. Strangely, I think escapism is actually at the root of the themes, because the main character is trying to escape this nightmare and longs to be forever safe from the fear that plagues her. In many ways, the idea of letting go, moving on, revenge, and peace are also part of the story’s themes, and we get to explore some considerations and setbacks for each.
Overall, it’s a theme that’s very close to me, and it was difficult—even triggering at times—to touch upon. However, writing it was also quite cathartic. Seeing anyone vulnerable is not easy, especially a child, when those around them could and should do better, but often don’t. The story’s end, and main message, is one of hope, which is in keeping with my usual writing and prevents it from becoming outright horror!
Holly: Why do you think understanding fear/horror is such an important element of storytelling?
Sean Crow: It’s another arrow in your quiver. A quality author, in my opinion, should be able to make their audience feel something. Anger, sorrow, joy… If I can make my readers ‘feel’ then I have done my job. Fear and horror are just two more reactions I want to add to my skillset, and this was a great opportunity to practice.
Tim Hardie: The short answer here is people want to be frightened. Books, movies, comics, the theatre – all those forms of storytelling involve escapism, putting your feet into someone else’s shoes. It allows your imagination to explore events and situations you’ll never encounter in real life, knowing you can escape back to the safety of reality at any time. I think the animal part of our brain is hard-wired to respond to fear, going back to those more primal times, where our dread of the dark is rooted. A horror story touches that part of us and so it feels real, and stories always work best when they connect with us on a meaningful and relatable emotional level. When they have that kind of emotional power, they linger in the mind. That’s why the horror genre will always remain popular.
LL MacRae: At its core, fear lends tension to a story. It raises the stakes, immerses the reader, and helps them connect to characters. Fear can be anything as obvious as a “big bad” chasing someone, or slow and creeping, something more atmospheric that unsettles characters. It’s a different way to flavour the book and heighten the emotional connection, which is what a lot of readers look for. I must say that I am not the biggest fan of very intense or gory horror, so I steer clear of that in my own reading. Honestly, I can’t explain why some people want to be quite so scared! But a little hint of fear sprinkled throughout a book can make it super impactful and make character victories all the sweeter.
Holly: Do you have any phobias you can tell us about?
Sean Crow: Swimming in open water. Might sound silly, but I don’t like being out in the ocean or anything like that. In a boat? Sure. No problem. But let my legs daggle in waters where I can’t even defend myself should something decide to take a bite…? No thank you!
Tim Hardie: I’m afraid of heights.
LL MacRae: I’m not a big fan of heights or crowds, but no real phobias! Often, I struggle in social situations, but that’s more down to neurodiversity than a phobia. I am also sensitive to certain sounds/textures, so those things tend to bother me more in everyday life than say, spiders or snakes? (I actually quite like snakes and had one as a pet a few years ago!)
Holly: How have you overcome or how do you deal with fears in your life?
Sean Crow: Face them. That’s about the only way I’ve figured out how to get past them. If I run away, the fear remains, and it grows stronger with each avoidance. Definitely not an easy task but doing anything else will only lessen me in the end. If I want to live the life I want, I can’t allow my fears to rule me.
Tim Hardie: I think fear tends to manifest itself in the anticipation of a particular event or set of circumstances, rather than when you’re in that situation in a practical sense. When I was younger I was a far more timid person, very much inclined to say no rather than yes to something, partly out of fear at what might go wrong. As I got older, I realised a life ruled by fear is a life half-lived. You only get one opportunity to experience everything the world has to offer. This helped put a lot of my fears into perspective and I found their reality to be far less intimidating than what I imagined. A positive mindset makes a massive difference to how you confront a situation you’re afraid of. I still don’t like heights.
LL MacRae: I’m very lucky to be in a supportive relationship with a partner who is my absolute rock! Very little ever bothers him, whereas I am a ball of anxiety about most things. He’s brilliant at keeping me grounded and helping me through particularly stressful times where my anxiety is spiralling, or I go into a full-blown anxiety attack. I do try and break things down into smaller, manageable events. If I have something scary coming up (for example, a flight), I literally do not think about it until it happens. I focus solely on what’s in front of me right now now, so anything in the future doesn’t really appear in my awareness. That helps keep me calm! I am also naturally quite conflict averse. I’m hyper-vigilant and tend to keep myself away from situations that make me fearful and am also fortunate enough to work from home. This means I am 1) basically a hermit and 2) have a wonderful dog who is pretty good at keeping people away from the door should they have nefarious purposes!
Holly: Are there any writing projects you are working on now you can tell us about?
Sean Crow: Currently focused on finishing the 3rd and final novel in my Godless Lands series. It should be out by the end of summer 2023. After that, I’ll likely dive into a novel in the very world I’m writing about for the Anatomy of Fear. If, for some reason, it doesn’t click then I’ll shift my focus into my Valhalla Steel universe and write a novel there. I’m considering writing one that follows a broken Crusader named Santiago (my readers will know him from Quenched in Blood and a couple short stories I’ve put out) but I also have another idea that would follow the next Jarl of Valhalla Steel. I have lots of stories in my head, and plenty of time to write!
Tim Hardie: 2023 is going to be a busy year. In addition to this fantastic anthology, I’m about to release my first standalone fantasy novel, A Quiet Vengeance, probably in March or April. A Quiet Vengeance is set in the same fantasy world as my other novels but takes place in a different continent with a new set of characters. The setting is inspired by the Middle-East and Africa, so this has a very distinctive look and feel and I’ve also experimented with using a different narrative style.
I’m also working on my Viking-inspired fantasy series The Brotherhood of the Eagle. I released the third book in that series, Lost Gods, back in November 2022. Now I’m working hard on the fourth and final instalment, Broken Brotherhood. It’s the culmination of 11 years of work and counting, so this is going to be an emotional year as I bring that sprawling story arc to an epic conclusion.
LL MacRae: I’m currently working on The Shadow Gate, which is book two in my Dragon Spirits epic fantasy trilogy and the sequel to The Iron Crown. Once that’s out, I’ll be diving straight into the third and final book in the series to get it wrapped up! I also have two final books in the World of Linaria epic fantasy series to write and release—I’m looking forward to having two complete epic fantasy series soon.
The Anatomy of Fear Kickstarter is live now and runs until the 22nd February.
To find out more or become a backer for exclusive rewards, visit –
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