To celebrate the upcoming release of my third novel, Driving in Neutral—a love story about claustrophobia—I am running the 75 Days of Phobia series. As Maxwell, the claustrophobic hero in Driving in Neutral asks, “What are you afraid of? What scares you?” Beckoning Blood author Daniel de Lorne fesses up to his fear, and faces it too.
I have a few phobias, some stronger than others, but one that often makes me go weak at the knees (literally) is Acrophobia, a fear of heights, or more specifically, falling from a great height. Because if I just had a fear of heights I wouldn’t be able to live in an apartment on the 40th floor. No, my phobia is of seeing beneath my feet, however many storeys up, and thinking, no matter how small the chance, that I could fall.
With that in mind, imagine my joy at being given a birthday present from my partner to climb Sydney Harbour Bridge.
I would like to stress that he did everything right. We hadn’t been going out all that long when my birthday rolled around. We were going on a trip to Sydney from Perth a few weeks after my birthday and he thought it would be very romantic to scale the bridge and watch the sunset. He asked my friends if they thought it was a good idea and they said yes. After all, they’d bought me a hot air balloon ride for my previous birthday and I had no problems with that (because you’re in a basket and can’t see below you).
When I opened the envelope and saw what he’d bought me, my heart (and stomach) sank and before I could engage my brain, I blurted out, “But I’m afraid of heights.” He was gutted, but I said I’d be fine and thanked him for the present, not-so-secretly dreading the climb that would, no doubt in my mind, lead to my death.
The day came around and off we went. We got into our jump suits and I think I went to the toilet about five times, conscious that we would be gone for a few hours without the possibility of a (consciously planned) toilet break. My bladder was working overtime.
We then watched the safety and instruction video, and listened to what our guide had to say. Of course, they say you’re perfectly safe, that you’re attached to a guide rope and rail the whole time, but you don’t think I actually believed them, do you?
We were all hooked onto the railings. I was fourth from the end, my partner third, and a couple behind us who, by the end, really wished they’d gone before us. The start of the climb was worse than I could have ever imagined. We went out over what looked like metal scaffolding, the sheer drop visible below my feet. I gripped the sides and inched forward.
Then we climbed vertically up through the traffic, cars zooming by, and me able to see below me. Vertical ladders (or ladders of any kind) are hell for me. Climbing ladders at my grandmother’s house when I was six was a scary experience and reaching the top was something I rarely achieved.
Once at the top of the ladder, I think we walked over some more bit of see-through scaffolding, my knuckles white and my steps oh so small.
But once we reached the proper arch of the bridge, a funny thing happened. My fear dissipated. All because we were now walking on sold metal. I could see below me, only out across the bridge and to the harbour and the city. This wasn’t so bad after all, especially as where we walked was also quite wide.
We walked up, across and then down the other side, catching the sunset on our way down. It was romantic, the view was spectacular and it was a very worthwhile present – up until the climb back down the ladder.
Admittedly it was somewhat less terrifying on the return but still I went slow. It would be wonderful to say that this fear has left since that bridge climb nearly ten years ago but it hasn’t.
If anything, it’s been embellished with a sharp fascination for wondering what would happen if I jumped from these great heights and actually did fall. I’m not suicidal by any means so please don’t be concerned but don’t you sometimes get the urge to jump?
I don’t follow through, obviously, as the fascination hasn’t won out over the fear. And that is why I won’t go skydiving or bungee jumping, despite friends’ offers to do so. But of course, never say never.
While there aren’t many heights to be frightened of in Daniel’s work, there are plenty of things that go bump in the night. Check out his debut novel, Beckoning Blood, a gripping, blood‐drenched saga about twin brothers, the men they love, and the enduring truth that true love never dies — no matter how many times you kill it.