Exploring Unknown Universes by Kathryn Foxfield

Exploring Unknown Universes by Kathryn Foxfield HORROR FEATURE

But it’s the things people do to other people that truly scare me. Microbes at least make sense to me, which is maybe why I grew tired of studying them. People, though? That’s where the real story is. 

Kathryn Foxfield

Exploring Unknown Universes by Kathryn Foxfield

I can still remember the time when I held the entire universe is just one hand. I was nine years old, sweating and shivering with a viral fever, and suffering from a strange neurological condition known as Alice in Wonderland Syndrome. 

It’s a disorder of perception that leads to distortions in the way you sense scale, speed and even sound. Time slows to a snail’s pace or rushes by so fast you feel dizzy. Your body image becomes warped and you lose track of your own proportions. Objects grow or shrink in size. Tiny sounds are amplified.

In my case, my hands felt like they were absolutely massive. So big that they could, briefly, hold all of existence between their clammy palms. 

Even before my run-in with Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, I was obsessed with the mind-boggling size of the universe. I’d stare up at the two thousand or so stars visible on a clear night—just a tiny proportion of the billions upon billions of stars in the observable universe—and I’d imagine someone like me, but different, staring back from thousands of light years away. 

Dr Who was my favourite TV program, and I’d watch from behind a cushion, wondering if there was any truth in the alien civilisations explored by Sylvester McCoy, or if we are all alone. I don’t know which one scared me more. To this day, if I was granted a single wish, it would be unlimited knowledge. I hate that there are questions I will never know the answer to.

When I was younger, the world felt like a fractal of unanswered questions: no matter how closely I looked, there were more things that just didn’t make sense to me. One moment I’d be wondering what existed beyond the edge of the universe. The next, I’d be analysing the other children at school, in the hope that they’d become less of a mystery to me.

Writers need to be curious. How many book ideas have started with a “what if…?” and grown from there? Writers also need to be determined, and imaginative, and happy to spend hours inside their own head. So many of the warning signs of a future author were there for me. But I didn’t become a writer, I became a scientist.

It was Antonie van Leeuwenhoek’s fault. Back in the seventeenth century, he was the first person to observe single-celled organisms. He named them ‘animacules’ and, aged about eleven, I found this name so cute and intriguing that my fascination with the unfathomably big became a captivation with the very small. 

See, there’s this entire, tiny universe hidden just out of sight. Living things so small you can’t see them with the naked eye. The microbes. The first life forms on Earth were microbes, emerging a dizzying 3.7 billions years ago. If we ever detect life on other planets, then the chances are it won’t be the strange, alien creatures of Dr Who. It will most likely be some form of single-celled microorganism. 

You can find them everywhere. On your skin and in your guts; in the air, water and soil. Even in places you’d expect to be devoid of life, like deep-sea hydrothermal vents and nuclear reactors. Most live in harmony with us humans. Some, like the ones I studied as a scientist, make a lot of people very, very ill. 

I worked as a microbiologist for more than ten years. At it’s heart, scientific research is all about asking questions and using the answers to tell a story. The best scientists I’ve met are creative, inquisitive people who can link together vastly different ideas to come up with something new. They’re people who see failure as a stepping stone, not a roadblock. People who, in most cases, enjoy talking about new ideas and drinking a lot of tea. For the first time in my life, I’d found somewhere where I fitted in. 

It was through science that I came to writing. The satisfaction of using words to make sense of complicated things was one that had bypassed me at school. I’d never particularly enjoyed English as a subject, instead preferring the logical, analytical subjects where there’s a right answer and a wrong answer. But the more time I spent working in science, the more I realised I preferred writing about it to actually doing it. I wanted to know the answers, but I didn’t really want to discover them for myself.

So I wrote a popular science book about microbiology. When I opened that first blank white page, I was all about the science. By the end, I cared more about the stories of the people impacted by that science. I’d adjusted the zoom on my own lens once again. From the huge to the tiny, to something in the middle: people.

I never went back to being a microbiologist. Instead, I became a YA thriller author. At times, my scientific background gets in the way. I’ll find myself looking for the right answer when there isn’t one. I’ll obsess about accuracy and believability, and briefly forget about telling a story. I’ll research a subject for days, only to never mention it in the book. In the sort of book I write, a detailed description of a nuclear bunker’s ventilation system doesn’t matter as much as how the characters feel when the air starts to run out. 

But in many ways, my past life as a scientist helps me write. I can deal with rejection, which appears to be a cornerstone of many an author’s career. I’m as stubborn as they come, so giving up is never an option even when it probably should be. I love distilling an idea down to its simplest concepts and trying to explain them to someone else. I’m still fascinated by how things work, even if I’ve move on to baddies rather than bacteria.

My job still involves asking a lot of questions. There’s nothing like the horror genre for asking questions about what it means to be human and finding out what your characters are really made of. How far will the characters go to protect their secrets, or realise their deepest desires, or save their own lives? How far would you go? 

I’ve said it in too many interviews now, but the real monsters in my books are always the people. Thanks to my career in research, I know a little too much about death and disease. But it’s the things people do to other people that truly scare me. Microbes at least make sense to me, which is maybe why I grew tired of studying them. People, though? That’s where the real story is. 

Getting Away with Murder by Kathryn Foxfield

Getting Away with Murder

The bestselling author of Good Girls Die First, It’s Behind You and Tag, You’re Dead is back with an entertaining, high-octane and read-in-a-single-sitting new thriller.

Walking disaster Saffron and her perfectionist twin sister Georgia have only one thing in common-they are both obsessed with battle royale video game Sole Survivor.

While working at a brand new, high tech escape room complex, Saffron poses a question to the resident AI: which high school stereotype would survive the longest in a real life version of Sole Survivor? She is convinced a rebel like her would beat a know-it-all like Georgia. Unbeknown to her, the AI decides to determine the answer to her question by testing it out for real. It invites Saffron and Georgia’s gamer friends to a preview of the escape rooms, but then it locks the doors and turns the rooms into a life-or-death battle to be the last player standing.

The rebel, the know-it-all, the princess, the jock, the geek, the weirdo, the star, the artist and the criminal. Just like in Sole Survivor, only one can survive the night…

  • It’s Cabin in the Woods meets Squid Game
  • Perfect for fans of Holly Jackson and Karen McManus.
  • Knife-edge tension and twists you won’t see coming.

Kathryn Foxfield

Kathryn Foxfield

Kathryn Foxfield writes dark books about strange things. She blames her love of the creepy and weird on a childhood diet of Point Horror, Agatha Christie and Dr Who. She writes about characters who aren’t afraid to fight back, but wouldn’t last 5 minutes in one of her own stories. Her first book GOOD GIRLS DIE FIRST was published by Scholastic UK in 2020.

Kathryn is a reformed microbiologist, one-time popular science author, cat-servant and parent of two. She lives in rural Oxfordshire but her heart belongs to London. You can follow her on Twitter @iloveweirdbooks or visit her website kfoxfield.com

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