young woman in black and white

Gemma Appleton, CA

Senior Writer

Gemma is a freelance writer and filmmaker, with a BA in Fine Art from Norwich School of Art and Design. Telling stories is her passion, whether they are written or visually expressed in film. Gemma has lived all over the world, in Europe, the US, and Asia. She worked for Jamie Oliver in London, editing his short videos, and writing for his online content, and is now focussing on her freelance career in the US.

As a Story Terrace writer, Gemma interviews customers and turns their life stories into books. Get to know her better by reading her autobiographical anecdote below.

An Irrational Fear

According to my grandmother, I could swim ten laps of backstroke before I learned to crawl. My siblings and I always knew when the summer had begun: my father would fish out the previous autumn’s slimy leaves and drop a tonne of chlorine into the green swamp of our family pool. “Give it a day,” he would say, and sure enough, the next day we would all be diving into the clear chlorine-scented water. Old footage from my father’s home video camera proves that I held no fear. In one scene I am jumping into the deep end to show off my butterfly technique. In another, I am holding ‘underwater breathing’ competitions with my siblings.

I remember it well, the evening that my courage evaporated. My parents arranged a babysitter and went out for the evening. Looking after four children was obviously a bit much for this girl, so she sat us down and turned on the TV. Together we watched Steven Spielberg’s fear mongering blockbuster, Jaws. Images of a bloodthirsty shark haunted my sleep that night, and I haven’t been able to swim to the deep-end without a fear of my leg being ripped from my body since. The idea of swimming in the cold and murky British sea sends me into a panic, the Jaws theme tune ringing in my ears. ‘What is lurking underneath me?’ I think, and hurl myself through the water back to the safety of shallow waters.

On a recent trip to Thailand, my fear of sharks and ‘the unknown’ really came out to play. I found myself kayaking out to a nearby island. The midday sun beating down on us, coupled with a mighty hangover, proved to be a perilous combination. Capsizing into the Gulf of Thailand, I had my first true panic attack.

I have spent my adult life trying to overcome my irrational fear. I swim every chance I get. “There can’t possibly be sharks living in the Peckham Leisure Centre swimming pool,” I tell myself. But even to this day, I struggle to reach the deep-end without looking around me to check for gleaming white teeth, ready to take a bite.

girl rowing boat

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