I've always been fascinated by the idea that certain fears may be passed along through the generations. Genetic changes that occur from a trauma may pass to one's children, and then to subsequent generations--a genetic imprint called "epigenetic transgenerational inheritance."
In 2013, neurobiologist and psychiatrist Kerry Ressler at Emory University, along with co-author Brian Dias, published a study in the journal Nature Neuroscience, suggesting that it may be possible for some fears and neuroses to be inherited biologically through chemical changes that occur in DNA--at least in mice. During tests they showed that mice can pass on learned information about traumatic or stressful experiences to subsequent generations. They conditioned the first generation of mice to associate a pleasant odor with fear; the next two generations were also afraid of the smell. You can read a description of their research for the layperson in Nature: "Fearful Memories Haunt Mouse Descendants."
After writing a draft of Nightsong, I put it away for several years. I couldn't quite figure out how to make the story gel. How would Bronwyn, the main character, have carried fears from ancient times in her DNA, and what would trigger these fears? I think reading about this research gave me the impetus to go back and work on the novel again. It was the glue that, for me anyway, held the story together and made it work.
Bronwyn eventually discovers the source of her own extreme fear of fire, as well as the origin of many other fears and anxieties that were passed along from her prehistoric ancestors.
I am the author of NIGHTSONG: A Neanderthal mystery. I hope you may want to dip into my blog after you've read my novel (or even if you haven't) to learn a bit more about the Neanderthals and to hear some of the music described in the novel. I may go off topic sometimes...