EVENT REVIEW: Richard T Kelly and Sean O’Brian: Secrets and Lies

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Sunday 9th October
Durham Town Hall
Review by Eloise Pearson


The weather turned at around three thirty as I was making my way to ‘Secrets and Lies’ with Richard T Kelly and Sean O’Brian. A slight drizzle smattered the windows of the Burlison Gallery and the sky went a slightly off-grey colour. All in all, things were fittingly gloomy for an event focused on far right groups and fascism in British politics.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the event, however. The readings from both Kelly and O’Brian were truly wonderful, with both authors selecting chapters that not only seemed to complement each other, but stood alone as powerful and eloquent pieces.

Sean O’ Brian opened, reading a late chapter from ‘Once Assembled Here Again,’ a novel about a retired history teacher and the re-emergence of fascism in his local community. The reading was clever and sardonic. The scene, a town hall rally in support of a far-right political candidate. In a world riddled with the likes of Nigel Farage and Donald Trump, it was an apt and witty choice.

Kelly’s reading followed on – I wouldn’t say nicely, but perhaps fittingly – in this vein of far right tension. The scene is one from his August 2016 novel, ‘The Knives’. It features a group of immigrants and the novel’s protagonist, a Torie MP from the North East (described by Kelly as only-gay-in-the-village kind of outsider) who escape from an anti-immigration rally turned violent. The reading was similarly engaging and both writers had me Amazon-ordering their books on my phone midway through the event. Both were funny, well written and, I thought, extremely topical.

The floor was then opened to questions. The audience seemed rather hesitant at first but the momentum soon picked up. One audience member asked how much both authors sympathised with the far right villains in their texts. Sean O’Brian answered very well on this point by explaining how the best books have villains that are neither good nor bad. He stated that he particularly enjoyed writing about his compromised characters.

After a smattering of other questions, one woman then started shouting about how the EU was founded by Nazis. Honestly I don’t know how this came about. I was half way through adding both ‘Once Assembled Here Again’ and ‘Knives’ to my Amazon basket when she started kicking up a fuss. Her argument followed something along the lines of Nazi’s being socialists and the EU being a Nazi organisation. She was eventually – and politely – urged to stop talking, after which she had a small rant about censorship.

So, this brief outpouring largely rounded off the event, both authors took the slight disruption in their stride and I left to get a latte. Overall, an interesting end to an enthusing event.