13th October, 2018
Durham Town Hall
Review by Amy Strong
Richard Maclean Smith’s bi-weekly podcast, Unexplained, along with his book of the same name, dare us to challenge our own perceptions of the world, to open our minds to the seemingly impossible, and to be both awed by and afraid of the possibilities. Based on allegedly true mysteries, Unexplained is where to go if you need to satisfy that inexplicable but entirely universal human desire to terrify yourself – for fun – from time to time.
Smith gave a reading of local tale ‘The Hexham Heads’ at Durham Book Festival, detailing the uncanny events and spectral sights recorded in connection with the discovery of two small stone heads dug up by a pair of boys in their garden, in the 70s. During his performance, Smith made clever use of eerie lighting, spooky music and scary sound effects: a wonderful example of how story-telling is evolving in an increasingly technological society.
In his discussion with Professor Michael Green following his reading, Smith explained that, despite growing up in an atheist household, he had always been drawn to horror films, sci–fi novels, and anything paranormal. He suggested that this fascination with the inexplicable arose from his fear of death – arguably the pinnacle of the unknown – and a desire to know what would happen afterwards, even if the answer wasn’t pleasant. The stories told in Unexplained, however, pointedly never cover this ‘knowing’ part, leaving the mystery perpetually unsolved. And yet there is an almost masochistic allure in the act of purposefully frightening ourselves with unknowns, and in being left frustrated over and over by Smith’s perplexing cliff-hangers.
This work was produced by participants on our Durham Book Festival Reviewers in Residence programme, a cultural journalism programme run by New Writing North Young Writers. Reviewers in Residence gives aspiring journalists aged 15-23 the chance to review books, attend events and interview authors at the Durham Book Festival. For more information about New Writing North Young Writers visit the New Writing North website.