Burn Your Ghosts

Neil Sedgewick
Jul 27 · 5 min read

‘We’re working on an idea and wondered if you’d be interested….how do you feel about burning books?’

These are the joys of working with CinePunked, you’re never quite sure where an opening line of a conversation will lead.

Robert and I were catching up, having food, talking about the troubles with film criticism in Belfast and getting pitches for events and writing accepted. He ‘casually’ asked me about book burning.

Now I know that idea may bring up all kinds of uncomfortable feelings. Don’t worry you’re not feeling anything I didn’t in that moment. Book burning should raise discomfort levels considerably.

The event was to be part of Belfast Book Festival a discussion in rleation to censorship, using Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 as text (I confess I cheated a little and just watched the movie)to see how we as a panel felt. The finale of the event was to be a ceremonial burning, texts of our choosing, with Bradbury’s novel as the focal point of the pyre.

I was immediately intrigued, events like this don’t happen very often (particualrly in Belfast) and all previous opportunities to work with the Punks have been interesting, diverse and thought provoking so without much second thought I agreed.

After all, I had come to a realisation that I was often guilty of censoring myself.


Censorship isn’t something I’m a fan of. All viewpoints are to be allowed, it’s often how they are discussed which forms the basis of the problem.

This doesn’t mean views on issues aren’t problematic, but finger pointing and raised voices isn’t the way to get any real work done whatever the issue may be.

We’ve all experienced it.

In the micro example it happens around family tables, work places, church pews, groups of friends. It often sounds like awkward laughter followed up with a nervous chuckle of ‘You can’t say that!’

Here’s the thing.

You can say it.

I’ve said it.

You don’t have to agree with it.

How we talk about the issue is the thing.

The bigger scale version is online, Twitter, Facebook, where tone is absent so views are open to your own personal interpretation.

Our preconceived ideas of what someone is saying, particularly the online stranger is problematic. The scrolling wall of text and gifs removes the humanity.

Politicians, influencers, spokes people, houses of democracy, church bodies have all said things I agree with and equally disagree with.

I’ve stepped up and challenged where I can.

At times it has been received respectfully, dialogue has occurred. I couldn’t honestly say if it has ever led to a true change in opinion but hopefully at least food for thought has been provided.

Often interjections have been ignored. Perhaps a more prevalent use of swearing in response is the way forward. Even if it raises the recipients hackles it does seem to garner more attention.

There is no set methodology for offering your truth to power in 2019.

Anyway, back to the book burning….


Our discussion that night was robust, entertaining and challenging, I had enjoyed the back and forth, the audience interaction.

Censorship was not to be encouraged was the panel’s broad consensus. This did not mean tolerance of racism, homophobia and other abhorrent human traits but we do lose something if uniformed opinion is all that is allowable.

The panel had a range of books. It became apparent quickly the actual burning wasn’t about censorship. There were emotional connections, funny stories and tales of why it was time to say goodbye to certain books.

I had two books with me. One was a mildly flippant choice, the latest E.L James book ‘The Mister’. I picked it up in a super market for £4. This burning was not personal towards E.L. James but more a commentary on the throw away, cheapened nature of book selling.

Even E.L. James had put work into creating this text, hours upon hours, edits and all to be sold for a quick and easy £4 in ASDA. It felt disrespectful on some level. Even if it is terrible writing (I flicked through, it was BAD) even ‘The Mister’ deserves better surely?

The second choice was much more personal, and a realisation of my own censorship.

Films and Faith had been my pet project / side hustle (I hate that term)for a few years.

A search for the spiritual in the cinematic.

A search for my own creative voice.

A search that had led to connections, friendships and opportunities.

A search that had at times become all consuming, laborious and degenerative to other areas of life.

‘I can’t, I have a film thing to go to’

‘I’m not available that night’

‘I need to get some writing done’

‘I’ve a podcast to record/edit/re record’

The search was costing me, financially, socially, taking up time I didn’t really have.

Censorship it turns out takes many forms.

It was time to say goodbye.

I had gradually removed elements from public view. Social media accounts, podcasts and the website had gone.

This event was the last public outing for Films and Faith. I had told Robert this was my plan, he loved the idea but wondered if it could be done. To watch everything burn away seemed a little dramatic even for me.

I threw E.L James book in flippantly, this took a little more thought.

A reflective moment at the fire’s edge, not laced in any way with sadness or regret but filled with gratitude.

Thankful for the connections made, the creative awakening, the opportunities granted, and amidst it all dare I suggest excitement at what may come.

Burning your ghosts doesn’t always mean the death of something.

It may be that within the glowing embers something new is birthed.


Neil Sedgewick

Written by

Belfast based writer, searching for the spiritual in the cinema & beyond.

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