Fire. For me, it always comes back to fire.
I talked about fire in my last post about “The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After”, from the collection of the same name, and tonight, I’m revisiting a story that is not just touched by fire, it is the quintessential story about loss through fire. I consider “Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves” one of my greatest stories. It’s a story of tragedy, magic, hope, and life in the ashes of an empty, desolate continent. It’s my longest story, a novella, but it’s also one of my most heartfelt.
It brings me angst that so few people have read the story. I’d like that to change over time…
In 2010, “Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves” had just been published as a standalone novella by Damnation Books, and it was reviewed HorrorWorld. The reviewer drew parallels between the living inferno in the story and nuclear war. I wrote a blog post about that review here, Bushfires vs nuclear holocaust, and much of what I said then eloquently summarises my feelings about “Phoenix” today. So rather than writing something new and possibly redundant about “Phoenix”, here is what I originally said:
“Bushfires are on my mind as a writer because my family has a long, dark history with fire. My uncle was a volunteer firefighter who died in 1980 when his firetruck was overrun by flames on the Uloola track near Waterfall in the Royal National Park, south of Sydney. I’ve attended several NSW Rural Fire Service memorials, and when my grandmother was still alive, for many years, I accompanied her on an annual trek to the place where Uncle Bill died. It’s quiet and lonely out there on the Uloola track, but it’s beautiful, too. Whenever I visited that memorial, the occasion had a palpable, sombre weight to it, like I was in the company of ghosts.
“My mother and step-father have served in the Rural Fire Service for many years, too. Mum was a trainer until cancer prevented her from continuing on in the role. My cousin Shannon (Uncle Bill’s son, who was 1 year old when his father died in the fire) served in the Rural Fire Service for a number of years, too. My father-in-law was the local fire captain in his town in Tasmania, and from all accounts, only a lucky wind change saved his life one day during a particularly fierce blaze that swept up the mountain towards him and his mates.
“I’ve lived through a number of bushfires (our house was on the southern fringe of Sydney, close to the Royal National Park) and the times when the smoke choked the sky and the sun burnt a hazy orange are amongst my strongest memories as a child.
“Fire is in the blood for me, and for many Australians, I think. Americans may read Phoenix with overtones of nuclear holocaust, but I think many Aussies will be able to connect to the story on the level I had intended. Except for residents of Japan, nuclear war is a hypothetical threat. It is like the boogeyman. It’s scary but few believe it will actually affect them in the real world. Bushfires, on the other hand, are like personal armageddons for those who have survived them or had their lives affected in some way. They’re a constant threat and even living in a city like Sydney, Canberra, or Melbourne does not make one immune from their reach. Aussies understand fire, heat, and the pain these things bring.
“This threat, this pain, is what Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves is really about.”
The deadly Black Saturday bushfire, 2009.
Incidentally, after “Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves” was first published, Australian author and artist Greg Chapman contacted and gave me the tip that the song “Wild Wolves” by English band Athlete was the perfect theme for my novella. The two were released around the same time, and I have to admit, the imagery from that song perfectly fits “Phoenix”. Scarily so! A huge shout out to Greg for bringing this song to my attention. It’s now one of my absolute favourites, and in the twilight hours, I play it on my guitar. I urge you to seek out this song and listen to it after you’ve read “Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves”. I promise it will give you chills.
You can read “Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves” in The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After, available in hardback, trade paperback, or ebook from Amazon.