On tragedy and fire: The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After

My uncle Bill fighting the family enemy at Waterfall, NSW, in the last photo taken of him before he died.

My uncle Bill fighting that fateful bushfire at Waterfall (southern Sydney), in the last photo taken of him before he died. This photo is seared into my family’s consciousness.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been talking about the stories in my collection The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After, and now I want to discuss the eponymous story, and what lies after grace has been abandoned …

There are certain tragedies that define you as a person. They affect everyone around you, and ultimately, change the course of relationships. The death of my Uncle Bill when I was six years old was one such tragedy. From a child’s perspective, he was that fun older relative who did cool things for my twin brother Damien and me. One of my earliest memories was Bill taking me to the drive-in to watch Jaws (a re-run or one of the sequels, I think). It was scary, and I was probably way too young for it, but that’s what made it all the more fun. I can’t remember that screening of the film (as I most likely fell asleep), but the experience lingers with me to this day – and probably feeds into my love of all things dark and thrilling.

Bill died when he was 21, and he died a hero, fighting a bushfire in the Royal National Park, south of Sydney. The fire was a monster, and like others since, it threatened the homes and lives of the people in the Sutherland Shire. Fed by savage winds, the fire changed direction, and Bill and four of his mates were trapped underneath their old fire truck (“Headquarters 81”) when the wall of flames overtook them. He and his mates died out on the Uloola track, just a couple of kilometres from the town of Waterfall, on 3 November 1980. Bill had just celebrated his son Shannon’s first birthday five days earlier.

His death devastated my family. I didn’t know it at the time, but it led to choices that shaped the man I was to become.

Many years later, when I was living with my grandparents in Sydney, my nan, Betty, found flowers at the front door. They were anonymous, and we didn’t hear anyone approach or knock. It was one of the great mysteries that haunted Nan to her grave, and continues to haunt me to this day. I’ve always wondered who that anonymous benefactor was and what motivated them to leave the flowers. If you read “The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After” carefully, I imply a possible explanation …

Whenever I hear tales of Judeo-Christian origin, I always wonder what it would be like for an angel to fall from Heaven. There would have to be a literal sense of falling, of course, but being supernatural creatures whose existence is beyond human senses, there would be additional dimensions to such an event. If an angel can fall from Heaven to Earth, why can’t they fall back in time? Given our scientific understanding of the non-linear universe, surely such a significant event would transcend space and time. The impact would be devastating. The very fabric of creation would tear. There would be destruction. There would be fire.

Fire …

No doubt influenced by Uncle Bill’s death, fire has become a character in my stories. True to its nature, its appearance always ravages those around it. Fire is in the background of this story, but it is front and centre in stories such as “Stealing Fire” (published in my flash fiction collection, Shards) and “Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves”, which appears at the end of the book. In both cases, fire is given supernatural life, and it rampages as a force of destruction. In those stories and others, those who attempt to tame the fire always pay a steep price. Read “Phoenix …” and you’ll see what I mean.

“The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After” was conceived as a story that was to be as a critique of suicide and nihilism. A man—a fallen angel—was to be sitting in his car out in a field, reflecting on what tied him to his mortal life and weighing up whether those ties were enough. However, when I sat down to write that story, something very different—this story—came out instead. I obviously have a few personal demons to work out, and this story was a vital first step in that process.

Perhaps that’s why there is hope at the end?

Perhaps we all need a little absolution?

The Abandonment of Grace ebook

You can read “The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After” in The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After, available in hardback, trade paperback, or ebook from Amazon (ebook currently on sale for just 99c).