The Blue Cathedral

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After close to ten years of work, my novella The Blue Cathedral will be published in the next couple of weeks. As a taster, for anyone who may be interested, I’ve included the book’s opening section below. It is set in Queenstown, on Tasmania’s west coast, in 1982-3 and deals with the efforts of a young local delinquent, Billy Anson, to come to terms with both the serious illness of his father and the arrival in town of  protesters participating in the Blockade to stop construction of the Gordon-below-Franklin Dam.

I once heard someone describing writing a novel as ‘starting in the middle and fighting your way out’. That’s certainly the way I feel this book was written. It’s been a battle getting it to publication and I am enormously grateful to 40 South Books (www.fortysouth.com.au)  for the opportunity.

Queenstown, August 1983

Billy stands up in the sudden silence.

He has become slowly numb: there is no clear indication

of what to do next. Something has wrapped itself around him

in the small room. He hears for the first time the constant bony

drumming of the rain on the corrugated iron roof, but it is

distant. Everything is suddenly distant. He steps backwards

and catches his shoulder on the doorway and does not feel it.

And then he is outside the room and somehow he is able to

take his eyes off the bed, and walk slowly outside through

the back door, to stand under the open skillion roof his father

built—was it two years ago?—and look at the rain, and feel

cold, and not feel anything. There is a neat stack of firewood

on his right, an unmatched pair of beaten old armchairs on

his left, and the rain blanketing the small backyard in front

of him, percussive and cold. Dimly he realises that he needs

to be sick.

He hears his mother Susan’s key in the door a while

later—he has no way of knowing how long. Ten minutes, an

hour. Her shift at the hospital has ended. Billy is sitting in

one of the armchairs now, his knees pulled up to his chest,

watching the slanting rain and irregular puddles it has created

on the mossy lawn of the yard. Under the rain he can follow

her footsteps through the house; she walks heavily when she

is tired and she has been at work for over ten hours. She will

drop her handbag inside the front door and slip her shoes off

next to it. She will flick the kettle on in the kitchen, ready for

her usual nightcap of hot water, rum and honey, and then she

will walk into the bedroom.

Her footsteps enter and she pauses before the bed. Her

experience tells her immediately that it has happened. As if

in reverence, he doesn’t hear her footsteps anymore after that;

but her voice comes to him from the back door, punctuated by

the rain.

‘Billy.’

He does not look at her.

‘Billy?’

‘Mum,’ he says. He cannot say anything else. He cannot

tell her, won’t allow the word to enter the air between them.

Speaking it makes it real.

He can feel her next to him, the antiseptic smell of

hospital corridors and her cheap deodorant. ‘I’m sorry I wasn’t

here, Billy.’

Her hand is on his shoulder. Billy watches the rain.

‘I should go and make some phone calls,’ she says. ‘Can I

get you anything? You must be cold out here.’

Billy grabs his left wrist with his right hand in front of

his shins, locking himself into position on the chair. The one

his father used to sit in. ‘I’ll be okay,’ he quietly tells the rain.

 

© 2011 Cameron Hindrum

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