Going Down The Mine: Alison Stuart Writes About How she Researched her New Novel, The Postmistress

Going Down The Mine: Alison Stuart Writes About How she Researched her New Novel, The Postmistress

About the author

Australian author Alison Stuart began her writing journey halfway up a tree in the school playground with a notebook and a dream. Her father’s passion for history and her husband’s love of adventure and the Australian bush led to a desire to tell stories of Australia’s past.

She has travelled extensively and lived in Africa and Singapore. Before turning to writing full time, she enjoyed a long and varied career as a lawyer, both in private practice and in a range of different organisations, including the military and the emergency services.

Alison lives in a historic town in Victoria.

Buy a copy of The Postmistress here

Read our review of The Postmistress here

Words // Alison Stuart

GOING DOWN THE MINE – Researching THE POSTMISTRESS

I have to confess that, growing up, I did not engage with modern Australian history. Compared to European history what did we have…? A few convicts and maybe a gold rush? Where were the kings and queens, the bloody civil wars… ?

As I have grown older and travelled this land I have come to a deep understanding and appreciation of this wonderful country and the people who made us what we are, and the need to tell a story set in my own backyard (in the case of THE POSTMISTRESS quite literally) has been tugging at me.

Fast forward to April 2017. My husband and I went camping up on the Snowy River. On a damp afternoon, ensconced in the shelter of our tent looking out over the dripping bush, with the iconic river flowing past us, a glass of red wine in hand, I voiced the thoughts that had been racing around my mind for some time. ‘If I was to write an Australian historical, what would it be about?’

Several glasses of red wine later we had brainstormed an idea for a story set around a goldmining community in the fictional town of Maiden’s Creek (which may, or may not, strongly resemble the township of Walhalla, a place we both know well). I wanted to establish a strong sense of place with the idea of a ‘small town’ series that readers would want to return to, but without tying me to a real place and its history and geography.

I have always prided myself on the accuracy of my historical research but the hardest thing about writing THE POSTMISTRESS has been balancing that need for historical accuracy with the requirements of the genre. My chief research assistant (my husband, and the resident mechanical engineer) has been invaluable but is guilty of ‘too much information’. I stared at him, appalled when he told me the rocky thing I would have called a ‘reef’ was technically an ‘extruded swarming dyke’ – not a term one would normally associate with historical romance.

I began by renting a cottage in Walhalla for a week. I immersed myself in the  smell and the feel of the countryside. Although I know Walhalla well and it was one thing to go there as a visitor, it was another to visit as a writer looking for the scraps that will make a story. I walked the town from end to end, tramped over the cemetery and did the excellent tour of the Long Tunnel Mine (the Maiden’s Creek Mine in my story).

Trove, the free search engine created by the National Library of Australia, is a bottomless well of wonderful stories with its ready access to old newspapers. There I found the sad tale of the smallpox victim, and later discovered her lonely grave on my last trip to Walhalla. Likewise, the mysterious death of the doctor on the Melbourne coach was drawn from contemporary newspaper reports.

Of course, I had to complicate the whole story by drawing one of the major characters from the American Civil War, but fortunately my father was an aficionado of that period of history and I had his entire library to draw on (too much information again!). He had a particularly illuminating tome on medicine during the Civil War that would make your hair curl!

The trick with research is knowing how to use it: like a good spice. Too much overwhelms a story but too little leaves it bland. I confess to being a writer and (cough) very occasionally making things up when my knowledge or research falls short,  so those of my readers who know the area I am writing about or who are experienced hard rock gold miners, please forgive me for any perceived errors, and just sit back and enjoy Adelaide and Caleb’s adventures!

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                      Publisher details

                      The Postmistress
                      Author
                      Sarah Blake
                      Publisher
                      Penguin
                      Genre
                      Fiction
                      Released
                      09 February, 2010

                      Synopsis

                      It is 1940, and bombs fall nightly on London.In the thick of the chaos is young American radio reporter Frankie Bard. She huddles close to terrified strangers in underground shelters, and later broadcasts stories about survivors in rubble-strewn streets. But for her listeners, the war is far from home.Listening to Frankie are Iris James, a Cape Cod postmistress, and Emma Fitch, a doctor's wife. Iris hears the winds stirring and knows that soon the letters she delivers will bear messages of hope or tragedy. Emma is desperate for news of London, where her husband is working – she counts the days until his return.But one night in London the fates of all three women entwine when Frankie finds a letter – a letter she vows to deliver . . .The Postmistress is an unforgettable story of three women: their loves, their partings and the secrets they must bear, or bury . . . 'Heartbreaking'  Daily Express'A World War Two blockbuster with echoes of AtonementRed'A moving tale that will stay with you long after the final page'  Good Housekeeping'In Sarah Blake's World War II story The Postmistress, rousing on-air missives from radio presenter Frankie Bard touch the lives of women on both sides of the Atlantic.' Vogue'The real strength of The Postmistress lies in its ability to strip away reader's defenses against stories of wartime uncertainty and infuse that chaos with wrenching immediacy and terror. Ms Blake writes powerfully about the fragility of life and about Frankie's efforts to explain how a person can be present in one instant and then in the next gone forever . . . The nobility triumphs over the fear, which is one explanation of why this book will click in a major way. Another is that Ms Blake knows how to deliver tragic turns of fate with maximum impact.' The New York Times'Great books give you a feeling that you miss all day until you finally get to crawl back inside those pages again. The Postmistress is one of those rare books. When I wasn't reading it, I was thinking about it. Sarah Blake seamlessly moves from inside one character to another, in a novel that reminds us of a time when the news travelled from post to paper to radio and that is how we learned about the world The Postmistress made me homesick for a time before I was even born. What’s remarkable, however, is how relevant the story is to our present-day times. A beautifully written, thought provoking novel that I'm telling everyone I know to read.'  Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help'I loved it. It's exquisite and I wish I'd written it. It's truly a lovely, moving and beautifully evocative book.' Cathy Kelly'Think The Help meets The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.' Oprah Magazine'I think it could have the kind of following that The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society had.' USA Today 
                      Alison Stuart
                      About the author

                      Alison Stuart

                      Australian author Alison Stuart began her writing journey halfway up a tree in the school playground with a notebook and a dream. Her father's passion for history and her husband's love of adventure and the Australian bush led to a desire to tell stories of Australia's past. She has travelled extensively and lived in Africa and Singapore.Before turning to writing full time, she enjoyed a long and varied career as a lawyer, both in private practice and in a range of different organisations, including the military and the emergency services. Alison lives in a historic town in Victoria.

                      Books by Alison Stuart

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