The fictional town in which Alison Stuart’s new Australian historical novel The Postmistress is set might seem very familiar to Gippsland readers.
This is because, according to the Williamstown-based author, the made-up town of Maiden’s Creek “may or may not be” based upon the historical mining town of Walhalla.
An avid reader of historical fiction, Ms Stuart threw herself into writing after retiring from a career in law.
After becoming “increasingly annoyed” with non-Australian authors depicting the history of the country in a way that was “wrong on so many levels”, she set out to write historical novels that more accurately reflected Australian life.
With the goal of tying her story into the gold rush era of the 1850s and “more of an interest in small down dynamics” than larger centres like Bendigo and Ballarat where “lots of books are set”, Walhalla seemed the obvious backdrop for Ms Stuart’s tale.
The fact that she has a strong history with the little mining town also helped in her decision-making process.
“My husband and I have been going to Walhalla since before we were married,” she said.
“It was the romantic place that we went to celebrate our engagement. We camped in the ruins of upper Maiden’s Town above Walhalla and fell in love with it.
“We go back regularly and with friends and introduce them to the area … it is quite an important part of our family life.”
The novel follows the story of Adelaide Greaves who moves to Maiden’s Creek with her young son to escape her past and works as a postmistress.
The town is a hard place to live but Adelaide carves out a role until the embittered Confederate soldier Caleb Hunt arrives in town searching for gold.
“The story is essentially a historical romance, of coming together and settling ghosts from their past,” Ms Stuart said.
“Both come with considerable baggage that they have to settle.”
Ms Stuart, who spent time in Walhalla researching, is already writing a second book, which will focus on different characters in the same fictional town.
“It is one thing to go to Walhalla as a visitor but it is another to go with a book in mind,” she said.
“I rented a cottage there for a week digging deep … but really sort of feeling the atmosphere of the place, especially at the things I needed to know for the book.”
While the novel is fictional, some true stories from the town make an appearance in the book.
“There was the story of the smallpox scare, the mysterious death of a doctor on a stagecoach from Melbourne,” Ms Stuart said.
“You couldn’t have made those things up so I was able to incorporate those stories into the book, some genuine Walhalla stories.”