Ok so it’s no secret I loved Alison Stewart’s The Postmistress when I read it over Christmas (if you haven’t heard me rave about it yet you can check out my review here). I was so thrilled to find out that not only is Alison working on another book set in Maiden’s Creek, but it is coming out really soon!
Alison was kind enough to answer some questions I had for her about her books and writing. Check out our little Q&A below.
Do you remember when the idea for The Postmistress first came to you, and what inspired you to write it?
I was asked by an American reader for recommendations for Australian romantic historicals and the list (at the time) was very thin… this coupled with a simply appalling Australian set historical written by an American author had started me thinking that maybe it was time I wrote a story set in my own backyard.
My husband and I were camping up on the Snowy River and over several glasses of a good red, on a rainy afternoon, we brainstormed some ideas for an Australian ‘small town’ historical romance. This was the idea I pitched to Harlequin MIRA and they accepted on proposal!
Most of the stories written about the Victorian goldfields are set in or around Ballarat. What inspired you to set your story in Gippsland?
The fact most goldfields stories are set in Ballarat or Bendigo, is exactly the reason I chose the lesser known (but very successful) Walhalla goldfield. I wanted a small town feel and the very geography of Walhalla made it an isolated and difficult place to get to (even until quite recently). Walhalla has been our favourite ‘go to’ place for nearly forty years so I felt confident that I knew it reasonably well. But I also didn’t want to be confined by a real place which is why Maiden’s Creek is a fictional shadow of the real Walhalla.
One of the things I loved about The Postmistress was that Adelaide and Caleb both had secrets, and we got to know them both better as they shared more with each other. When you were writing their story did these characters come to you already fully formed, or did you get to know them as you wrote?
It’s actually quite amusing to read back on my original submission to Harlequin
Caleb was originally: “James (Jem) Sandford: An American drifter. The youngest son of a lawyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, James (or Jem as he is known to his friends), studied law at Yale. He joined the confederate cause in the American Civil War as an officer in the cavalry…”
Adelaide was pitched as: “Adelaide Fox: The daughter of a respectable member of the lower aristocracy, Adelaide’s mother died when she was young leaving her in the care of her father, a remote and authoritarian figure. At Adelaide’s coming out ten years earlier, the naive girl of seventeen had been seduced by a friend of her father’s, an outwardly respectable married man…”
So while you can see the original bones of the character’s back stories were there, as the characters came to life, they told me their own stories (and in Caleb’s case… his correct name!).
I thought it was really interesting to read that parts of the story were inspired by real events. Were there any cool stories you came across during your research that you would have liked to include in the book but got left out?
There are some aspects of Walhalla’s history such as the railway and the cricket ground that came later and I couldn’t incorporate and wouldn’t have been appropriate in this story’s context. I would have loved to have used Williamstown more because it is full of fabulous stories… but maybe another time. As it was I could not believe my good fortune when I came across the stories of the smallpox scare and the death of the doctor. Not only were they contemporaneous to my story but were part of Walhalla’s real history.
Did you have a favourite scene to write, or one that was particulary difficult to write?
I really enjoyed writing the scenes where Adelaide and Caleb let their respective guards down and talked to each other with absolute honesty.
As for difficult… the whole book was difficult – it is much easier to write stories set in the English Civil War. The rigours of getting the research write and doing justice to a local audience were very stressful!
I was delighted to see that you have another story set in Maiden’s Creek, The Goldminer’s Sister, coming out in June 2020. Can you tell us anything about it yet?
I certainly can (on to the final edits as we speak). THE GOLDMINER’S SISTER is a stand alone story but is set in Maiden’s Creek a year after the events of THE POSTMISTRESS so lots of familiar characters. It has been fun to revisit them again. Caleb and Adelaide cast a shadow in the book but they are still overseas. The protagonists in this story are Will Penrose’s sister, Eliza, and the new Mine Superintendent, Alec McLeod. It has been a challenge to conjure a romantic hero out of an engineer (but I had plenty of material to work with – being married to one).
The ‘blurb’ is up (as are preorders) and the cover will be revealed shortly and it’s gorgeous!
“Gold is a fever. Will it lead her to love … or death? A suspenseful romance set on the turbulent goldfields of 1870s Australia, for readers of The Postmistress and The Woman in the Green Dress.
‘There are people in this town with the gleam of gold in their eyes and cold steel in their hearts.’
1873. Eliza Penrose arrives in the gold mining town of Maiden’s Creek in search of her brother, planning to make a new life for herself. Instead she finds a tragic mystery – and hints of betrayals by those closest to her.
Mining engineer Alec McLeod left Scotland to escape the memory of his dead wife and child. Despite the best efforts of the eligible ladies of Maiden’s Creek, Alec is determined never to give his heart again.
As lies and deceit threaten Eliza’s life, Alec steps in – although he has problems of his own, as he risks his livelihood and those he holds dear to oppose the dangerous work practices at the Maiden’s Creek Mine.
When disaster draws the pieces of the puzzle together, Eliza and Alec must save each other – but is it too late?”
The preorder links are here: https://www.harpercollins.com.au/9781489256485/the-goldminers-sister/
Lastly, I’d love to know what you are currently reading, or whether there is something you have read recently and loved that you would like to recommend to us?
I generally have a few books on the go and my general reading is mystery, although my current bedtime read is RED, WHITE AND ROYAL BLUE (Casey McQuiston)– which I picked up as Goodreads recommended read. I am enjoying it but the romantic premise took me by surprise (I probably should have read the blurb closer!). On audio I have just finished SCRUBLANDS by Chris Hammer, which was slow to start but had me gripped at the end. If you like historical mysteries, I do enjoy the Rhys Bowen Royal Spyness series which are light and fun – I’ve just finished her latest set in Kenya (my country of birth). For something a bit different, I have also just finished THE GHOST BRIDE by Yangsze Choo, a very unusual paranormal YA (?) revolving around the Chinese funeral traditions and set in Malacca (a town I know quite well). I believe it is being developed into a Netflix series.
HUGE thanks to Alison for ‘chatting’ with me about her books – I appreciate it so much!
I can’t wait for The Goldminer’s Daughter to come out – you can add it to your Goodreads here, and preorder here.