Research is at the centre of all good stories, whether they are fact or fiction. Even the most fantastical tale must be believable, within the context of the story and characters. Research can of course be undertaken via books and online resources, at libraries, museums and historical sites, through interviews and other media and via a range of other mediums and sources, but field trips to the places where your story unfolds, have to be one of the most interesting and rewarding parts of being an author.
When you are writing a story like my upcoming historical fiction time-slip, inspired by a real person, set in real places, it is vital that you spend plenty of time learning all of the facts and information. When I was first drafting my Mt Buffalo story, I had planned an extensive research trip to Melbourne to visit the State Library where Guide Alice Manfield’s photos are held, followed by a trip to Mt Buffalo and surrounds. This was unable to proceed, due to Covid. To compensate, I was able to access the photos digitally and spent many hours reading books, watching videos and interviewing people, to ensure the factual components of the story were right. I also had Alice’s granddaughter and another author who has lived and worked at Mt Buffalo, read the first draft and give feedback, to ensure that I got the facts and the story correct.
But it’s just not the same as being there.
Especially when your setting is an incredible mountain and a grand old Chalet, that are in a world all of their own, where magical things feel possible. Other people can describe the sweet peppery scent of the bush, and the kiss of mountain mist and winds against their skin, and the surprising softness of the granite tors, and the views that run forever, and the atmosphere of peace and stillness – but the sensory elements, which are what really place readers within stories, can only be truly experienced by being in the location yourself. It is when you are there that you lay down your own memories and transform these into story.
So, even though the book has been picked up and will be published next year, (so exciting!) we have just followed through with my planned trip to Mt Buffalo, (via Lake Boga, where my next book is mostly set), and it exceeded our expectations! Despite one of my chronic illnesses flaring just two days prior to the trip, and being very ill, I pulled myself together and we headed off on our adventure. It was our first trip away from South Australia since 2019. And we were pretty excited! I will share our experiences in Lake Boga and the incredible Catalina Flying Boat museum, in a separate post.
Our first stop after leaving Lake Boga, was to visit Alice’s granddaughter, Anne. It was such a special experience to finally meet her and we all felt like old friends who had known each other for years. When we arrived at Mt Buffalo late in the afternoon, I was exhausted but bursting with excitement to see the mountain in real life! The place we stayed had perfect views of the Mount and I could look at her all day.
The next morning, despite it being overcast and drizzly, we drove up to the Gorge and Chalet, for the first time. We were not disappointed. We hiked part of Guide Alice’s historical walk to begin with. These are some of the views from the top of the Gorge, where a lot of action takes place in my book.
Although the Chalet is not yet open for business again, we were then very privileged to have a guided tour inside, with a lovely ranger, Adam. He told us some stories about the high days of the Chalet and allowed us some time alone to walk and sit within the walls. Here are just a few of the pictures I took. The thing that really struck me was how accurately I had captured the place through my research – I really felt as if I had been here before and it was very familiar. After the visit, we went to Bright, where I was able to find Guide Alice’s grave. I left some flowers and had a chat with her, thanking her for all she did in her life and explaining about my story.
The next day we drove up again, as bad weather was coming later in the week. Despite much more drizzly rain and very foggy conditions, we attempted a hike to the Cathedral, had a picnic and walked the track to Rollason’s Falls, followed by climbing to the amazing Ladies Bath and Eurobin Falls. We were very wet and very happy when we left. On both of these days, driving back down the mountain, we were amazed to see a big black rooster, and on one day, his hen, coming from the bush!
Our final trip was the day we left, and this time, the sun was shining. We spent the morning at the plateau, where we had full views of the highest points of the mountain – the Horn, the Hump and the Cathedral, and we were able to visit and hike at Lake Catani, all backed by a bright blue sky. It was truly one of the best days of my life.
Overall, we visited many of the places that feature in my book, and I left wanting to return as soon as possible, filled with this magical mountain and the Grand Old Dame that is the Chalet. I now begin editing and preparing the book for publication with my publisher, which I am very much looking forward to, and this trip has enhanced the story.
Sign up to my newsletter to get updates about the final title, release dates, cover reveals and book launch events. We have already flagged the idea of a launch at the Chalet with the ranger and he was keen! In any case, we will be back here very soon, as Mt Buffalo has now become a part of all of us, as it does with anyone who visits this very special place.