Inspiration is a fickle creature. It can be abrupt and blatant, experienced through intense life events and relationships, or it can lie buried deep, lurking in the shadows of the past and emerging at unexpected moments.

One of the inspirations for my novel, The Engraver’s Secret, was unknown to me as I drafted an early version. It materialised suddenly like a punch, while I was attending a writers’ conference in York, England.

A fellow writer at the conference asked about the inspiration for my novel. She listened, then accurately summarised my story as an art thriller that contrasted two father-daughter relationships four centuries apart with themes of family secrets, betrayal and lies.

“Was your book inspired by your experience of having a difficult relationship with your father?” she asked.

“No!” I replied, feeling indignant. “I’m very close with my father and love him enormously.”

Then it hit me. My novel alluded to my past, specifically, my birth father whom I have never met. The inspiration for my novel related to my 50-plus years of speculating about a stranger who had sired me, but had shown no interest in knowing me. It was about the mixed emotions I’d felt when I met my birth mother for the first time.

My parents brought me home from hospital when I was six weeks old, following a phone call from the social worker to say a baby girl was available for adoption. My mother, Frances, rushed out to buy a new baby bonnet while my father, George, finished preparing the nursery. I was quickly ensconced into the hearts and lives of my adoring parents.

The first eighteen months would have been especially exhausting, given I reportedly screamed whenever my mother tried laying me down. But she never voiced any frustration. She was finally holding her longed-for daughter in her arms.

I first met my birth mother when I was 21 years old. Keen to know my medical history and curious to know whose facial features I had inherited, I contacted the hospital where I was born.

When I knocked on her front door, I was filled with apprehension and excitement. Would she like me? Would I like her? Would we connect through a shared sense of humour, so vital when building rapport? Would our conversation be engaging or filled with awkward silences? What were her expectations? What were mine?

Most children have some form of relationship, positive or otherwise, with their parents. They know their parents’ habits, character traits and core beliefs; what makes them laugh, cry and rage.

My birth mother was a stranger to me, yet strangely familiar. I searched for similarities – the same shaped face, eyes and build – and wondered whether our shared interest in cooking was genetic or coincidence. Many people enjoy cooking, don’t they?

She willingly shared the details of my birth father, my arrival, and her decision to have me adopted, but we danced around our emotions, keeping them unspoken. The emotions surrounding my birth are her story, and my birth father’s story. They are not for me to reveal.

Focusing on the present and not overthinking the past, I told myself, would help our relationship develop naturally. Although she revealed a past that involved betrayals, secrets and heartbreak, I was thankful she focused on the positives of her life. I was pleased she acknowledged that I had amazing parents who had nurtured me from the beginning.

I completed the final draft of my novel with the realisation that the fictional story was inspired by my journey. My search is woven into the fabric of my invented characters. Our sub-conscious is a powerful force, working away in the background, connecting the dots of our life from its beginning to the present.

When my fictional character, Charlotte, comes face-to-face with her birth father for the first time, I knew exactly how she felt. Her confusion and anxiety were mine, too. Like me, Charlotte tiptoes around past secrets and searches for meaning and closure, aware that her life could have been vastly different if not for the decisions of two people.

I remain forever thankful for my wonderful parents, George and Frances, who loved and nurtured me, and chose me to be their daughter. And I am forever thankful for the brave woman who gave birth to me and chose to give me an extraordinary life.

My June musing was originally published in Sunday newspapers on 22-24 June 2024 around Australia, including the Sunday Telegraph, Herald Sun, Courier Mail, Sunday Tasmanian, Cairns Post, NT News and Advertiser.

Photograph: Lisa Medved with her mother, Frances Hams, April 2024.
Photo credit: Rod Andrewartha @ https://rodandrewartha.com.au/

 

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