Meet the Author

Lisa Medved

Global Nomad

Lisa Medved is an Australian author, who has lived in The Hague since 2008. She spent most of her early childhood in her hometown of Melbourne, along with interludes in Bandung, Indonesia and Washington DC, where her family lived for her father’s work. Exposure to diverse cultures at a young age, as well as travelling extensively before the age of ten, left a lasting impression on the budding storyteller.

After completing a Bachelor of Arts in history and fine art from the University of Melbourne, Lisa went on to work in public relations and event management. She honed her writing skills for various corporate publications, adapting her style depending on the audience. She finished an online graduate diploma in editing and publishing while living in San Francisco. By the time she relocated to The Hague with her family, she began dabbling in freelance writing and had several articles published in various magazines in the UK and the Netherlands.

Voracious Reader

Having been a voracious reader since childhood, Lisa turned her hand to fiction writing after she became an empty-nester and had more time to read, write and participate in fiction-writing courses.

The Engraver’s Secret is her first novel. It was born out of a passion for history and art, a curiosity in the life of a little-known Flemish engraver and his relationship with a world-renowned painter, and a desire to explore the secrets that can lie beneath the surface of family dynamics.

Lisa is currently working on her second novel, which is set in fin-de-siècle Vienna and post-WWI London, focusing on the art of Gustav Klimt and two women searching for where they belong in the world.

How did you become a writer?

I began penning my first novel when I was about twelve – a time-travelling adventure with a sassy protagonist called Virginia. By the time I’d scrawled my way to chapter fourteen, writing on scraps of paper torn from my diary, I’d lost interest and shredded the manuscript into my family’s backyard incinerator in suburban Melbourne. I spent three decades focusing my efforts on academic writing, corporate publications then magazine articles, before discovering my passion lay with fiction. I began writing my first (real) novel in 2014 and finished the first draft nine months later, then spent the next five years editing and rewriting the manuscript until it was polished enough to send to literary agents.

What has helped you most in your writing journey?

Soon after I completed the original draft of my first novel and knowing it still needed a huge amount of editing and polishing, I attended an Arvon course in Devon which opened my eyes to the benefits of being part of a writing community. Over the following years, I participated in a number of online writing courses, a second Arvon course this time in West Yorkshire, and made strong connections with fellow writers which have lasted to this day. Writing is a solitary pursuit, so it’s crucial to have a support network of like-minded people who you trust will provide honest feedback and much-needed encouragement.

Reading widely across all genres and styles provides me with inspiration and the impetus to continue developing my own writing. Reading fiction can be comforting, inspiring and provoking; it exercises my brain in the same way walking and yoga exercises my muscles; it introduces me to new concepts, broadens my perspective, forces me to consider my views.

Who are your favourite authors?

My list of favourite authors is forever expanding and changing, depending on my mood and interest in a particular subject.

When I’m hankering for phraseology from a bygone era, wondrous descriptions and a more leisurely pace, nothing beats Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Leo Tolstoy, Henry James, Thomas Hardy, D H Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, Evelyn Waugh, E M Forster and Daphne du Maurier. I regularly turn to Pride and Prejudice, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Room with a View, Rebecca and Brideshead Revisited like long-lost friends.

For novels that have an amazing economy of language and witty prose, I enjoy the comedies of Oscar Wilde and plays of Anton Chekhov. I’m amazed by the cleverness of Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck and Graham Greene to imbue their writing with such emotion with so few words.

I enjoy a well-written psychological thriller, having devoured Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series as soon as they were published. I’m a fan of Patricia Highsmith, Paul Hawkins, Gillian Flynn and especially loved Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones and Herman Koch’s The Dinner. Although his writing is considered more detective than thriller, I’m amazed by the brilliance of Wilkie Collins, especially in The Moonstone, to create a feeling of suspense throughout.

The books that I admire for immersing me in an extraordinary place include Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, Emma Donoghue’s Room, Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, and The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris.

Characters that have stayed with me long after I have read the final page include AS Byatt’s Possession, Peter Høeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, Ian McEwan’s Atonement, André Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name, Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow and Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing. But this is only the beginning of a long list of books that I love and admire…

Where do you get your ideas?

Everywhere. Travelling, visiting museums, reading history, researching about a particular place or object, talking to people, watching movies. Often a simple phrase or object will spark an idea and my mind goes off on a convoluted tangent.

The idea for The Engraver’s Secret came when I was in Antwerp, visiting the Rubenshuis, the former home of the Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens. An engraving by his chief engraver, Lucas Vorsterman, was on display alongside a brief description, which suggested the two men were close then had a falling out. Intrigued, I did some research and came upon a little-known story about a disagreement over who owned the original copper engraving plates and who had the right to reproduce the images. Intellectual property wasn’t widely considered in early seventeenth century Flanders. I began dreaming up a story of a theft done in anger, a thief filled with regret and the thieved items remaining undiscovered for four hundred years until an art academic stumbles on a clue for their whereabouts.

How much research do you complete when writing historical fiction?

I complete masses of research before beginning to write a new historical fiction story and, while writing, I continue researching. The search engine on my computer is in constant use, along with etymology websites to check the accuracy of words. If the word cappuccino wasn’t commonly used outside of Italy until 1948, for example, I won’t use the term in my historical novel set in 1932 London.

Having studied history and fine art history for my degree, I’ve always enjoyed the research part of writing historical fiction. I become familiar with an era by researching the political and economic background, current affairs, daily life, religion, local customs, famous people, and topics specific to the story such as art, science or medicine.

Newspaper articles and advertisements of the time, if available, offer intriguing snippets of information. Paintings from the era provide fascinating glimpses into clothing, leisure pursuits and daily life. Fiction and nonfiction books from the same period allow me to experience the attitudes of characters and historical figures, and gauge the viewpoints of the authors.

During the seven years I spent writing The Engraver’s Secret, I put my research skills into practice. I studied the history of seventeenth-century Flanders, customs of its citizens, the influence of the Spanish Hapsburg court in Antwerp, the tensions between Protestants and Catholics, the lives of Rubens, Vorsterman and their peers. I studied the intricate maps of cartographers Frederik De Wit and Abraham Ortelius. I learnt about goffering irons to crimp the ruffled collars worn by the well-to-do, and pattens to protect the shoes of women as they walked along muddy streets.

In fact, Vorsterman and Rubens became more than historical figures to me. They became so enmeshed with the lives of my fictional characters that it became difficult to separate the two groups in my mind. They conversed with my fictional characters and inhabited my created world to such a degree that they became part of my imagination. The historical characters took on a fictional life of their own.

Conducting research is like using a sponge to soak up huge amounts of water. But only small amounts of research are included in the finished story. The aim is to capture the essence of the era and give readers the truth of the story, not have it read like a textbook.

Where is home for you?

At the moment, home is a typical Dutch townhouse, two kilometres from the historic centre of The Hague. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have lived in Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, as well as Tiburon in the San Francisco Bay Area and Vancouver, Canada. They’ve all been amazing places to live. I’m sure wherever I live next will be just as special.


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