Lisa Manterfield is the award-winning author of The Smallest Thing and A Strange Companion. Learn more at lisamanterfield.com.
Lisa Manterfield is the award-winning author of The Smallest Thing and A Strange Companion. Her work has appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Los Angeles Times, and Psychology Today. Originally from northern England, she now lives in Northern California with her husband and over-indulged cat. Learn more at lisamanterfield.com.
THE SMALLEST THING
The very last thing 17-year-old Emmott Syddall wants is to turn out like her dad. She’s descended from ten generations who never left their dull English village, and there’s no way she’s going to waste a perfectly good life that way. She’s moving to London and she swears she is never coming back.
But when the unexplained deaths of her neighbors force the government to quarantine the village, Em learns what it truly means to be trapped. Now, she must choose. Will she pursue her desire for freedom, at all costs, or do what’s best for the people she loves: her dad, her best friend Deb, and, to her surprise, the mysterious man in the HAZMAT suit?
Inspired by the historical story of the plague village of Eyam, this contemporary tale of friendship, community, and impossible love weaves the horrors of recent news headlines with the intimate details of how it feels to become an adult—and fall in love—in the midst of tragedy.
“Lisa Manterfield’s richly detailed novel…is graced with themes of self-sacrifice, the power of human touch, and the need to act in the face of horror.” ~ Catherine Linka, author of A Girl Called Fearless
A STRANGE COMPANION
Kat Richardson isn’t running away from grief; she’s just hiding out in a gloomy Welsh university town until she’s sure it’s gone. Now, one year, nine months, and 27 days after the climbing death of her first love, Gabe, she thinks she’s ready to venture out into the relationship world again. And Owen—a cake-baking, Super Ball-making chemistry student—appears to be a kind, funny, and very attractive option.
But the arrival of Kat’s newly adopted niece, Mai, forces her home to northern England, where she runs headfirst into all the memories of Gabe she’s tried to leave behind—and discovers that Mai stirs up an unnerving feeling of déjà vu. Before long, Kat’s logical, scientific beliefs about life after death are in battle with what she feels to be true—that reincarnation is real and Gabe has come back to her through Mai. The question now, is why?
Taking on the topics of love, loss, and how we deal with grief, A Strange Companion is a twisted love triangle among the living, the dead, and the reincarnated.
“[A Strange Companion] hooks the reader with its very first line and never lets go. The voice is unassuming and introspective, the prose elegant, and the descriptions sensuous.” ~ Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators panel
“Beautiful, funny, and feisty, this extraordinary novel offers the soul satisfying message that love–no matter the kind–never ever dies.” ~ Tracey Cleantis, author of An Invitation to Self-Care and The Next Happy
“An engaging and thought-provoking novel about loss and the possibility of reincarnation.” ~ Jaq Hazell, author of My Life as a Bench
“A story about love and loss and learning to live again. Reminiscent of The Art of Racing in the Rain.” ~ Julie Mayerson Brown, author of The Long Dance Home
“Highly recommended for fans of paranormal fiction. A must-read for anyone dealing with the grief that follows a great loss.” ~ Rebecca Laclair, author of Radio Head
“A compelling plot that keeps readers turning pages.” ~ Publishers Weekly’s The BookLife Prize
THE SMALLEST THING
What was the inspiration for The Smallest Thing?
The book was inspired by the true story of the village of Eyam in northern England. In 1665, the bubonic plague was carried there from London. As the disease spread through the village, members of the community made the courageous decision to quarantine the village to prevent the disease spreading to neighboring towns and villages. That story has stuck with me for years and I often thought about the bravery and self-sacrifice needed to risk your own life to save others. I wanted to retell that story, but wasn’t sure how. Eventually I brought it in to contemporary times, took a little artistic liberty, and wrote The Smallest Thing.
What kind of research did you do for The Smallest Thing?
While the story is about the effects of an outbreak on the community and their relationships, I wanted to make sure the scientific details were accurate and believable. As I was writing an early draft, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa broke out. The stories of the real people trapped in their villages, and of the aid workers who risked—and sometimes lost—their lives really colored the story. From those news reports, the character of Aiden was born. I was also able to find detailed information about protocols and about the isolation system that was the basis for Bubble City. More than anything, that outbreak brought home for me the fact that Em’s story could actually happen today.
Did you grow up feeling trapped in a small village like Em?
I grew up in the suburbs of a big city in Northern England. Em’s village is about half an hour’s drive away, out in the countryside. I never felt pressure from my family to stay close by, but at the same time I always knew I’d leave. I ended up moving to the other side of the world, not because I wanted to get away, but because I wanted adventure. That said, feeling trapped—whether that’s by expectation, location, opportunity, or just because you don’t feel like you fit—is a universal experience. We all feel like we don’t belong at some time in our lives.
A STRANGE COMPANION
What inspired A Strange Companion and how did the idea evolve?
The idea for this book began with the premise of “What if the people we love always come back to us?” I wanted to make Kat a skeptic, rather than a true believer, so she’d have to learn about the topic and challenge her own beliefs. As the story evolved, it became clear that it was really about love, loss, and how people deal with grief, and not about reincarnation at all. That said, I did a lot of research to make sure I adhered to the “rules” of reincarnation. The great thing was, the research gave me lots of ideas for the story, such as Mai’s recognition of people and places, and Gabe’s scar.
How has your personal experience influenced your stories?
My dad died when I was 15 and I was not at all prepared to handle my grief. It took me a long time to understand that grief affects people in unusual ways and that you don’t ever “get over” a big loss, you just figure out how to live with it. I don’t think that’s something we acknowledge in our culture. That loss, especially at that time in my life, definitely influenced my writing. I didn’t have the tools to work through grief then, so I explore all those emotions through my writing.
How long did it take you to write this book?
I originally had the idea more than 15 years ago. I tried to write it as a screenplay first, and then wrote an early version of the novel, which was a horrible mess. I wrote the first draft of this version about seven or eight years ago, but would abandon it for months and even years at a time. I wrote three other books while trying to get this one to where I knew it needed to be. Once I finally became clear on what the book was about and I committed to revising what I had, it took about nine months to complete.
What inspires your writing?
I like playing around with nuggets of history that are meaningful to me, and looking at what would happen if I brought the personal elements of those stories into present day. I’m working on a couple of ideas that came about this way. For day-to-day inspiration, I love doing writing prompts. Often, I can’t sift through the rubble in my head until I start with a single sentence that opens up a story. It’s a bit like digging through a dusty old attic and finding a treasure.
What’s your biggest fear as a writer?
That I don’t have enough time to get all my stories out into the world. I’m a fast writer, but a slow reviser. I’m happy to work this way, but it does mean I have a lot of stories hanging around in my head waiting to be told. And stories aren’t always very patient. Elizabeth Gilbert talks about ideas giving up on writers and going elsewhere to be heard by another writer. I think there’s some truth in that, and I sort of like the image of one of my story ideas packing a suitcase and leaving me a note to say it’s left me for another writer. I don’t ever plan to retire from writing, but I do worry I’ll run out of time to say all I want to say.
What advice would you offer to new writers?
Believe in yourself, but don’t quit your day job…at least not yet. It takes time to figure out what you love to write and how to harness your creativity and find your voice. It also takes time to learn how to craft a book. It takes a big pile of manuscripts that are not fit for publication, and you have to write for the love of learning how to do this. But once you feel you’re ready (because you never know for sure you’re ready) go for it. Go all out and do whatever it takes to get your work into the hands of readers who will love it.
Will you revisit any of the characters or stories from your current novels?
I do think about the lives of my characters after their stories end. I imagine Em left her village, maybe went away to school, maybe Aiden influenced her life path, maybe they stayed in touch. Similarly, I imagine an ongoing story for Em and Owen after A Strange Companion. I don’t tend to read sequels, even of books I loved, so I don’t think I’d ever write one. I do have a big subplot that was cut from A Strange Companion and that has a really great character I’d love to explore. At some point, I will figure out what I want that story to be and write it.
What can we expect next from you?
I’m working on a psychological suspense novel about a young woman who must betray her overprotective family’s secrets to prove her father innocent of her sister’s murder. It’s full of twists and turns, and I’m having a lot of fun writing it.
- YA Books Central Cover Reveal: The Smallest Thing
- The Creative Sandbox Way Podcast with Melissa Dinwiddie
- Author Accelerator member Spotlight
- Q&A with Jennie Nash on the Self-Publishing Path
- Expressing Motherhood