Official Bio—The Boring but Important Bit
Lisa Manterfield writes stories of loss, resilience, and the people we call “family.” She is the award-winning author of two Young Adult novels, A Strange Companion and The Smallest Thing, and two works of non-fiction for adults. She believes books have the power to unite people, one reader at a time. Originally from northern England, she now lives in Northern California with her husband and two cats. When not writing, she can be found hiking in the redwoods and daydreaming in her vegetable garden.
A Bit About Me
I believe we are more resilient than we know.
I believe we owe it to ourselves to become the person we want to be, no matter what others expect of us.
I believe that making a small difference to one person can make a big difference in the world.
I believe stories connect us and make us feel less alone.
I love writing stories of resilience. In 2014 I started work on my second novel, a contemporary retelling of a piece of local history that had always fascinated me. In 1666, the plague made it from London to the little village of Eyam (pronounced eem) in Northern England. The people of the village made the courageous decision to quarantine and prevent the disease from spreading to neighboring villages and the market town of Sheffield, my hometown. Families were divided and lovers were separated, but the community pulled together and made a monumental sacrifice for the good of others. I wondered what would happen if a plague came to Eyam today. How would people react? Would they make the same brave decisions? Would people still pull together in hard times? So, I wrote a book to find out.
THE SMALLEST THING is the story of a 17-year-old girl trapped in the last place on earth she wants to be, with people she believes are nothing like her. It’s a story of survival, friendship, and forbidden love. It’s also a story of resilience and how a community can unite in times of tragedy.
The book came out in 2017 and was a 2019 finalist for Best American Fiction in Young Adult. In 2020 I had the surreal experience of living a real-life version of a fictional story I had created, one that was inspired by a true story. During my lockdown, I created a podcast that serialized the novel and became a sort of pandemic diary and historical record of its own. I am proud of the book for the details about pandemic life that I got right, and I am proud of us as human beings for the way so many of us pulled together and demonstrated our resilience during what will prove to be a landmark period of our lives.
I write stories about resilience to encourage readers (and myself) through life’s many challenges. I write about characters discovering who they are and what they’re made of, because I am always working to understand myself. My first novel, A STRANGE COMPANION, is the story of a young woman navigating a grief that people around her don’t fully understand, something I experienced as a teenager when I lost my father unexpectedly. My memoir, I’M TAKING MY EGGS AND GOING HOME, a 2012 Independent Publishers Book Awards winner, explores similar themes. They are very different books, but both are stories of resilience and self-discovery. Likewise, my current works-in-progress, include novel about a young girl who stands up for her beliefs during World War II, and a story about a teenager who stands up to her over-protective parents, so she can finally become the adult she wants to be. One is a historical coming-of-age story; the other is a contemporary suspense; but the themes unite them.
My goal is always to give readers food for thought about human nature and our place in the greater world. I love putting characters in tough situations so they can show me what they’re made of. They never let me down.
So, how did we get here?
This is the part where I’m supposed to tell you I wrote my first book at age four and studied creative writing at a string of prestigious educational establishments, so you know I’m a real writer.
But that’s not my story.
I was born into a family of pragmatists. My dad taught me how to grow vegetables and fix things around the house, and my mum taught me how to follow the rules but shatter the norms. (I should tell you about her someday.) My parents grew up in a world of air raids and food rationing, when education was a privilege reserved for wealthier people. The thing they most wanted was for me to go to university and get a good job. Becoming a writer—or indulging in any creative profession—was never on the table. Despite the looming threat of a grown-up future, I filled my childhood with dance, music, books, and theatre—all the things I loved that didn’t check the “get a good job” box.
I was around 12 years old when a boy in my class told me he was going to become a civil engineer. I wasn’t sure what that was, but someone said that girls couldn’t be engineers, so that’s what I decided to do. (See mother figure, above.) After many years of education, internships in France and California, and a graduate degree in Earthquake Engineering and Structural Dynamics, I proved that silly boy wrong and became a structural engineer.
I quickly discovered I hated being an engineer. It was a solid career, but with no creative outlet. I had lost touch with the dancing, singing, writing, and performing that had once fueled me. I felt trapped in a good life I’d worked hard to build, but which gave me no joy. I needed to rediscover myself.
I joined a local community theatre and started acting again. Then I got a real headshot, took some acting classes, and began spending time with actors, writers, make-up artists, and cinematographers in the making. Finally, I took a leap of faith, and quit engineering, shocking my family. I started working as an extra and going out on auditions. Like many actors, I supported myself by waiting tables.
Somewhere in there, I started writing again. I had a strange little story in my head about reincarnation and I tried to write it as a screenplay. I took screenwriting classes and tried to cram this weird little story into that format. Then I took a personal essay class and got my first published piece in the Los Angeles Times. I was a prose writer! I threw a publication party, hung my framed story on my bedroom wall, and cashed my $400 check. And then I realized my parents were right: I needed a job that would support me.
I ended up in the marketing department of a small community bank, a job that put my analytical training to use, kept a roof over my head, and also tapped my creativity. And I kept writing. I wrote before work in the mornings, and in cafes on the weekend. I took classes at UCLA and attended conferences when I could. I kept working on my strange little story about reincarnation, learning to be a better writer with every revision. Ten years and MANY revisions later, I had a finished book. I finally figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be a writer.
So now, this writer lives in a big small town in Northern California, with her husband (Mr. Fabulous) and two cats who know exactly who they are and what they want from life. I grow vegetables in my front garden and get out for hikes in the redwoods as often as I can. I am the proud owner of a small sailboat—a good old lady who knows a lot more about sailing than I do. In my unconventional little family, I am the fixer of broken things (thanks, Dad) and Chief Spider Rescuer. And when I’m alone in my kitchen I still dance and sing as if I’m on a West End stage.
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