I have a treat for readers today! I am so excited to have Lisa Manterfield on the blog today, answering some really fun questions. And now that I’ve read the answers to my interview questions, I’m convinced Lisa and I are destined to meet in real life and become best friends. We have so much in common. And though I haven’t read her latest book, The Smallest Thing, YET, I cannot wait to read this one. It reminds me a little of the Emerge series, but with a completely different take on the ebola-like subject matter. I just know you are going to love Lisa and her new book! Be sure to read the entire interview, because there is a giveaway at the end! And if you’d like to see all of the interviews along the blog tour CLICK HERE or on the graphic below.
Let’s get to the interview…
HEATHER: I read on your website that you’re originally from England, and that you love adventures and expeditions into the world. Tell me: What is your most favorite country in the world that you’ve visited? Favorite city? Favorite experience? (Yes, those can all be different.)
LISA: I was hoping you wouldn’t ask any difficult questions! I think my favorite country is Peru. It has everything I love: Mountains, coastline, history, incredible architecture, delicious food. It’s such a colorful, vibrant culture. Peru also gave me one of my most memorable experiences, which was the four-day hike along the Inka Trail, arriving at Machu Picchu at dawn, long before the tour buses arrived. Watching the sun rise over the ancient ruins was one of the most spiritual and moving experiences I’ve ever had. That place is truly magical.
As far as cities go, I think my favorite might be Rome. It’s insane. There are Vespas zipping around all over the place, stylishly dressed people drinking espresso in sidewalk cafes, and you can get a bowl of delicious pasta at more or less any time of night. What’s not to love about that? And you can gorge on your pasta against a backdrop of incredible ancient history and stunning architecture. The Forum, Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Vatican, and St. Peter’s are all there. It’s wonderful.
HEATHER: I, too, loved Rome! I was there a long time ago (too long), but I still have vivid memories of the cars whipping around traffic circles at crazy speeds. How have your travels impacted your writing? Has a particular adventure impacted one of your stories in big ways?
LISA: I do believe that traveling and moving far away from the place you grew up changes your perspective. It introduces you to all different kinds of people from all walks of life, and I encourage everyone to take a risk and travel. Ironically, I keep writing stories set around the area where I grew up. But, I think I’m able to see things with an outsider’s eye, while still knowing all the details of a local.
I do have an idea brewing that is based on an opportunity I had to travel to South Africa a few years ago. The company I was working for at the time had supported an aid organization based there, and I was part of a delegation that got to visit the school we helped fund. We visited several AIDS orphanages and hospitals, and visited homes in the most impoverished parts of Soweto, definitely off the usual tourist route. It was a profound experience and I’ve wanted to find a way to write about it in a meaningful way. I think I have a fictional character emerging who might tell the story.
HEATHER: I completely agree with you about our need to travel in order to get different perspectives. Traveling and experiencing different cultures has opened my eyes in so many ways. What one country or place have you not visited, but hope to?
LISA: Egypt. I didn’t even have to think about this one. I’ve been fascinated with Ancient Egypt for as long as I can remember and have a long list of sites I want to visit. The political unrest over recent years has made me a little nervous, but at some point I need to just go.
HEATHER: In your newest book, The Smallest Thing, the main character is hoping to escape her dull English village for London. How much of your own childhood and life did you bring into this novel?
LISA: I grew up not far from Eyam, the real village where The Smallest Thing is set, so many of the details for the settings came from my experience. Em, the main character in the novel, feels trapped in her life. Her family has lived in the village for ten generations, her dad expects her to work in the family business, and all her neighbors know everything about her. It’s not until the quarantine is imposed that Em is truly, physically trapped.
I think feeling trapped is a universal experience. We get ourselves trapped in towns with no future, in jobs we don’t love, in relationships that don’t benefit us, and in situations brought about when we don’t make the best decisions. I can’t say I ever felt trapped in my hometown, but I always knew I wouldn’t stay. Even when I was just a toddler, my mum says she knew that, of the three of her children, I’d be the one to end up the farthest away. I think I have explorer genes somewhere in my mix.
HEATHER: I can completely relate to the trapped feeling. I still remember the day job. Tell us a little about your writing process? How long did it take to write The Smallest Thing? Did you have to do a lot of research? What was the most challenging aspect of writing this novel?
LISA: The book was inspired by the true story of the Plague Village of Eyam, a community that chose to quarantine itself to prevent the spread of the Plague back in the 1600s. I’ve always been fascinated with the story, and for years I’ve wanted to retell it, but that’s been done countless times. I finally decided to tell a contemporary version.
I started writing it in 2014, which is about the time that Ebola started finding its way into the news here. One particular photograph struck me. It was of a relief worker, fully covered in HAZMAT suit, bathing a young child. It captured such a tender moment and reminded me again that behind the news headlines are real people whose lives have been upended, and courageous workers putting their own lives at risk to help others. It really solidified my story. It also plopped valuable research material into my lap on an almost daily basis.
Perhaps the hardest part for me was taking the story to the dark places it needed to go. Perhaps because it’s based on a true story and founded in reality, I found it hard to be unkind to my characters. An early Beta reader was adamant that one of my favorite characters should not survive. I knew he was right and that it would add depth to the story, but I didn’t want to be the executioner. That said, I think those stories make the novel feel real. It’s not just a faceless body count, but real lives cut short. It would be a lot easier if I didn’t get so emotionally attached to my characters. I might need to write a romance novel next so I can give my characters’ stories a happy ending.
HEATHER: Ha!! I’m pretty sure you and I are destined to cross paths in real life, Lisa! We have so much in common. Everything from our love of travel to our stories about Ebola-like illnesses.
Learn more about Lisa and The Smallest Thing below. If you decide to pick up the book, be sure to let me know, and we can discuss our thoughts on it. I love discussing books!
Oh, and one last thing. Lisa is giving away a paperback copy of The Smallest Thing along with some swag. Be sure to enter to win!
About the book:
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.