Meet Lisa Manterfield.
Lisa Manterfield is the award-winning author of I’m Taking My Eggs and Going Home: How One Woman Dared to Say No to Motherhood. Her work has appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Los Angeles Times, and Psychology Today. Originally from northern England, she now lives in Southern California with her husband and over-indulged cat. A Strange Companion is her first novel. Learn more at LisaManterfield.com.
Now onto the interview!
How tricky was it to adapt your ideas of reincarnation into A Strange Companion? What worked? What didn’t?
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.
On your homepage this quote immediately grabbed my interest, “Curiosity didn’t kill the cat; it gave her material for stories.” What was the first instance where something curious inspired you to write a story?
I’m curious about a lot of things, and often read or hear something interesting and think, “That would make a great story.” Most of the time, the idea peters out, but I end up with a tasty nugget to use in another story. The first story I remember writing was about a group of friends who go off on a bicycle adventure. (I think I was about nine at the time.) I wrote a very vivid scene of them riding through a long, damp tunnel and then finding something mysterious on the other side. I was really curious to discover what that was. Sadly, I didn’t quite have the stamina to keep writing for long enough to find out.
Please explain your writing process. “When I’m writing, I like to “see” my story…” Has visual story plotting ever hindered you from getting your point across?
I think plotting, visual or otherwise, hindered this story for a long time. I was always trying to fit it into a standard idea of what a plot should look like. I’ve learned that I need to play around with characters and ideas before I try to form a story. I need to really understand what I’m trying to say before thinking about how to say it. For example, it took me a lot of drafts to realize that A Strange Companion was about grief, not reincarnation. Once I knew that, I was able to build the story around it. I also have a tendency to “ramp up” my stories, so being able to lay out the whole thing visually helps me see where things need to move faster. It also helps me to make sure characters and subplots don’t disappear for chapters at a time.
Walk us through your writing journey and the challenges, and joys of course, that followed you along the way.
This is the story I used to learn how to write. Honestly, it’s taken me about 15 years, on or off, to go from original idea to finished book. I don’t ever plan to take this long again, by the way. I first thought it would be a screenplay, but I never enjoyed writing in that medium. Once I started writing it as a novel, I knew I was on the right path.
That first attempt was a horrible mess and it took several complete rewrites to even get what I considered to be a usable first draft. I’d keep throwing up my hands and abandoning the story to work on something else. I wrote two non-fiction books and another novel in the time it took me to get this story to work. But this story always kept calling me back, so I knew there was something there. I don’t consider any of this process wasted time. I now have so much experience with broken stories that I can recognize one pretty quickly. My second novel took about three years from idea to completion, so you see I’m getting better every time!
Do you have any other stories in the works, that you can share with us?
I’m in the final editing stages of my next book, The Smallest Thing, which comes out later this summer. It’s the story of a 17-year-old girl, with big plans to escape her boring English village, who find herself trapped there by a government-imposed quarantine. It’s a story about friendship, community, and what it means to become an adult—and fall in love—in the midst of tragedy. It was inspired by the true story of the village of Eyam, whose residents chose to quarantine themselves to prevent the spread of the plague in the 1600s. This is a very contemporary version, of course.
Is there anything you want to tell the readers about A Strange Companion that they may not know about?
Although the story is completely fictional, I tapped into a lot of my own experiences to tell Kat’s story. My father died when I was 15 and I was not at all prepared to handle that 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.
Is there anything else you’d like to share or say?
Just to say how much I appreciate bloggers like yourself and readers who love books. We writers spend a lot of time alone in our own little worlds, and our books are how we connect with other human beings. There’s something very special about emptying the contents of your brain onto a page and having someone you’ve never met read your words and recognize a little bit of themselves in your characters. So, thank you.
Thank you Lisa for stopping by A New Look On Books!
Lisa Manterfield’s debut novel A Strange Companion is out now!
Go check it out!