Award-winning novel, The Smallest Thing, is a contemporary reimagining of a historic plague story. For those in 2020 coronavirus quarantine zones, fiction is now reality.
(PRUnderground) February 27th, 2020
The historic village of Eyam in northern England always fascinated author Lisa Manterfield. The story of 450 villagers who, in 1665, voluntarily imposed a quarantine to prevent the spread of The Plague haunted her since childhood. As the author of contemporary Young Adult novels, Manterfield imagined what would happen if a virus reached a small English village today, and told the story through a rebellious teen trapped in the last place she wants to be. That story became The Smallest Thing and won Manterfield several awards, including a finalist nod for 2019 Best American Fiction.
But now Manterfield’s fictional tale of the power of community in the midst of tragedy has become all too real as coronavirus becomes a global pandemic and history repeats itself.
When Manterfield began drafting the story back in 2015, Ebola was the virus in the headlines. “When I needed to know what an isolation unit would look like, what protocols were put in place, and how the media might react, the information was all there,” Manterfield says. She also pored over interviews with medical staff, relief workers, and people caught inside the quarantine zone. “I didn’t want to write sci-fi,” she says. “I was looking for the human stories of sacrifice and compassion. I wanted to show a community pulling together and a young woman learning what is important.”
For Manterfield it was important to be accurate with the scientific and technical details. “I was an engineer before I was a writer,” she says. That’s when she began sifting through virus research. “What I discovered was both fascinating and terrifying.” It quickly became apparent that Manterfield’s story of a modern virus in the developed world was far from fictional. “I learned that a pandemic, like The Plague of the 1600s or the Spanish Flu of the 1800s, wasn’t just possible today, but probable.” When asked today if she is surprised that her story has become reality, she shakes her head. “It’s shocking, but not surprising.”
Manterfield also learned from writing The Smallest Thing that we humans come through in times of tragedy. “I don’t write happily-ever-after endings,” she says, “but I always want to leave readers feeling hopeful.” As coronavirus spreads, stories of courage and self-sacrifice are reaching us. That, Manterfield says, is the silver lining in this current dark cloud.
About Lisa Manterfield
Northern California–based Lisa Manterfield is the author of emotionally charged Young Adult fiction including A Strange Companion and The Smallest Thing. Her evocative stories—often set in the picturesque villages and rugged landscapes of her native northern England—transcend the mystery and suspense genres and get to the heart of human emotions, psychology, and relationships.Press Contact
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