Not many writers can take Shakespeare quotes and make them about donuts. But Lisa Mantchev is no ordinary writer. In a world where writing is supposed to be serious and literary, Mantchev has fun. Her Theatre Illuminata series featured funny faeries and an abundance of delicious food. Her new novel Ticker is in the same lighthearted vein.
“If a character named ‘Penny Farthing’ makes you frown instead of smile, this ain’t the read for you!”
With Penny Farthing leading the fray of character with funny names in Ticker – another character is named for a dessert, and another a pun on English money, and “the city of Bazalgate is named after the gentleman who engineered London’s sewer systems” – readers might suspect that Mantchev’s novels are pure fluff.
But a lighthearted writing style doesn’t detract from the work Mantchev puts into writing. Despite the fun tone and the numerous mentions of food, Mantchev takes her work seriously. Her first novel, Eyes Like Stars, took place in a theatre where the characters of every play ever written came to life. Despite the number of Shakespeare puns she could come up with, the story and worldbuilding always took priority.
“The theater books were trial by fire,” said Mantchev. “Eyes Like Stars was my very first novel, and I’d certainly never written a trilogy before. Going through the process was a little like feeling your way down a very dark corridor, knowing there are Indiana Jones-style boobie traps everywhere.”
Mantchev survived the pitfalls and crafted a beautiful trilogy set in a magical world. Beatrice Shakespeare Smith is a character not many readers will easily forget – and fans still argue over whether or not she should have ended up with pirate Nate or air spirit Ariel. But as writers always do, she fell into the dark corridor of writing again.
“I think [writing is]a process that starts over again with each new project, to a certain degree. But going into Ticker, I knew for certain that I wanted it to be a standalone […] and there would be no love triangle,” said Mantchev. “Because reasons.”
Instead of a story about an aspiring actress with magical powers and two men hot on her tail, Ticker follows Penny Farthing, a girl with a clockwork heart. After nearly dying, a surgeon implants a brass ‘Ticker’ in Penny’s chest, allowing her to become the first of the Augmented. But when the surgeon is charged with murder and Penny’s parents mysteriously disappear, she must work with an oddball team to find and save her parents and, possibly, the future of Augmentation.
“Worldbuilding is one of my favorite things about any new project. Because Ticker is set in an alternate version of London, there’s already a framework in place, and then I went forth and costumed. For inspiration, I picked up What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew plus several other Victorian-era reference books, and just wallowed in all of it. I was also heavily influenced by the steampunk maker movement: the gadgets, the clothes, the music,” said Mantchev.
Mantchev mixed hardcore research with a writer’s freedom and creativity.
“I freely admit that the balance [of magic and technology]comes from a fair amount of handwavium. Suspension of disbelief is crucial; anyone who doesn’t ‘get’ characters texting each other in Morse code via devices strapped to their leg garters should probably just set Ticker down and back away slowly.”
Mantchev’s writing may not be for everybody, but that never bothered her. She takes the description of Ticker as “an over abundance of nonsense” with pride – and with Ticker topping the Kindle charts alongside novels by Stephen King and Jodi Picoult, nonsense may just be what readers need.