Helen Simonson has lived in America for over twenty years. She is a long-time and proud resident of Brooklyn, New York, though she has also spent some time living in the Washington DC area. However, she was born in England, and when she was a teenager, her family achieved the English dream - to move to a house in the country.
East Sussex, with its sleepy villages, medieval smuggling towns, and unique pebble-bank shores is her vision of 'home.' Her family lives near Rye, a 14th Century smuggling port on a cobbled hill, from which the sea receded long ago. It is marooned in the eerie landscape once home to smugglers, yet clings to its designation as a member of the Cinque Ports. Close by are the seaside towns of Hastings and Eastbourne and to the west, the Downs swell up into a ridge of grassy hills topped by the hundred mile trail known as the South Downs Way. It is literary country - Henry James at Lamb House, Rye; Kipling at Batemans, Burwash; Virginia Woolf at Monk's House, near Lewes - and this heritage was always a great inspiration to her.
As a young woman, she could not wait to go to college in London, or to move three thousand miles away from home to America. Yet she has always carried with her a longing for England that will not fade. This dichotomy - between the desire for home and the urge to leave - is of central interest to her life and her writing.
Helen Simonson's website
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Two interviews with Helen Simonson about her first and second novels: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and The Summer Before the War.
In a conversation with Random House Reader's Circle, author Helen Simonson explains why the whole world can be explained in a small town, and how she uses humor to illuminate and process the absurdities of war.
Random House Reader's Circle: In your highly anticipated second novel The Summer Before the War you transport readers to the small Sussex town of Rye. It's the summer of 1914, right before the start of World War I, when everything is on the brink of change. What was life like at this time and why did you want to set your story at this moment?
Helen Simonson: I think of Edwardian times in terms of advances in technology-the telephone, motor car, invention of electricity and flying machines-and of a loosening of Victorian strictures producing a blossoming of culture and progress. It's a society rich in writers, poets, and women's movements for social justice and for suffrage. It's a historical era in which I always thought I could live well. However, that assumes I would be wealthy. Life was still hard for folks without money. Even in a town like Rye, ...
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