This month we are honored to have bestselling fiction author, Helen Simonson with us. Her latest title, Summer Before the War, published in March of this year.
What inspired you to write The Summer Before the War?
After the completely surprising success of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, I was faced with the daunting task of taking on a second novel. Almost immediately the character of matriarch Agatha Kent walked into my head. She seemed to be standing on the Sussex bluffs, overlooking the ancient town of Rye. I saw two young men heading across the marsh to the beach and a steam train arriving at the town station; a young woman aboard. I knew right away it was the era of Henry James, the town’s most famous literary resident. I think that in my creative anxiety about beginning again, the landscapes of Rye and Sussex welcomed me home, while the tradition of Rye as a writers’ community gave me sort of an encouraging shove forward.
What projects are you working on right now?
I’m in the awkward opening phase of a third novel. It involves worrying whether the idea has enough ‘legs’ to fill an entire novel. It involves wondering if I remember how to write? I’m not alone in this – even Hemingway apparently had to begin each novel by telling himself, “You have always written before and you will write now.” (A Movable Feast). The only solution is to slog through until the writing kicks into high gear. And of course, it’s vital to keep reading books that inspire me – and make me want to write better.
How did you become a writer?
I was in advertising for a while and then I decided to become a stay at home mom. I was looking for some small intellectual escape from the diapers and baby gym sessions when I stumbled into a friend who said he was writing a screenplay. I remember being very taken aback that an accountant would dare to try and be some sort of writer. But then I realized that this is America, where everyone is allowed ‘a dollar and a dream’ as the New York Lottery used to promise. The next day I signed up for a beginner fiction class at New York’s 92nd street Y. It took me many years of struggle before I published my first book and though I wanted to be a writer from that very first class, I don’t think I believed I would be one until I saw my novel in a bookstore.
How have libraries impacted your life and writing?
I remember my mother making books one of life’s rewards. Saturdays meant dad was home from work, and mom made sure we marked the day with mornings at the library, where my sister and I always checked out the maximum books allowed and then watched my parents choose their own books from the tantalizing grown-up area. When I ran out of kids’ books, my mum signed a very official library form to allow me early access to an adult library card. We may not have had much money but the library’s treasure filled shelves always made me feel wealthy. Today libraries still seem to me to be the pinnacle of civilization. Whether it’s free help from the research librarians, or just a clean, quiet table to spend a few hours writing when the house becomes too lonely, the libraries are always open!
How can fans keep up with you on social media?
I try not to post too often on Facebook but fans can find me on Facebook and a small group (very small) have signed up to follow me on Twitter. I also maintain an email list – again I promise not to email too often but only when I have news to share. Sign up on my Facebook page or my website which is helensimonson.com. I also answer all my own email and can be contacted directly on email. Library book clubs can also request a visit from me via Skype. Just drop me an email.
This content originally appeared in the December edition of Adult Librarian News & Reviews.