Author Helen Simonson to visit Shelter Island for book discussion


For those of us who are big fans of Helen Simonson’s best-selling novel, “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand,” it is great news that she has just published another work of fiction and has agreed to visit the Shelter Island Library to discuss the book, “The Summer Before the War,” at a Tea and Talk event on July 30 at 4 p.m. in the Library’s community room.

Ms. Simonson is an Englishwoman who now divides her time between Brooklyn and Westhampton Beach, but spent her teenage years in a tiny village in East Sussex, England, much like the villages in which her books are set. While a student at the London School of Economics she met her American husband of 30 years who was in the United Kingdom on a study abroad program. After graduation she had her first successful career, as a travel advertising executive.

After Ms. Simonson and her husband moved to the United States, their two boys were born and she became a full-time mom. Eventually, she felt the need to find a creative escape and, after trying and deciding against modern dance and gardening, she enrolled in the beginner writing course at the 92nd Street Y. From there she studied at the Southampton Writers Conference and then the SUNY Stonybrook Southampton MFA program. “Major Pettigrew’s last Stand” was her master’s thesis. It became a best-seller and has been translated into 18 languages.

Her second novel, “The Summer Before the War,” begins as a comedy of manners with the characters struggling to deal with the strict traditions of the small country village called Rye, but develops gravitas as World War I nears. “What begins as a study of a small-town society becomes a compelling account of war and its aftermath,” according to Woman’s Day magazine.

Ms. Simonson researched this historical setting for two years, not only the war, but also the fashion, transportation and every aspect of life in Rye, before actually getting to the story. She even included a character based on Henry James who was known to retreat to Rye during this period to write. Once “The Summer Before the War” was published last March, it immediately landed on the New York Times best seller list.  The Washington Post described it as “A novel to cure your Downton Abbey withdrawal … a delightful story about nontraditional romantic relationships, class snobbery and the everybody-knows-everybody complications of living in a small community.”

Please call the library at (631) 749-0042 to reserve a spot for Tea and Talk with Helen Simonson. There is no charge and tea and scones will be served.