Friday, December 18, 2009

Interview with Mary Lydon Simonsen, author of Searching for Pemberley (with giveaway!)

Today I'm thrilled to welcome Mary Lydon Simonsen to Diary of an Eccentric.  Mary is the author of Searching for Pemberley (click to read my review), a "re-imagining" of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice set just after World War II, with heroine Maggie Joyce seeking out the couple who inspired the beloved classic novel.  Mary has taken time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions. 

Welcome to my blog!  Why did you choose to set Searching for Pemberley in post WWII England?

I was born a few years after the end of World War II, and it seemed that everyone from my parents’ generation had been involved in the war or its aftermath in some capacity. My mom worked for Bendix Radio in Baltimore, which made radios for bombers, and my father was one of Roosevelt’s Whiz Kids. Every one of my uncles served in some branch of the Armed Services, and my father’s sister worked for the State Department in a bombed-out Berlin immediately after the German surrender.

My curiosity about the war led to my interest in the Europe that emerged from the ashes, and so I decided to set my story during that time period. When I started doing my research, I had no idea how long Britain’s post-war austerity program had lasted. My main character, Maggie Joyce, is an American who works for the U.S. government and who has access to the commissary. I thought Maggie’s ability to buy scarce commodities would make for a good contrast with the British, who were still carrying their ration books and queuing up for food in short supply when Maggie arrived in England in 1947.

What inspired you to write about Pride and Prejudice?

I am a romantic, and one of the great romances in literature is that of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. I was captivated by a story where a handsome, rich, highly connected man was so in love with a daughter of a gentleman farmer that he was willing to risk censure and ridicule to be with her. What a great story to build on.

What do you think about the scores of Jane Austen sequels and re-imaginings being published, and what do you think makes Searching for Pemberley stand out?

I do not approve of sequels or re-imaginings written by others. I only approve of my own efforts. Seriously, Jane Austen is still a bestselling author nearly 200 years after her death, the reason being, she wrote wonderful stories that people can relate to even in 2009, and it is a lot of fun working with Austen’s characters.

Searching for Pemberley is different because it poses the question: Were Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pride and Prejudice based on the lives of real people? When Maggie arrives in England and learns of that possibility, she travels to Montclair, an estate in Derbyshire, to see if it can be Austen’s Pemberley. By reading through letters and diary entries shared with her by a couple associated with the estate, she comes to know Elizabeth Garrison and William Lacey, the real Mr. and Mrs. Darcy. Searching for Pemberley is actually three love stories in one novel. In addition to Austen’s love story, Maggie has a romance with two men, an American bomber pilot, who saw too much combat, and Michael, a descendant of the Lacey/Darcy line, and she learns of another love story set against the background of World War I. Three stories for the price of one -- now that’s a bargain.

Are you working on another book?

Thanks for asking. I have another book coming out in December 2010 with a working title of From Longbourn to Pemberley. This novel parallels the story of Pride and Prejudice, but I wanted to bring some of the minor characters to the forefront. It is Georgiana Darcy and Anne De Bourgh who move the two lovers to their romantic destiny at Pemberley. I’m currently writing a story for a fan fiction site,, in which Darcy is a werewolf. This is a major departure for me because I’ve never written anything like it, but it’s been well received because Darcy remains a gentleman faithful to Lizzy. It may become my next novel.

Who is your favorite Austen heroine and why?

Definitely Elizabeth Darcy. I was very shy as a child/teenager. I really didn’t come into my own until my late 20s. Reading about someone like Lizzy, who had such spunk, was wonderful. And she ends up marrying the perfect man. That’s my kind of story.

What five books do you find yourself recommending over and over?

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry – Storytelling at its best. It involves all of your senses and emotions and epic events in American history.

Walking Across Egypt by Clyde Edgerton -- This is the book I give to all my friends when they’re feeling blue or not feeling well. It always cheers them up.

The Edge of the Crazies by Jamie Harrison -- A murder mystery set in a Montana town where all the characters are deliciously quirky.

Gorky Park and all the Arkady Renko mysteries by Martin Cruz Smith -- Life has not been kind to Arkady, and you just want to give him a hug. The mysteries are well plotted and riveting.

May I mention my own modern novel, The Second Date, Love Italian-American Style? It is a heart-warming, humorous romance set in the Italian-American community of North Jersey. I recommend it to everyone who will stand still long enough for me to get my sales pitch out.

Thank you for having me!

Thank you, Mary!  I wish you much success and look forward to reading more of your work in the future.

Set against Regency England, World Wars I and II, and postwar England, three love stories intertwine in surprising and fateful ways

American Maggie Joyce, touring Derbyshire in 1947, visits Montclair, an 18th century Georgian country house, that she is told was the model for Jane Austen's Pemberley. More amazingly, the former residents of the mansion, William Lacey and Elizabeth Garrison, were the inspiration for the characters of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.

Through letters, diary entries, and oral history, Beth and Jack Crowell, a couple who lives in the nearby village of Crofton, share stories of the people they say inspired Jane Austen. They also tell their own love story, made difficult by their vastly different backgrounds -- she was one of the social elite while he was the son of a servant. When their son, Michael, travels home from his RAF station in Malta, Maggie may have just found her very own Mr. Darcy.

About the Author
Mary Simonsen grew up in North Jersey with the exciting venues of New York City easily accessible. She is especially interested in American and European history and 19th Century novels. In Searching for Pemberley, she was able to combine her love of history (World War II and postwar England) with Austen's characters, Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, and being a romantic, the novel includes three love stories from three different time periods, all thanks to Jane Austen. She lives in Peoria, Arizona. For more information, please visit


Courtesy of Sourcebooks, I have 2 copies of Searching for Pemberley up for grabs.  Just leave a comment with your e-mail address.

For an extra entry:  Tell me your favorite Jane Austen sequel or "re-imagining," or tell me what you think about all the Jane Austen sequels being published these days.

Because the publisher is handling the shipping costs, this giveaway is open to readers in the U.S. and Canada only.  The giveaway will be open until Sunday, Dec. 27 at 11:59 EST.


Serena said...

No need to enter me, but I wanted to stop by and say what a lovely interview. I liked her book recommendations.

DCMetroreader said...

I love Jane Austen and agree with the author that it says something about Austen as writer that we still love her work!

Wendy said...

What a great interview!

This book looks fabulous!

The only Austen "themed" book I've read as of late was Austenland by Shannon Hale. I'm looking forward to reading some new spinoffs this coming year, and rereading some of Austen's beautiful work itself.

Thanks for the entry!


Linda said...

Regarding current books that capitalize on the Austen novels, this is the first one that sounds appealing to me.

I was pleased to see that the author recommended Lonesome Dove, as it is also a favorite of mine.


Carrie said...

I enjoyed learning more about the book and the author herself (having been born right after WW2 and therefore finding it a curiosity of sorts). I would love to be entered int your contest and thank you for it!

readingtoknow (at) gmail (dot) com

Carrie said...

I'm not sure if we're supposed to leave a second comment for the second entry but here goes (and my apologies if we're not). My favorite P&P sequel or imagining is Austenland, by Shanon Hale.

- Carrie again!

bermudaonion said...

I love that she only approves of her Austen sequels! It sounds like she's got a great sense of humor.

Laura Hartness said...

For the most part I've been enjoying the Jane Austen-themed novels that have been coming out lately. However, I don't prefer the incarnations with alot of graphic sexual content or the ones with zombies/vampires/sea monsters, etc.

I really enjoyed Austenland and Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict

Thanks for the chance to enter!

Laura Hartness
The Calico Critic

Bonnie said...

I just heard about this book today at another blog, Bookfan Mary. I immediately added it to my wishlist. I was thrilled to see your interview with the author and enjoyed reading about the background of the book.

The only related Jane Austen book I've read is Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict which I enjoyed.

Thanks for the opportunity to win a copy of this book!


Darlene said...

Anna, no need to enter me. I'm just popping in to let you know I've got this posted on Win a Book.

bookmagic said...

Oh dear, I had just sworn off and Jane Austen inspired books but this sounds good. Please enter me

Mozi Esme said...

I'd love to read this!

janemaritz at yahoo dot com

Lenore Appelhans said...

I love the idea of P&P and Zombies, but I haven't read it yet. This one sounds really fun!

e-mail addy in blog profile

Mary Simonsen said...

Thank you all for reading my post and commenting on it. This looks like a fun blog. Mary

vvb32 reads said...

looking forward to reading this one the more i hear about it. please count me in. thanks.
vvb32 at

+1 while i enjoy the various re-tellings, i'm getting a kick out of the monster mashups

a real librarian said...

Thanks for the chance to win!! Great interview!!


rhapsodyinbooks said...

What an interesting list of book recommendations! I really like some of the Jane Austen sequels, but the zombies and sea monsters and all that - forget it!

nbmars AT yahoo DOT com

Anonymous said...

I'd love to read this...please count me in...thanks.


Angie said...

I am not much for remakes, don't mind reimaginings but this one seems to be in a little bit different vein then most. Looking forward to reading it.


Angie said...

I have not read an Austin themed book because Pride and Prejudice is my all time favorite book and I didn't want anything tainting my memories fo it. However, this book looks like something I would enjoy.


Mari said...

I just read your review. It sounds like a book I would enjoy. I think my favorite reimagined/retelling of an Austen book would be Bridget Jones' Diary.

debijackson said...

Love to win this.

for extra entry: I fell in love with Jane as an adolescent, so I love to invoke those feelings again.

Anna said...

MarySimonsen: Thank you for stopping by!

And thanks to everyone who has entered the giveaway so far!

Mary Simonsen said...

Anna, Thanks so much. You are an author's dream blogger--a great review and follow-up with comments. Who could ask for anything more? Happy Holidays! Mary

Miss Haley said...

enter me please!!

I want to read some of the Austen re-writes, but I haven't yet. I think it's flattery, but a little overdone to a certain extent.

Esme said...

Thanks for the giveaway-I hope that you are completly cleaned up after the storm.

I have never read any Jane Austen books.

Sue said...

Thanks for the giveaway.

s.mickelson at gmail dot com

Jonnie (JB) said...

Great interview! The author seems to have a great sense of humor.


dsandyboy said...

Count me in.

FrankSandy said...

Please enter me.

Laura Hartness said...

Guess what? I won a copy of Searching for Pemberley from the "Enchanted by Josephine" blog. So you may remove me from this contest. Thanks for hosting the giveaway!

Laura Hartness
The Calico Critic

Marie said...

Great interview -- I really want to read this book!

I do like some of the "Austen" books that have come out -- like Austenland. Others don't seem to work as well :-)

Nancye said...

This looks like a great book! Please enter me.

nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

Anonymous said...

I really would like to win this book.It seems pretty interesting.

Suzanne Leavitt

Toni said...

I'd love to win this one! I loved your interview. It was interesting. You asked a lot of questions that I wanted answered. :)

I haven't read many if any of these themed books. But I plan to read as many as possible. I think I'll like them and I don't think they take away my pleasure from the originals. (at least I hope not)

This particular book Searching for Pemberley does sound a notch above some of the others.

Thanks for the giveaway.

tonigomez(at) surewest (dot) net

Anna said...

This giveaway is now closed. Thanks to everyone who entered and/or publicized it. I'll announce the winners shortly.