Interview With Mary Lydon Simonsen, Author of Searching for Pemberley

Mary Lydon Simonsen’s Searching for Pemberley hit stores earlier this month and takes place shortly after World War II as American Maggie Joyce uncovers the mystery of which English families inspired Jane Austen to write Pride & Prejudice.

Ms. Simonsen was kind enough to take some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions about her book and her writing.  I hope you’ll enjoy the interview, stay tuned for my review of her book, and think about entering the giveaway.

Please welcome, Mary Lydon Simonsen.

Searching for Pemberley explores how real people could have inspired Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  Is this an idea that you’ve discovered elsewhere or how did you decide to write about this aspect of the novel? 

I don’t know of anyone else who has written about Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy being modeled on real people. But I was intrigued by the idea of a man from England’s upper class marrying the daughter of a gentleman farmer “whose station in life is so decidedly beneath my own.” I was curious about what a real Lizzy and Darcy would have experienced in their courtship and marriage because they had a wide chasm to bridge because of their different places in society.

How much research did you do to create these characters who inspired Jane Austen?  And do you find that any of your characters are inspired by real people that you know or have known? 

I’ve been reading and studying about the Georgian/Regency Era since I first read Pride and Prejudice in my high school English class, and that’s going back decades. When I started to write the story, I already knew a lot about that time period, so there’s about 35 years of research in my novel. As for my inspiration for the characters, I don’t know anyone who is even remotely close to the privileged Fitzwilliam Darcy, but I do know a lot of down-to-earth Lizzy Bennets. My life experience is much closer to Maggie Joyce, my main character, who grew up in a coal mining town in the 1930s. I’m actually a coal miner’s granddaughter. (I hear Loretta Lynn singing in the background.)

Who is your favorite Jane Austen hero and why?

Definitely Elizabeth Bennet because she has spunk, something I definitely didn’t have when I was 21, Lizzy’s age. It took a lot of courage to stand up to Mr. Darcy and to say “no” to an offer of marriage from a man who had it all: looks, wealth, rank, and who was a scion of a prestigious family. Lizzy is her own person, and I’d like to think her independence is part of her attraction.

Most authors using classic characters and stories to spur their own creations fell in love with those characters and stories early on, but wanted something more.  Is this how you felt about Pride and Prejudice?  What motivated you to craft your own tale based upon Jane Austen’s story? 

As a teenager, I was very shy, and because of that, I wanted to be like the self-confident Elizabeth Bennet. If you read Pride and Prejudice, you will see that Mr. Darcy actually has very little dialog, but I took care of that. Over the years, Mr. Darcy and I, as Lizzy Bennet, have had some very interesting conversations, which always ended in his asking me to marry him. Who wouldn’t want to be the wife of Fitzwilliam Darcy? In a recent survey, Australian women voted for Mr. Darcy over Brad Pitt as their dream guy. I’m in full agreement with the results.  

Why choose Jane Austen novels versus other classic authors’ novels. 

I love Jane Austen’s wit, especially in Pride and Prejudice. Once you get into Victorian Era literature, things get a lot more serious, e.g., Jane Eyre and Mary Barton, and I didn’t want that. I write Austen fan fiction for meryton.com, and my stories are light, funny (I hope), low angst, and always have a happy ending.

Do you have any obsessions that you would like to share?

The only obsession I have at the moment, other than chocolate, is writing. Once I started writing fiction, which was only four years ago, I found it to be addictive, and I have to force myself to leave the computer room to do things like dust, run a vacuum, cook dinner. I’m sure I have carpal tunnel syndrome because of all the typing I do.

Which books have you been reading lately, and are there any you would like to recommend? 

May I recommend my own modern novel, The Second Date, Love Italian-American Style? It’s a light-hearted look at love in the Italian-American community of North Jersey. Personally, I thought it was really funny. I recently finished The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell and Murder at Longbourn by Tracy Kiely, both of which I enjoyed. I’m also reading a biography of Andrew Carnegie.

Finally, following Searching for Pemberley, do you have any other projects in the works? Do they deal with other classic literature or do you see yourself flourishing in the Pride and Prejudice market?  

I seem to have found a home at Sourcebooks, the leading publisher of Austen sequels in the country. They have bought the rights to two more novels with tie-ins to Pride and Prejudice. Longbourn to Pemberley (working title) will be out in December 2010, and More Than Tolerable (also a working title) will be out probably a year after that. I’ve also written a parody of Persuasion and a love story where Mr. Darcy is a werewolf for meryton.com

Obviously, I’m a big Austen fan. Thanks again for having me on your blog!

Thanks to you Ms. Simonsen for taking time to answer my questions.  Ok, here’s the giveaway details: 2 copies of Searching for Pemberley for U.S./Canada only.

1.  Leave a comment on this interview about what you found most interesting.
2.  Leave a comment on my review, which appears Dec. 8, for a second entry.
3.  Purchase a Pride & Prejudice spin-off or Jane Austen’s novel through any of the enclosed Amazon Affiliate links and email me (savvyverseandwit AT gmail DOT com) the purchase information for 3 additional entries.
4.  Follow this blog for another entry.

Deadline is Dec. 14, 2009 at 11:59 PM EST.


FTC Disclosure:  Clicking on images or titles will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase required. 


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