Rye writers in film


The Kino in Lion street hosted a talk by Helen Simonson on Thursday, September 28 and showed a film Writers of Rye which was made for BBC South East. It was presented by Damian Barr (Times critic) which showed the town in its glory through the eyes of local writers.

Helen Simonson, who was present to introduce her book, told the audience that The Summer Before the War (about East Sussex in 1914) is her second published book, her first being Mr Pettigrew’s Last Stand. Helen was born in Buckinghamshire and spent her teenage years in rural East Sussex near Rye. As a young woman she left England and went with her new husband to the US and now lives in Brooklyn, New York.

A shelf full of Rye authors

However, she never forgot East Sussex and she said that writing this book was like coming home after 20years. She feels that it is a meditation on what is important to a person and what becomes important once everything is lost. It is about shifting tides through time and war but that Rye to her is a constant, with its history, art and literary greats even though Church Square was a slum in the past while nowit is a rather expensive square in which to live.

With great humour Helen told us that living in the USA helped her gain the confidence to write, as the attitude there is very much “you can” rather than feeling she should be discouraged by the shadows of famous past writers in Rye. In her book she wanted to travel back in time to 1914 to escape modern life.

EF Benson, perhaps one of the best known of Rye authors, thanks to television

The film Writers of Rye was inspired by Lisa Fairbank, co-founder and MD of Factory Films. Damian Barr interviewed several friends and relatives of local dead writers, critics and book lovers as he and Lisa immersed themselves living for a week in literary Rye. He amused the audience with his stories of how difficult he found getting into the cottages because he was 6ft 4in. He said that in some of the homes he was able to see into their upper-floor bedrooms while walking past. He asked a local person why he thought many writers and artists settled in the town and was told that it was probably because it had a Bohemian atmosphere and an inclusive community with all its “Mapp and Lucia” foibles.

The film concentrated on authors who wrote specifically about Rye, such as EF Benson, Joan Aiken, Colm Toibin  and Radclyffe Hall.

At the end someone asked Helen: “How do you feel amongst the present greats?” Her answer was that she would be just happy being remembered as “the junior of the company”.


Photos: Kenneth Bird and Heidi Foster

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