USA Today bestselling author Emma Rous recently released her second novel, The Perfect Guests, and it is already gaining attention. Earlier this month CrimeReads included the book on its “Most Anticipated Crime Books of 2021” list and Booklist gave the novel a starred review.
Emma’s debut novel, The Au Pair, was an international success. The book shot to the top of many “Must Read” lists, including POPSUGAR’s Must-Read Books of 2019, Cosmopolitan’s Books of 2019 to Bring to Your Bookclub, Woman’s Day’s Best Fiction Books of 2019 and Goodreads’ Top Mysteries & Thrillers of 2019.
Emma rew up in England, Indonesia, Kuwait, Portugal and Fiji. She studied veterinary medicine and zoology at the University of Cambridge and worked as a veterinarian for 18 years before taking time off to pursue her dream of writing fiction. She currently lives with her husband, three sons, rescue dog and cat in England, where she now writes full time.
I recently was lucky enough to interview Emma, who talked about her new book, her path to success and her advice for new writers.
How did you get started as a writer?
Hi, Lori, thanks for inviting me. I had two ambitions when I was a child — to be an author and a veterinarian. I ended up working as a veterinarian for eighteen years first, which I loved, but my dream of writing fiction never went away.
So eventually, I decided to take a career break and give writing my best shot. It was a steep learning curve, but the following year I managed to find a literary agent who saw potential in my manuscript for The Au Pair, and after signing with her, I haven’t looked back.
I’m a huge fan of gothic fiction so I loved The Perfect Guests. Your first novel, The Au Pair, also fits into that genre. Have you always wanted to write that type of thriller?
I only ever set out to write the sort of story that I enjoy reading: something with a mystery at its heart, with good pace, but also with characters you can believe in and root for.
They say every writer has their own voice, and I think the gothic element of my stories is probably tied up with my natural voice. I’ve always loved spooky old houses, so using them as a setting for my novels was an irresistible starting point.
(Photo via Amazon.com)
The premise of The Perfect Guests immediately reminded me of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Are you a fan of her novels? Which authors have influenced your writing?
Yes, absolutely. I remember reading so many of Agatha Christie’s novels when I was a teenager and thoroughly enjoying them, and And Then There Were None is fantastically eerie.
There are definite parallels with The Perfect Guests in that the guests at Raven Hall are also cut off from the rest of the world and in danger. But my story leans more towards mystery than traditional crime, so the progression and endings are very different!
The setting of your new book is wonderfully creepy. Can you explain how you chose it? How important is setting in your novels?
I actually live on the edge of the flat, marshy Fens in England, which is where The Perfect Guests is set. It struck me as an ideal place for a family to live in glorious isolation: from the windows of Raven Hall they can see anyone approaching across the fields for a quarter of a mile around.
I think setting is incredibly important in a novel, and to me, the houses in my books are almost characters in their own right.
Your plot shifts between the 1980s and the present. Was it difficult to manage two intertwined stories? Did you know the ending to both parts before you began writing or did you let them develop on their own?
I always start with a plan, but inevitably things get changed as I write my way through to the end of the book. For me, the intertwining of the two stories felt natural, and although it took some concentration (and great advice from my editors) to make sure they fitted together in the best way, I found that aspect immensely rewarding.
Can you tell us about your writing process? Do you write at specific times? Do you have a designated work space?
When life is normal, I work every day within school hours, while my children and husband are out and the house is quiet. I work in my attic, which has views over fields and gardens and trees, so it’s very peaceful.
Has the pandemic changed your writing routine? Do you write more? Less?
The pandemic has had a huge impact on my writing routine. With schools closed and my husband working at home when he can, I’ve only had one day alone in the house in the last ten months. So yes, unfortunately I’ve written a lot less.
Can you describe the road to publication for your novels?
As soon as I signed with my literary agent, Rebecca Ritchie at AM Heath in London, she sent me suggestions for ways to improve my manuscript of The Au Pair.
She then submitted it to a select list of publishers, and we accepted a pre-emptive offer from Little, Brown here in the UK. Little, Brown have an amazing rights team who went on to sell rights to Berkley in the US, and to publishers in nine other countries too.
Emma’s first bestselling novel (photo via Amazon.com)
The Au Pair became a bestseller and ranked at the top of many “must read” lists. Did you think it would become as successful as it did?
No, I had no idea that would happen!
I’d been focusing all my energy on wanting to be published here in the UK, which at the time of writing The Au Pair, with no agent, felt like enough of a pipe dream. To see it go on to be published all around the world and end up on the USA Today bestseller list was incredibly exciting — literally beyond my wildest dreams!
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
I’d say, don’t worry about not getting it right first time, just make a start. You can always go back and change every single word if you want to, so just get those sentences down and create a first draft. Then you can sit back and work out what you’re happy with and what you want to change.
What are you working on now?
We’re in the middle of our third national lockdown here in the UK, so I’m mulling over ideas for my third book but otherwise taking a break to concentrate on my family for a while.
Thanks so much for your time, Emma, and good luck with your new book.
Want to connect with Emma? You can find her here:
Emma Rous, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Goodreads