Emma Rous is the author of the new novel The Au Pair. She worked as a veterinary surgeon for 18 years. She lives in Cambridgeshire, England.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Au Pair?
A: It sprang from a combination of two things: my love of mysteries involving uncertain identities, and my fascination with the idea of having an emotional connection to a place. I moved around a lot and lived in several different countries when I was a child, and I’ve always been intrigued by how it might feel to stay living in the same community – and especially in the same house – that you were born in.
As for the uncertain identities – I knew I wanted a mystery at the heart of the novel, and I was definitely influenced by an early love of identity-swapping tales, like Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, Mary Rodgers’ Freaky Friday, and Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley.
The Au Pair is narrated by two characters: Laura, the au pair, whose arrival in her host family’s home is the spark for the drama; and Seraphine, a young woman who is deeply attached to her ancestral family home, but who begins to question whether she really belongs there.
Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: At the very beginning, I mapped out the events of the critical day – the day Seraphine was born – in detail. The rest of the story spiralled out from those events in the planning stage, and then I wrote back towards them in the first draft. I certainly made plenty of changes and additions along the way, but the core events of the story never changed.
Q: The novel takes place at a seaside estate – how important is setting to you in your writing?
A: Setting is incredibly important to me. I particularly wanted Summerbourne – the grand country house on the cliffs – to be a place that the characters could form a real emotional attachment to. In my mind, Summerbourne is almost a character in its own right.
Q: What are some of your favorite books?
A: My all-time favorites include The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell, and The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. I have nowhere near enough time to read at the moment, but I have recently finished The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m writing my second novel – it’s still a work in progress, but I’m loving it. The story isn’t connected to the events in The Au Pair, but it should have a similar feel to it.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I worked as a veterinary surgeon for 18 years before I began to write fiction. I’m in awe of the many talented writers out there in their 20s and 30s, but to all those who’ve expressed a desire to start writing when they’re 40-plus, I’d say: Go for it!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb