By Leslie Lindsay
Entrancing, melancholic and atmospheric narrative alternating between two female perspectives about identity, family, and secrets.
Dark family secrets prevail in this debut from Emma Rous (Berkley Trade Paperback original, January 8 2019). There’s scandal, infidelity, a seaside estate, a nanny, and suicide. Plus, what about those mysterious twins? I fell in love with the setting–the Summerbourne Estate captured my heart because I absolutely adore homes in general. And what stories those walls may tell–or in this case, the nanny.
It’s 1991/92 and The Mayes family have hired Laura Silveira to help care for young Edwin, opening their lives up to some scrutiny. Laura is eighteen and needing a bit of respite from her failed A levels, taking a gap year to ‘sort herself out.’
Alternating perspectives dive into Seraphine’s present-day story in which she is struggling with the after-effects of her father’s recent death. When Seraphine–a twin–discovers an old photograph of her mother just after her birth, holding just one baby–who or where is the other twin? And why did her mother jump to her death just hours after giving birth? Seraphine finds herself quickly ensnared in a mystery and a web of family deceit–even threats–as she attempts to get to the bottom of this mystery.
I found the juxtaposition of Seraphine and Laura’s story, set approximately 25 years apart, a compelling structure. There’s so much to love about THE AU PAIR–the setting, the juicy scandals, the hair-raising twists and the almost-vintage Danielle Steel vibe of the late 1980s.
Please join me in welcoming Emma Rous to the author interview series.
Emma, welcome! I am still reeling after finishing THE AU PAIR. So curious about the origins of this story—was there a character, a situation, a place—that propelled you?
Thank you, Leslie. I guess, looking back, it was the situation that I started with – the events in the hours surrounding Seraphine’s birth. I had no agent or publisher at that stage, so my ambition was simply to write the sort of story I’d like to read, and I’ve had a lifelong fascination with tales about uncertain identities. The setting was firmly in my mind from the beginning too – this big, old, crumbling manor house on the coast. Everything else spiraled out from there in the planning stage – which is funny when I look back on it, because the characters soon came to feel like real people to me, and yet they only came to life once the other elements were in place.
I loved Summerbourne. I love old homes in general—and then you placed it on a seaside cliff in England—swoon! Can you tell us more about that estate? Is it purely fictional or does it have some roots in reality?
It’s purely a product of my imagination, although I’m sure my subconscious stitched it together from all sorts of English country houses I’ve visited with my family over the years. I moved home a lot when I was growing up, and I wanted to explore the concept of having strong emotional roots in a place – something I’ve never experienced – so I needed Summerbourne to be the sort of house you could fall in love with, almost a character in its own right. I’m so glad you liked it!
There are a good deal of characters in THE AU PAIR—and I know this is a tough question—but is there anyone (or two) you felt a particular affection for? Was there anyone you had difficulty embracing?
I didn’t think about this aspect while writing the story, but with hindsight I do have a special fondness for Ruth. We only really see Ruth through Laura’s eyes, but it’s enough to give glimpses of both sides of her – the moody, mercurial, headache-claiming side, but also the incredibly strong woman who perseveres in trying to do the right thing for her little boy despite suffering a heart-breaking loss, and in the face of villagers gossiping that she doesn’t behave like a ‘real mother’. Poor Ruth!
I didn’t struggle writing any of them though – I’m fond of them all, despite their sometimes questionable actions!
‘Entrancing, compelling, atmospheric, reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier. A beautiful read that delivers a shocking and satisfying ending’
–Liv Constantine, bestselling author of The Last Mrs Parrish
What kind of writer are you? Do you carefully plot and cogitate or do you let the pen (muse?) guide you? Maybe a little of both?! Did anything surprise you?
I like to believe I’m a careful plotter right up until the point I actually start writing, and then I remember it’s never that simple and I see where my typing fingers take me!
I understand you were first a veterinarian, but always wanted to write. Can you tell us a bit about your transition from vet to author? In terms of writing and securing an agent, what do you think you did right and what do you wish you had known before?
Yes, I worked as a veterinarian for over eighteen years, but I always had a desire to write fiction. I have three children too, and I found it impossible to juggle all three roles – mother, veterinarian and writer. I reached a point, after turning forty, where I decided it was now or never – I had to give writing a go, or I’d never know if I could do it. I left my vet job and threw myself into writing full time, and I discovered that I loved it. I’m so glad I took the leap!
I did as much research as I could into finding an agent (all online) and I took the submission process very seriously. I submitted the manuscript of THE AU PAIR to fifteen agents, and since they all asked for something slightly different (different numbers of pages or chapters, different length synopses) it took me about two weeks just to send them all off. What do I wish I’d known before? I agonised over writing ‘perfect’ synopses, but I think agents just take a quick look at them to see the overall shape and outcome of the story – it’s the writing in the manuscript that really counts.
What’s next for you? Are you working on another novel?
I certainly am! It’s about a girl growing up at an isolated former artists’ colony, who’s always been warned that outsiders are not to be trusted, and it’s about the two sisters who went to live at that artists’ colony seventeen years earlier, and the secret that one of them has guarded ever since.
What question should I have asked, but may have forgotten?
I think you’ve covered the important stuff! People sometimes ask me if I’ve ever worked as an au pair, and I have to say no… But I did go off to live with farmers’ families for weeks at a time from the age of fifteen, to gain work experience for vet school, so I do have an inkling of how it feels to arrive all alone at a big house and to try to make yourself useful without getting into trouble!
Emma, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you for taking the time.
I enjoyed it too, Leslie, thank you.
For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE AU PAIR, please see:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Emma grew up in England, Indonesia, Kuwait, Portugal and Fiji, and from a young age she had two ambitions: to write stories, and to look after animals. She studied veterinary medicine and zoology at the University of Cambridge, then worked as a small animal veterinary surgeon for eighteen years before switching to full time writing in 2016. Emma lives in Cambridgeshire, England, with her husband and three sons.
The Au Pair is her first novel. It will be published in ten countries, in nine languages. She is currently writing her second book.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
- Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
- Instagram: @LeslieLindsay1
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[Cover and author image courtesy of Berkley and used with permission. Artistic photo of cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram: @LeslieLindsay1]