It’s probably pretty obvious to my readers by now that I’m a huge fan of Angry Robot Books and their YA imprint, Strange Chemistry. Well, good news for suspense/mystery fans, ’cause they’ve got a new imprint and it’s called Exhibit A Books! Yep, the new imprint will start dropping titles in late April and early May. As it happens, Emlyn Rees has taken on editing duties for Exhibit A, but he’s also a thriller writer (Hunted, and more.) Emlyn was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about writing, editing, and more!
Please welcome him to the blog!
From your bio, I get the impression you had some pretty wild times in your 20s, traveling around Asia! Will you tell us a bit about that and what inspired you to write your first novel? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I did have a fun time travelling in my 20s. As well as my fair share of backpacking and full moon parties, I got stung by a scorpion, chased by a pack of wild dogs and ripped off for fake jewels. There was a recession on at the time and no real jobs to be found for an arts grad like myself, so I used fund my various trips by working for big party companies in London, getting spray painted gold to waiter at film premieres, where I’d fix cocktails for the people like Stallone and Willis.
Working nights left me plenty of time in the day with nothing to do and that’s when I started writing seriously for the first time. Having tried to get short stories published before and having failed, I started on a thriller called The Book of Dead Authors, about a serial killer who was going round London executing famous writers – I think it was a kind of jealous wish-fulfillment thing going on!
I then got a temp job on working reception for the London literary agency Curtis Brown, and then pestered them and generally made myself useful until they offered me a job as an assistant. One of my duties was to write readers reports for the agents on unsolicited manuscripts. As soon as I finished Dead Authors, I sent it in under a pseudonym and ‘found’ it on the slush pile and wrote a stunning report, recommending it to Jonny Geller, one of the agents there. He finally read it and said he didn’t quite agree with my assessment that it was ‘the best thriller ever written’, but he was intrigued enough to want to get the author in. At which point, of course, I had to admit that the author was me. I was lucky. Jonny saw the funny side of it and took me on.
Even better, he sold the book to Headline. And that’s how my professional career as a writer began
Why crime fiction? What do you like most about the genre?
I do see myself as a crime writer now, but of the ten books I’ve written, only the first two and the most recent (Hunted) are crime novels. In between, I wrote seven rom coms with Josie Lloyd. I met her when I was interviewed with her for a piece on debut novelists for the Guardian and we went out afterward and got a little drunk. I had something of a crush on her and so – drunkenly and, yes, cheesily – after talking about how single we were and making each other laugh, I asked her if she’d like to write a book with me. I sent her a chapter, written from a guy’s point of view, a couple of weeks later, taken up to the point where he turns round to a girl in a club and asks her name. Jo then sent me back a chapter in reply written from a girls’s POV. We got lucky. These two chapters got auctioned and Jo and I ended up writing together full time for the next ten years, along with getting married and having three kids too. The point being, I nearly stopped being a crime writer altogether. Some things you can’t keep down, though, and I started writing short thriller stories again. And that’s where Danny Shanklin, the protagonist of Hunted, came from. What I missed most about writing crime, or more specifically thrillers, was the sheer adrenalin buzz of it all. A good thriller is all about escalation, about pouring more and more petrol on a fire. It’s like you’re allowed to make a big Hollywood movie with an unlimited budget. A case of egomania and creativity combined. What kind of writing could be more fun that that?
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
For style, Cormac McCarthy, who – and I don’t care what anyone else thinks about this – is at core a brilliant thriller writer. For wit, Elmore Leonard. For pace, Harlan Coben.
If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, The Magus by John Fowles or, more recently, The Passage by Justin Cronin.
What book (s) are you reading now?
All the books being sent to me by agents. Crime and thrillers. The more cinematic the better.
In addition to author, you now wear an editor’s hat for Angry Robot Books’ brand new crime imprint, Exhibit A! Will you continue writing or will you just concentrate on editing for now?
Both. Though setting up the new imprint has taken up all of my time this year. I also have the sequel to Hunted to finish editing and hand in to my own editor.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
With my wife and my kids. Preferably down on the beach where I live here in Brighton. Or in the pub, with Jo, talking up plots and playing ‘what if?’.
What can we expect from you and Exhibit A in the coming months?
We’re launching our first two paperbacks in the UK and US in May – Richard Parker’s Scare Me and Dan O’Shea’s Penance. Richard’s is a extremely high concept stand-alone thriller and Dan’s is a brilliant Chicago-based cop thriller, and the start of what’s going to be a compelling new series. We’ve then a book a month coming out, with wide and varied premises and setting, from Asia to Victorian London and New York. The only commonalities between them, I hope, are originality and pace. I really want them to blow readers away.