Monday, 10 September 2012

Crawl Space welcomes Emlyn Rees

Emlyn Rees writes thrillers and comedies, including the Sunday Times bestseller, Come Together. If that’s not enough, he’s also the editor of Angry Robot’s crime imprint, Exhibit A, which is getting rave reviews in the publishing press. Welcome to Crawl Space, Emlyn!

A pleasure to be here - although it is a bit cramped...and these handcuffs do tend to chafe...

Q. Yes, they're on loan from Blackpool Dungeon... You wrote your first crime novel in your mid-20s then spent time writing comedies before you turned to thrillers. A natural circuit, or do you have a secret formula for success?

The older I get, the more I realise that you don’t get much choice in what you write. Books tend to choose you and not the other way round, depending on what your obsessions are at the time. Back in the 90’s, when I still had hair and smart phones didn’t render so many good plot strands untenable, I wrote one crime novel (The Book of Dead Authors) and one thriller (Undertow, which is being re-released by Constable & Robinson in a couple of months). My plan back then was to continue writing thrillers, which I was pretty much exclusively reading at the time, but then I met novelist Josie Lloyd. We got a tad squiffy in a bar one night and started telling each other far too much about our private lives and laughing about it. Then one of us (neither of us can remember who) came up with the idea of writing a “his/hers” view on modern relationships, which we’d tell in alternating “he said/she said” chapters. I sent Jo the first chapter a couple of weeks later and she sent one back. The book that came out of all this was Come Together. We were lucky in that it hit a chord with a lot of people and did very well, so much so that we ended up writing another six novels together - oh yeah, and getting married and having three kids too. All the time, though, I was writing thriller short stories and that’s where the character Danny Shanklin came from. It finally reached a point where he kind of demanded a full length novel of his own.

Q.  Tell us a bit about Danny Shanklin, the hero of your new thriller, Hunted. And maybe give us a sly spoiler for Wanted, your next book.

The thinking behind Danny Shanklin was always that I wanted him to be the one guy you would want on your side in a fight. But this was never going to be just about the fact that he’s very physically capable, it was also about wanting him to be morally the kind of guy you’d want on your side as well. I also wanted him to be realistic, meaning he’s not perfect and doesn’t always win in every situation he finds himself in. In fact, it’s very much the failures in his past and his desire to absolve himself that drives him. I’m in the process of tying up Wanted now and all I’ll say is this: not everyone makes it through till the end...

Q. Excellent, I love a downbeat ending. So, crime or thriller? Which rocks your boat, as a writer, reader and editor?

Ha. A tricky one. As an author, it’s got to be thriller (and I like the fact you refer to ‘crime’ and ‘thriller’ as separate sub-genres, because I really do think thrillers deserve their own spot). Writing a thriller is like driving a very fast car, with your foot pushing harder and harder down on the accelerator. It’s a buzz and one that’s highly addictive too. As a reader and editor, I consume all types of crime and thrillers. A well-constructed suspense novel can hook me in just as quickly as a chase thriller. I try to read as broadly as I can.

Q. Comedy question: I read on your blog that you mixed cocktails for Princess Anne and Sylvester Stallone. Which one had the Harvey Wallbanger? And what’s your favourite tipple?

Neither! Princess Anne does have special ice cubes, though, made out of Highland Spring Water. And why not? If one could, one would...

Q. That's posh for you... You’re the editor of Exhibit A. I can only imagine the heady power that comes with that role, given that you’re also a bestselling author. Have you ever been tempted to nobble the competition when it comes to new publishing deals?

I’d say privilege, rather than power. It’s a real kick to have been tasked with hunting out new talent for Exhibit A and there’s nothing more exciting than finding a new voice that you know plenty of other readers will be drawn to. But as far as ‘nobbling’ goes, I’m planning on steering well clear of that. The reverse is more likely, in fact, in that I’m often drawn to the kind of thrillers I write myself, whereas I want the Exhibit A list to be much broader in terms of its appeal to the crime reading community as a whole.

Q. That sounds like a good plan. In your role as editor, when was the last time you got really excited by a new manuscript – and what made it stand out from the crowd?

There’s not been a week gone by this year when I haven’t seen at least one exciting new novel. There are a lot of great UK writers out there looking to find a home at the moment. But Exhibit A is going to be publishing simultaneously in paperback as well as digital in the UK and US from next May, meaning that I get a lot of great US crime submissions too. My biggest problem is not finding books then, but choosing which ones to champion, because we’ll only be publishing fourteen books a year. We’re a commercial crime fiction imprint, focused on big ideas, big characters and, above all, big stories. And so whenever I spot something that ticks these boxes and, even better, is something I’ve never seen before, that’s when I really start to buzz.

Q. I'm envious of your job! Okay. Jason Bourne, James Bond and Danny Shanklin in a tube train loaded with Semtex. Who’d come out alive, and why?

Danny. No doubt about it. He’s a big boy scout at heart. Meaning he’s always prepared and would have already secretly snipped the bomb fuse before climbing aboard, and would only be using the continued threat of the train’s imminent explosion to sweat the other two into confessing which of them is a double agent...

Danny's my kind of guy. Thanks, Emlyn. See you in the bar at Bristol, or Harrogate.

Thanks. Make mine a scotch. And don’t skimp on the Highland Spring Water ice cubes.

Emlyn Rees’ Hunted is out in paperback now. Find out more at his website, here. Exhibit A publishes commercial crime novels. Check them out, here.


crimeficreader said...

A very enjoyable read, both. Thanks. I think we now need a pic of Emlyn 'when he had hair' to complete the circle.

Sarah Hilary said...

Thanks, Rhian. Yes, a photo of Emlyn with hair, mixing cocktails for Sylvester Stallone, please.