Last week I reviewed The Au Pair, a brilliant and atmospheric debut by British author Emma Rous. Today I am pleased to welcome Emma to Behind the Pen.
How would you describe The Au Pair if you could only use five words?
Uncertain identities and family secrets.
I love the contrast of the two family homes in The Au Pair. The city home being called Winterbourne while the country home is known as Summerbourne. Where did the inspiration to set up the houses like this come from?
I had an image of Summerbourne in my head right from the beginning – this big, rambling country house that’s been in the family (whose surname was originally Summerbourne) for generations. It was a while later that it occurred to me that a Summerbourne ancestor with a sense of humour might have named their London home Winterbourne – goodness knows how long that idea had been brewing in my subconscious before it popped up! I’m really glad you liked the contrast between the houses, thank you – Winterbourne is much more formal and sophisticated, but I still wanted it to be a place that the younger generation are fond of and feel safe in.
While we’re talking about inspiration, at the heart of The Au Pair is a complicated (and rather tragic) family mystery. Is this inspired by real events (historic or contemporary) that you’ve heard about or just a cracker of an imagination?
It wasn’t inspired by real events at all, but it may well have been influenced by my childhood love of stories involving identity-swaps, like Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, Mary Rodgers’ Freaky Friday and, of course (as I got older), Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley. I began by establishing exactly what happened on the day the twins were born, and then the rest of the story spiralled outwards from there.
Is any one character more of a favourite to you than the others?
I have a soft spot for Danny, actually, because he’s so laidback and kind, although I suspect his laziness would irritate me if he was my brother!
In terms of writing The Au Pair, did one timeline spring from your imagination more easily than the other?
I wouldn’t say either one was easier, but they felt very different to write. Laura’s chapters have a certain seasonal rhythm to them, because they cover her eleven months working at Summerbourne, from one summer to the next. Seraphine’s story takes place over just ten days (barring the epilogue), so her chapters felt much more adrenaline-fuelled.
The Au Pair
A tautly plotted mystery of dark family secrets, perfect for fans of Kate Morton.
Seraphine Mayes and her brother Danny are known as the summer-born Summerbournes: the first set of summer twins to be born at Summerbourne House. But on the day they were born their mother threw herself to her death, their au pair fled, and the village thrilled with whispers of dark-cloaked figures and a stolen baby.
Now twenty-five, and mourning the recent death of her father, Seraphine uncovers a family photograph taken on the day the twins were born featuring both parents posing with just one baby. Seraphine soon becomes fixated with the notion that she and Danny might not be twins after all, that she wasn’t the baby born that day and that there was more to her mother’s death than she has ever been told…
Why did their beloved au pair flee that day?
Where is she now?
Does she hold the key to what really happened?