Interview With Novelist Emily Winslow

I’m happy to introduce Emily Winslow to the blog.

Winslow is an American novelist living in Cambridge, England. Her novels of literary psychological suspense, The Whole World and The Start of Everything, are set there, and are published in the US by Delacorte Press and in the UK by Allison and Busby. Art Taylor of The Washington Post writes, “[Winslow is] brilliant at portraying the ragged fragments of these lives. What emerges isn’t a single killer with motive and means, but a tangle of stories crossing and colliding, stray intersections of incidents and accidents, misunderstandings, and misreadings, all thanks to the myopia of individual perspectives and the self-centeredness of individual desires.” International bestselling author Sophie Hannah calls Emily “a precise and expert analyst of the darkest parts of the human psyche.” Learn more at

Emily Winslow

Emily Winslow

Let’s start at the beginning. Was there a moment you realized you wanted to become a writer?

Loving to read is probably the first step for all good writers. My parents, our local library (children’s section run by the inspiring Pamela Gosner), and school library (run by kind Mrs. Schwartz) surrounded me with good books. I can’t separate in my mind loving to read and loving to write. They were both there very early.

Your debut novel, The Whole World, was released in 2010. What prompted that story?

I started writing it shortly after moving from America to Cambridge, England. Living someplace so new and strange to me was inspiring. My previous attempts to write stories set in familiar places had always petered out. Settings that I knew too well were difficult to get a handle on. Being someplace where the differences were obvious gave me some traction.

How did you go about securing a publisher for that first book?

I sent cold query letters to agents. I received several rejections, and one request to see the full manuscript, which was very quickly followed by an offer of representation. I adore my agent, Cameron McClure of the Donald Maass Agency.


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The Start of Everything, by Emily Winslow

The Start of Everything, by Emily Winslow

Your second novel, The Start of Everything, was just released. Has the process been any easier the second time around?

Second novels (by which I mean second to be published) are notoriously difficult to write. While it’s comforting to have a publisher lined up, that is also a pressure. It can be very difficult to identify what in one’s first publishable novel made it “work.” Making that magic happen a second time, on command, is tricky. Once you’ve managed it, however, the third one can be easy!

Both of the novels are set in Cambridge. What appeals to you the most about this locale?

I’ve lived here seven years, and still find it fascinating. It has more than 800 years of history, and many of those centuries-old traditions are still enacted. The University attracts an ever-changing population of dedicated specialists in every field, from music to science. I don’t think I will ever get bored here.

Both novels also incorporate multiple narrators—in fact, both feature five narrative voices. Could you share what you like about multiple narratives?

I originally trained as an actor, so I find it natural to write in different voices. What I like psychologically is how fragmented the truth can be, based on who is observing. Two people can share an experience but interpret it very differently. Those differing views can cause problems, even between characters who are both trying to do the right thing. I find that interesting.

As an author of two mystery novels now, what do you think is the most important element of writing a good mystery?

Obviously one needs an interesting, satisfying answer to the central mystery at the end. What’s not so obvious is making all the theories of the case along the way—the dead ends and faulty assumptions—equally interesting.

On your website, you mention your interest in architecture. Does this interest in architecture help inspire your stories?

What I enjoy about architecture is that, unlike nature (which I of course also appreciate), it represents human choices. Every structure implies influences, resistances, decisions… in short, stories. The architecture of Cambridge is very present in my books.

On your website, I also noticed you reach out to book groups. Can you explain what you do to connect with your readers?

I’ve had the pleasure of sitting in on a number of book club meetings while they discuss my books. It’s gratifying to hear readers passionately discuss my characters’ choices, arguing for and against what they’ve done. The characters are very real to me, and it’s a thrill to see them be real for others. I’m also happy to answer questions by e-mail or participate via Skype or conference call.

What has been the biggest surprise of your writing career to this point?

Probably the start of it. I was in Germany when my now-agent e-mailed to schedule a call offering representation. The flat we were in in Berlin had little privacy, no Internet, and no ability to phone out (only receive calls in). My husband called from home to let me know about the e-mail and I had to ask him to reply back that I would be able to talk when I returned to England in ten days. Those were a long ten days, full of fantastical hopes and also the dread that in that time the agent would realize that she was crazy to want to represent me and change her mind.

What’s been your best experience as a writer to this point?

Writing the third book! It gets easier and much more fun.

If you could pass on only one piece of advice for other novelists just getting started on their journey, what would it be?

Don’t let your desire to “get your book out there” overwhelm your good judgment. Research publishers and agents carefully. Self publishing can be the right choice, but it can also be something you regret years later when your writing has improved. Remember, if you want to “be a writer,” this is not your only book.


Thank you, Emily, for participating in this interview!

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