Ask Rose Edmunds what she does for a living and the answer is immediate and unequivocal: "I’m a novelist." It’s a simple response that says so much more. It confirms that she has closed the door on her 22-year career as a tax accountant.
I was surrounded by people who were creating businesses from scratch and I felt a need to give my life a shake, to do something creative
"Writing novels is my job now, it’s what I do for six hours a day so yes, I do feel the accountancy is in the past," she says. "I felt that I’d changed career, that I was an author, from the first day I started writing after leaving Deloitte. But now my book’s been published it’s also how others see me. I think that previously people would put a silent ‘would-be’ before the word writer when I told them what I was up to. But that perception has shifted now."
What Edmunds has been dreaming of, and working on, for the past couple of years is Never Say Sorry. It’s a pacey crime thriller about the existence of a natural cure for cancer, a global pharmaceutical company that suppresses it, a scientist who threatens to reveal all if he’s not paid off, a corporate financier who stands to gain from a massive deal involving the pharma giant, and a journalist who senses a career-making scoop if she can knit the strands together.
Clearly not based on personal experience then? "Goodness, no," says Edmunds. "Though everyday situations and people and conversations are sometimes springboards for ideas. And I admit that a couple of the things Hugo, the corporate financier, says are things I heard from members of my own team.
"He’s not based on any one person in particular but that doesn’t stop people I know speculating about where my characters come from. One of my former colleagues is convinced he’s Hugo. But I couldn’t possibly comment."
Though she enjoyed writing stories as a teenager, she read maths at Sussex University. "It was the easy option for me with my analytical skills," she says. "And I knew I’d probably get a career out of it."
Adding up the numbers
She graduated with a first and spent a year in the US working as a mathematics researcher before returning to the UK to do a PhD at Cardiff University on entropy numbers, approximation numbers and embeddings. It sounds gruelling but Edmunds says she didn’t find it so, even though while working on her doctorate she was also taking her accountancy exams. And having a baby. Her son was born in 1988 between the two main sets of accountancy exams.
"I just made time for it all," she says. "After starting my doctorate I realised I didn’t want a life in academia, so I had a think about what would suit me and came up with tax. I liked working with figures, solving problems and working logically and tax offered all of these."
She joined Andersen in 1985 and by the time she returned from maternity leave she was ready to qualify. Her competence was such that she was allowed to do so despite not having done the requisite hours of work experience between parts one and two of her exams.
Edmunds left Andersen in 1989 when the combination of childcare and the commute from Brighton to London became too much. She did a few years with a firm in Haywards Heath and then joined Grant Thornton, which promoted her to tax partner and gave her the specialist tax practice to run.
"Setting up the tax division was enormously stimulating," she says, "and it was great watching it become successful. I wasn’t looking to change job but I was headhunted by Deloitte in 2001 – and I loved what they offered me so I went."
She had a "terrific" six years as tax partner with Deloitte, co-ordinating corporate, shareholder and employee tax-planning strategies, taking clients through critical development stages and advising on company sales and flotations.
But by the end of 2007 the constant contact with risk-taking entrepreneurs who were always pushing to turn their ambitions into reality got her thinking.
"I developed this thirst to do something different," says Edmunds. "I was surrounded by people who were creating businesses from scratch and I felt a need to give my life a shake, to do something creative."
Writing had been a niggling thought in her mind for years but the timing had never been right: exams, career, family, career, career, career. But with a healthy sum in the bank and her son grown up, the time suddenly became right.
"I’d had so much to do I couldn’t find space to apply myself to it properly. I didn’t want to do it part time, snatching minutes here and there to scribble a few paragraphs," she says. "The only way it would work for me would be to stop being an accountant and start being an author.
I left Deloitte in December 2007, took the time I would have had off for Christmas and started writing on what would have been my first day back at work."
She’s clearly highly disciplined. "It’s true, I’m not a procrastinator," she says. "Besides, giving up such a generous salary was a powerful motivator to get on with it." She finished her first book – also a crime thriller – by the middle of 2009. But she felt she could do better and set to work immediately on Never Say Sorry.
Ten drafts and 18 months later that too was finished. But far from waiting by the letterbox to catch rejection letters, she did her research, chose a publisher she thought would take her book and bingo: Book Guild Publishing took her on. She hopes to have her next book for them finished by the middle of next year.
Edmunds chose crime thrillers as her genre because it’s what she most enjoys reading. While she admires Stieg Larsson and Patricia Cornwell, mutilated bodies and forensic analysis are not what she writes about. She’s more interested in conspiracies and cover-ups, how good people sometimes do bad things to protect their interests. That’s why she’s such a fan of John Grisham, John Le Carré and Dick Francis, master storytellers who deal more in skullduggery than skull bashing.
"People who like reading Grisham may enjoy my work," she says, "though my style is lighter and more humorous. I want to keep a few laughs in my books to keep it fun for me and my readers. That’s why I don’t sweat the planning stage too much. Once I’ve got my plot I start writing."
Is there anything she misses about her old job? "My clients and the camaraderie of being part of a team. And that I was considered an expert in my field so people valued my opinion," she says. "But I’m getting some of that back. I’m meeting lots of people, setting up new networks and last week I was invited onto a panel with other published authors to take questions from new writers. That was brilliant. In fact it’s all brilliant."