She left school to act in the TVNZ drama Open House, and trained at the New Zealand Drama School, but it turned out she made a better waitress than an actress.
In 1993 she studied creative writing in Bill Manhire’s class at Victoria University. Her first story was published in Sport at the end of that year.
In 1994 Emily moved to London, where Picador published her first book in 1996. Her novels "Leave Before You Go" and "The New Girl" followed, and as well as fiction, book reviews and personal essays she wrote a long-running column for the Independent on Sunday.
She returned to New Zealand in 2005 and in 2006 held the "Buddle Findlay Frank Sargeson Fellowship". In 2011 she was made an "Arts Foundation Laureate". Her new book is "The Forrests", published by Bloomsbury in May this year.