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Daniel Pembrey Cooper

Daniel Pembrey Cooper went from business executive to best-selling author of the Harbour Master crime series. He tells us how his Edinburgh education influenced the decisions he has made in life.


Daniel Pembrey Cooper


Economic and Social History

Year of Graduation 1993
Daniel Pembrey Cooper

Your time at the University

I loved my degree course, which was Economic and Social History. So often history is taught ‘top down’ – bishops, battles, kings and queens. This was taught ‘bottom up’, in terms of the lives of ordinary people.

At the time, it was the only course of its kind in the UK. It helped to study in such a stunning, historic city.

One summer I spent working for the Edinburgh New Town Conversation Committee. Years later, I would have the privilege of interviewing crime writer (and fellow alumni) Ian Rankin, in the New Town’s Oxford Bar, where we discussed the ‘Jekyll and Hyde’-like symbolism of the Old and New Towns.

Back then, extracurricular activities for me were a typical mix of sports and drinking. I rowed stroke in a ‘four’, and can vividly recall our blades smashing through ice on the dark canal where we trained. The intra-mural squash team I played in was called ‘Court Short’. I did a decent amount of cross-country running, memorably round Arthur’s Seat. The weather was invariably miserable but it didn’t matter. The drinking that followed these pursuits found predictable expression in dinner parties, club balls, and full-on pub crawls for which I swear the Royal Mile was consciously planned out; this is where life-long friendships are formed.

My career has undergone a couple of major changes, and I do sometimes wonder whether the curiosity instilled in me during my degree course is responsible.

Daniel Cooper

Tell us about your experiences since leaving the University

My career has undergone a couple of major changes, and I do sometimes wonder whether the curiosity instilled in me during my degree course is responsible.

I set off down a very competitive path – the graduate trainee programme at a City merchant bank, leaving to do an MBA at INSEAD, then eschewing banking to join a fledgling company in Seattle selling books through the computer, only known for losing money at that time. Amazon offered several careers in one, or so it felt when – after 10 years there – I finished up as a director of business development putting together partnerships with other big retailers such as Marks & Spencer. I took a sabbatical to try my hand at creative writing, landing in an artist’s residency in Northern New Mexico. It turned out that creative writing wasn’t as easy as it looked and the sabbatical kept getting extended, but I did eventually return to Amazon – in its Kindle business, in Luxembourg of all places. There, I saw how e-books were transforming the ability of authors to earn a living, and so I left Amazon again, at the end of 2013, to become a full-time writer.

I write under my middle name – Pembrey – and among other endeavours, I’ve developed a detective series set in Amsterdam, The Harbour Master, which has sold almost 75,000 copies so far. The second installment in the series, Night Market, has just been released. Separately I write feature articles for newspapers and magazines including the Weekend FT, the Guardian, the Independent and the Field, on a wide range of topics. I like the rhythm of writing to near-term deadlines (novels can take years); it harkens back to those university essays. I can’t imagine another career change now, but never say never.

Alumni wisdom

I met an unconventional businessman in Taos, Northern New Mexico – successful, bearing an uncanny physical resemblance to Dennis Hopper – and he gave me some timely career advice: “Before you climb too far up the ladder, make sure it’s against the right wall.”


Read about Daniel's new book 'Night Market' in April 2017's Alumni Bookshelf.