Rowe, born in Sydney, Australia, was raised with two younger brothers on Sydney's North Shore. She attended the Abbotsleigh School for Girls, on the upper North Shore of Sydney. She attained her Master of Arts in English Literature at the University of Sydney in 1973. Her first job was assistant editor at Paul Hamlyn publishing. She later worked at Angus and Robertson Publishers where she remained for fourteen years as Editor, Senior Editor, Managing Director, Deputy Publisher and finally Publisher. During this time she began writing children's books under the pseudonym Emily Rodda (her grandmother's name). Her first book, Something Special, was published in 1984 and won the Australian Children's Book Council Book of the Year for Younger Readers Award. She has now won that award a record five times.
From 1984 to 1992, Rowe continued her career in publishing, then as Editor of the Australian Women's Weekly, while writing novels in her 'spare time'. In 1994 Rowe became a full-time writer. She now divides her working day between consultancies for book publishers and her own writing. She lives in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, Australia with her husband.