After a successful singer/songwriting career with Universal Music Publishing, author Shalini Boland is now carving out a new career in self-publishing. Both of her 2016 psychological suspense novels, The Girl from the Sea and The Best Friend are bestsellers, and I thought it would be a good idea to round off this year’s author interviews with Shalini to find out more about her journey to date…
What attracted you to writing in the crime/thriller genre? Was there a particular author that inspired you to do so after writing a dystopian series and a vampire series?
It wasn’t so much that I decided to write in this genre, but more to do with a flash of inspiration for a story. My son belongs to a rowing club in Christchurch, and I had the idea for a crime novel set around the club. I loved writing it, and the story was well received, so I decided to continue writing in the genre, and I’m having lots of fun with it.
What sort of research did you undertake for your latest novel? Do you have any skills that match those of your protagonists?
I live near the settings in my books, so no research was needed on that score other than a few days out to soak up the atmosphere around the beaches – hard work, I know, but someone’s got to do it. My main research was quizzing police officers about procedures and plot believability. Luckily I know two lovely officers who were extremely helpful and generous with their time. My protagonists are normal characters who get caught up in extraordinary/scary situations, so they have to navigate the justice system without skills – same as me!
Do you outline/plot, or do you prefer to start at the beginning and see where the story takes you? Why do you prefer this method of writing?
I used to be a ‘wait and see’ kind of writer, but now that I’ve started writing thrillers with twists and turns, I prefer to have my plot locked down tight from the outset. That way, I’m not in any danger of backing my characters into impossible situations they can’t get out of. Plus, it cuts down the chances of getting writer’s block. Once the plot is nailed, I can write my story with confidence.
What does your writing space look like? Do you have any pre-writing rituals to get you “in the zone”?
I write in our back room which gets lots of sunshine and looks out on the garden. I sit on the sofa with my netbook, a coffee by my side and my dog at my feet. The coffee table is usually piled up with notebooks and reference books to help me along. I have to tidy the room before I start writing. I can’t concentrate if there’s too much mess around me.
How do you structure a typical day to ensure you avoid distractions and hit your word count targets?
I start writing around 10am after I’ve taken the kids to school and done the morning chores. During this three-hour session, I’ll try to hit my word count or complete a scene. If I don’t manage to reach my target by lunchtime (usually due to a research issue or brain freeze), then I’ll try and fit in a writing session later that day. But, rather than having daily word counts, I prefer weekly word-count targets. That way, I can structure my week around my other work, my family’s needs – kids’ commitments etc.
“I think the main thing is to accept that you will occasionally hit those walls. Don’t beat yourself up about it, and hope that period of difficulty will pass.”
We all occasionally hit a brick wall with our creative endeavours – what do you do to overcome any stumbling blocks, and do your methods for this differ from when you were a singer/songwriter?
I’ve recently learned that I can’t write a new book without taking a break after the previous one. This year, I wrote three novels, one after the other, and I was ill for a month after finishing the last one. I did too much and didn’t give my brain a chance to rest. Now, instead of powering on without a chance to recharge, I’m allowing myself to take a break from writing in between books. I’m hoping this will keep my creativity fresh. I think the main thing is to accept that you will occasionally hit those walls. Don’t beat yourself up about it, and hope that period of difficulty will pass.
You’ve got a new release, The Best Friend, now available – can you tell us a bit about that?
It’s a psychological suspense thriller based on the nature of friendships, self-confidence and envy. Louisa has an ambitious husband, and is mother to seven-year-old Joe who’s just started at a swanky private school they can’t really afford. The school mums are little snooty, but then she is befriended by one of the mums – the wealthy and glamorous Darcy Lane. And so begins Louisa’s descent into paranoia as she feels her life disintegrating around her. Is she imagining things, or does her new best friend have it in for her?