Interview with Nalini Singh, the New York Times bestselling author
Nalini Singh is the New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and international bestselling author of the Psy-Changeling, Guild Hunter, and Rock Kiss series. Born in Fiji and raised in New Zealand, she was first published in 2003. Her books have sold over seven million copies worldwide and have been translated into more than twenty languages, including German, French, Japanese, and Turkish. Her most recent releases are: ‘Alpha Night’, ‘Archangel’s Sun’, and ‘Quiet in Her Bones’. Her next release is ‘Last Guard’ (coming July 2021).
This special double interview for Storyfest also includes fascinating insights from Nalini’s assistant, her sister Ashwini.
They are interviewed by Lolita Parekh, a first-year student at Middlesex University, studying BA in Creative writing and Journalism.
Lolita: Hi Nalini, thank you for engaging with us in this interview. This year’s theme at the Story Festival is Transformation. As budding writers, we have (many) questions about the writing process and how writers create something spectacular! You went from romance and paranormal romance to thrillers with Quiet in her bones, out in February 2021. What difficulties have you encountered in this change of genre? Have you found anything easier?
Nalini: In writing terms, it’s not a question of easier or harder, more of difference in terms of structure. When I write the thrillers, my focus has to be on the thriller plot element, while when I write romance, it’s the protagonists’ romantic relationship that drives the story. Interestingly, these are not rules set in stone – my Guild Hunter series, for example, straddles a lot of genres and as such, also straddles genre conventions.
In terms of finding an audience – that is harder, because thriller is a new genre for me to publish in, but that was also true when I went from only publishing paranormal romance to doing some contemporary romances. Any shift in genre (or sub-genre) means a shift in the audience – I know some of my readers will follow me, while others won’t, while new readers will also find me.
Lolita: Out of all your series, which do you feel was most easy to write, and why?
Nalini: My answer is very similar to my answer to the first question: it’s not a question of hard or easy, but simply of difference. I love how different my series are, and how they stretch my writing muscles in unique ways.
I also find it very rejuvenating to go from one to the other. It always feel new and exciting to return to a world I haven’t worked in for months.
Lolita: Your shifters go through a physical transformation in the Psy-Changeling series. What attracted you and made you choose shapeshifters rather than vampires or other supernatural creatures, despite all the stories already out there?
Nalini: I do also write vampires and other types of beings now, but at the time I began to write the Psy-Changeling series, I hadn’t been able to find a series where shapeshifters enjoyed being shapeshifters. It was often a thing of pain, or a curse dependent on the moon or another external factor, but I had the thought that being able to have two forms would be amazing. And so my changelings were born—they’re at home in both their skins, and both parts of them exist no matter whether they’re in their animal or their human form. There is a wild joy in them.
Lolita: Through the whole process of writing and getting your story to your readers, is there anything in particular that you wish you didn’t have to do?
Nalini: I’m lucky that I have an amazing assistant who does the heavy lifting in terms of necessary admin, but there are still a few things I have to handle which can interrupt my writing day. I appreciate that it’s all part of being a writer, and I love being a writer, so I get on with it—but I do cherish those uninterrupted days where it’s just me and the story.
Lolita: You send short stories to your fans via your newsletter – do you write those for that purpose or are they part of your manuscript that you cut out at an editorial stage?
Nalini: The short stories or vignettes are written specifically for the newsletter, since they need to have a resolution or satisfying ending. I do also, however, sometimes share deleted scenes – but they’re labelled as such and don’t follow the same structural requirements as a short story or vignette.
At first, I used to write those shorts just for myself, to catch up with the characters, until I realized readers might also want to see them.
Lolita: Managing your time: how do you work on multiple projects?
Nalini: Usually by making sure:
1. they’re different types of projects (eg. one paranormal, one contemporary, or one romance, one thriller); and
2. they’re also at different stages. For example, working on a first draft in the morning and a third draft in the afternoon, works far better for me than trying to do two first drafts at once.
3. I also sometimes switch how I write for different projects – I might dictate words on one, type or handwrite on another.
Working on multiple projects is also a necessary skill once published. Edits, revisions, proofs, they all come in throughout the year, and I have to be able to switch my attention from my work in progress to turn those around within the allocated timeframe, then get back to my WIP.
I’ll note that I don’t always work on multiple WIPs at once. It just depends, on so many factors!
Lolita: If you had one golden tip to give budding writers, what would it be?
Nalini: Focus on the writing first and foremost. Don’t think about who will read it or who will buy it. Those questions are for after you’re done. When working on a project, focus on the story.
I’ll add a bonus tip – if you can, write in isolation (without feedback) for at least some time. That’s how you develop your own voice as a writer. It’s much harder to do if you’re constantly listening to other people’s voices/recommendations. It can really muddy things up for a budding writer, especially if you’re getting feedback from people who are very “loud”. You can end up writing their voice instead of your own. Feedback too early can also make you second-guess yourself at a time when you need to just be focusing on the story you want to tell.
The time to ask for and listen to critical feedback is after you know who you are as a writer - that way, you can make choices about what you change/don’t change in a way that reflects your writing and voice.
Lolita: Thank you so much for these fantastic answers Nalini. We’ve also got some questions for your amazing assistant, Ashwini.
Q&A with Nalini’s super assistant, Ashwini:
Lolita: Hi Ashwini, thank you so much for taking the time to answer questions for us. Can you explain what you do and how it helps Nalini shape her work?
Ashwini: The work I do is pretty varied. I help out with social media, liaise with readers, help with scheduling interviews and events, and assist her at book signings. I also do a lot of typing when Nalini’s working on a new book (she likes to print out the draft and then hand-write changes, which I then have to enter), and I also proof-read manuscripts.
I wouldn’t say I shape the book or story, more that by doing things such as entering the line changes, I give Nalini more time to work on the story. And in the proof-reading stage, I can help her to catch any continuity/other errors which could affect the story.
Lolita: Nalini mentioned in one of her interviews that you’ve set up a ‘characters manifesto’ – can you tell us more about that?
Ashwini: For each series, I’ve created a file with information on all the characters, as well as any other details that Nalini might need to refer to when she’s working on a new story. This file is updated as each new book is released. This helps to maintain continuity in the books, which is really important with a series.
Lolita: Is there any tip about your job or the industry in general that you would tell your younger self if you could?
Ashwini: That there will always be something new to learn!
Lolita: Nalini mentioned on her website Q & A that she doesn’t work with a critic partner – are you her sounding board for her ideas and writing?
Ashwini: Sometimes Nalini does discuss aspects of a book, but it really depends on the book she’s working on at the time (being her sister, the conversations are very relaxed and often quite funny). And at the end of the day, the ideas and where the story will go are all Nalini’s. However, I will say that I have helped her come up with some of the titles.
Lolita: What’s your favourite book or genre?
Ashwini: I have quite a few favourite books, but the one that’s top of the list right now is a cookbook called Sweet Laurel, by Laurel Gallucci and Claire Thomas. This is a grain-free, dairy-free baking book that doesn’t use any processed ingredients. The recipes are very easy to follow but most importantly, the results are delicious! I would also highly recommend any of the Hummingbird Bakery cookbooks – all the recipes I’ve tried across all four of the books have been amazing.
And for a favourite genre, I’d have to say mystery/thriller. I’ve really enjoyed Nalini’s foray into this genre (A Madness of Sunshine and her latest release, Quiet in Her Bones). I’ve already requested that she should start working on the next one soon!
Lolita: Nalini has named one of her characters after you – is that who you’d see yourself as in the Guild hunter world? (Personally, I love Ash)
Ashwini: So this was a complete surprise, I didn’t know anything about it until I read Angels’ Blood! I don’t associate myself with any one character in the Guild Hunter world, more that aspects of different characters can resonate at different times. Having said that, Ash is pretty kickass and I love that we share the same name!
To find out more about Nalini Singh, please visit her website here: http://www.nalinisingh.com
Follow Lolita on twitter: @atlolis1989