As you might’ve heard, we’re running a new competition for writers under-represented in publishing with digital imprint, Bookouture, who are leading the eBook revolution amongst the publishing industry with various successes across its impressive commercial fiction list. Included is the very talented Shalini Boland, whose latest novel ‘The Perfect Family’ was released in November 2018…
Shalini, hello! Congratulations on your novel, or rather I should say novels, as you’ve written over a ton of them, including two series. How and when did you know you were going to be a writer and how did you begin your journey?
Hello, thanks so much. I always loved to write from a young age, but it wasn’t ever something I thought I could do for a living. The route I took to become a published author was a long and winding one, but I’ll do my best to condense it for you!
I did the ‘sensible’ thing and got a business degree, realising afterwards that business wasn’t something I wanted to go into. My passion at that time was actually singing and song writing. I ended up having some luck and signed a development deal with Universal Music Publishing. Although I had a few fun years earning a sort-of living, and working with some interesting and talented people, I never achieved any real success with it. I gave it up to start my family and thought that was that. But after a couple of years, I found that although I enjoyed working part time and being at home with my children, I missed the creativity of song-writing. So I began to write fiction, purely for my own entertainment.
It became a real passion and I would rather spend my evenings writing than watching TV – which, when you’re absolutely knackered after herding young children all day – is saying something. Six months later, I finished my first book, Outside, a post-apocalyptic novel set in the UK.
Cut to a few years after that, and about thirty rejections from various agents and publishers, I eventually decided to self-publish the two finished novels I’d written. To my surprise, they began to sell and I was able to earn a decent living for a few years, turning each of them into series which managed to gain a small but loyal following.
It wasn’t until I began writing psychological thrillers that my career really began to take off. And then, in 2017, I landed my first ‘proper’ publishing deal with Bookouture.
As the writer of both series and independent novels – how does the planning process differ in both forms?
My two series both started as standalone novels and it was only when readers began contacting me to ask for more that I decided to plan them out as series. Keeping the timelines straight was very important as the books skipped from past to present to future, with various characters meeting up at different times. So I had to create a series bible for each where I listed out characters, their ages, birth dates etc and how the various paths intersected. With each new book in the series, it became more complicated, but also great fun to create.
With my standalone thrillers, the plotting is more straightforward. I start with a hook – an idea that I think will make a compelling blurb. Once I’m happy with that, I expand on it and try to come up with the characters, setting, the main plot points and a nice juicy twist or two. Then, I plan out my chapters. Only once I’m happy that the story hangs together nicely, do I begin writing.
Your genre is psychological thrillers – what is it about this particular genre that appeals to you and as a writer (as well as a reader!), how do you think this particular genre has evolved over the past few years?
I didn’t set out to write psychological thrillers. I started out writing paranormal and post-apocalyptic YA. One day I had this great idea for a twist ending, but I knew it had to be written for the adult market, not for teens. The idea cried out to be written as a psychological thriller and so I thought I would give it a go. I was nervous and excited as this was a real departure for me and I wasn’t sure if I could do it justice. Once I started, I couldn’t stop the ideas flowing, and I managed to write and release The Girl from the Sea in four months. I loved every minute of writing that novel.
I think the reason this genre appeals is because there’s something delicious about reading a book where all is not what it seems. As a reader you can become a sleuth, trying to work out what’s really going on, or you can give yourself over to the lie and become swept up in it, allowing the twists to blindside you. I do enjoy reading action thrillers, but psych thrillers are all about the slow burn and tension.
Recently they’ve been experiencing a real resurgence due to the popularity of books like Gone Girl which have taken a classic genre and given it a contemporary reboot. I love the way the genre is focusing more on ordinary families and everyday situations, but giving them a sinister twist.
Continuing in this thread – psychological thrillers are in high demand and not just in books. There’s been an increasing number of successful TV programmes and box office hits. Do you have any particular favourites that have inspired you?
The obvious books and movies spring to mind, like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train which cleverly lead you down a path and then turn everything on its head. I also enjoyed the TV series Dr Foster which was brilliantly tense.
Your latest novel ‘The Perfect Family’ sounds intriguing – can you tell us a bit more about that?
It explores the notion that whenever you look at someone and envy their perfect life, you can bet that things are never as rosy as you think. The Perfect Family takes that idea and makes it even darker. It’s about a woman called Gemma who runs her own business and has a young family. The pressures of life begin to get on top of her so she looks for outside help in the form of Sadie Lewis, a nanny. Things deteriorate rapidly, but the situation is not what you might think…
It was of course, published by Bookouture, who certainly are leading the digital publishing revolution. Why do you think digital publishing is increasing so much in popularity and as a writer, why does this particular format appeal to you?
Digital publishing gave me my career. If it wasn’t for ebooks, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to bypass the publishing gatekeepers and forge my own writing path. The other fantastic thing about it is the speed and flexibility it offers. You can react to the market faster. Like I said earlier, I had an idea and was able to write, edit and publish in the space of four months. You can’t do this with traditional publishing as there’s an established system of doing things which takes more time and planning.
Bookouture was the only publisher I was prepared to give up my independence for. They are masters at what they do, treat their authors wonderfully, and I really can’t say enough good things…
We’re of course, really excited to be running this competition with Bookouture, to create opportunities for underrepresented writers in commercial fiction – what are your particular thoughts on this?
I think that for most people it’s a struggle to get to where you want to go. As I child, I had no role models who looked like me – British Asian. It’s taken me over twenty years to get here, and it still feels precarious, like I could lose it all at any minute. For underrepresented writers the struggle is harder than most – you may have the talent, but the opportunities are scarcer and the mountain feels higher.
Creating opportunities for writers whose diverse voices may be buried too far down to be heard, is a fabulous thing for you guys and for Bookouture to be doing, both for the writers and for all the people who will go on to become inspired by reading their words. It enriches our lives to read things with a different slant. It breaks the cycle, prevents society from stagnating and widens our world view. It allows young people to have role models who look and sound like them, giving them the knowledge that it’s possible for them to be the person they never thought they could become. Giving underrepresented authors a voice is good for everyone.
And finally, Shalini, what top tips do you have for aspiring writers out there?
If you truly want to write, then you have to do just that. Don’t talk about wanting to be a writer – actually sit down in a chair with your laptop or notebook and write. Doesn’t matter if you aren’t inspired that day or if you don’t know where to begin. If you’re stuck, observe something and write about it. That first paragraph might just trigger a novel or maybe you’ll delete it and start from scratch. Doesn’t matter. Just keep writing.
Also, read widely. Not just the genre in which you want to write, but all sorts – commercial fiction, classics, contemporary, historical. Read all of the books! And then, hopefully, someday soon, people will be buying and reading your books.
Thank you so much for chatting to me today. It’s been a real privilege 🙂