Crime authors spill their guts about writing...

This week: Shalini Boland

Tell us about yourself.

How do you pick character names? Do any have special meaning to you? 

I'm a mum of two boys and I love to write dark stories. Writing suits my personality as I like my own company. I'm often to be found sitting on the sofa in my pyjamas, laptop or notebook in hand, a forgotten cup of tea on the table, fencing questions from children, and ignoring the mess around me. Occasionally, I will get dressed and go out...

The name has to fit the character perfectly, or I can't write it. I try to steer clear of names of people I know. However, I have been known to give the bad guys similar names to people from my past who may have upset me – I probably shouldn't have admitted to that.

How do you go about plotting your book?

I used to take an idea and fly by the seat of my pants but I would often end up writing myself into a corner and giving myself writer's block. As a consequence, I now meticulously plan my stories, spending time spinning the plot, and then planning each chapter. I make separate documents for character traits/personalities and I also have a timeline I can refer to. This has made writing so much more of a pleasure.

Research: do you find it fascinating or laborious? How do you conduct your research?

I usually dread the idea of research as it takes away from my writing time. But when I actually get into the research part, I end up enjoying it and spending more time than I need to reading around the subject. I'm always paranoid about getting facts wrong, especially now I've started writing thrillers. It can really take you out of a story if there's a glaring factual error. Luckily, I know two wonderful police officers who are generous with their time and will let me know if something isn't working.

How easy/hard was it to get your first break?

I don't think I necessarily got 'a break'. I just kept forging away, writing and (hopefully) improving until word of mouth began to work,and more people began buying my books. I publish independently, using professional people to help me – book-cover designers, editors etc. So most readers don't realise my books aren't put out by a big publisher. My YA books did fairly well, selling in the thousands, but it wasn't until I released my first thriller that things started really taking off.

How has your writing style developed over time? And the way that you approach writing?

My writing style has changed so much since releasing my first novel five years ago. I plot my novels carefully now, rather than winging it. I've also learnt more about the craft of writing. Pace, tension, foreshadowing, all those things I initially crafted instinctively, now I have more of a handle on them and purposely build them into my plots. I like to think my ideas have always been strong, but that now the execution of those ideas has improved.

What book do you wish you had written? 

There are quite a few books I've read and wished I had written: The Bronze Horseman trilogy, Life of Pi, Shadow of the Wind. Those great big epic tales that are beautifully written and stay with you afterwards.

If you could be a character in any book, including one of your own, who would you be? 

 I would be Ayla from The Clan of the Cavebear. I've always wanted to be physically strong and totally self sufficient. To be able to live off the land and not need 'stuff'. In reality, I'm reliant on my creature comforts – a warm house, a good book and a cosy bed.

What scene in your latest book did you most enjoy writing? And why?

There's are scenes in The Best Friend where it seems as though one character is messing with her victim, subtly undermining her and taking apart her life, but you're not sure if she's actually doing this or if it's in the victim's head. Those were great scenes to craft, as they almost seemed to write themselves. I do enjoy getting inside the heads of crazy characters. Not sure what that says about me!

What’s the best and worst thing about being an author? 

The best thing is being able to create characters and worlds and see them take shape. To have readers contact me and say they were transported into that world and that they enjoyed the experience. The 

worst thing is the time, sweat and tears it takes to get there. I usually fall ill after I release a book as I put so much of myself into each one. I also worry about the fact that I'm never going to please every reader. But I'm getting better at accepting that.

A twisted promise means murder.

Describe your current work in progress in five words.