New Zealand writer Nalini Singh tells Stephen Jewell how she began writing as a teen and never looked back.
For years, Nalini Singh has been one of New Zealand literature's best-kept secrets. Despite regularly featuring in the New York Times' best-seller list, the 33-year-old Aucklander's books have not been widely available in her homeland. That will surely not be the case for much longer, as British science-fiction imprint Gollancz has secured her considerable oeuvre - two dozen books - for the Commonwealth market.
"People were still reading my books in New Zealand but they had to order them from overseas," says Singh from Florida, where she is in the middle of a month-long American tour. "They weren't able to just walk into a bookstore and pick them up."
Born in Fiji, the former Mt Roskill Grammar student has always aspired to become a successful author. "When I was a teenager, I started to experiment with writing novels," she recalls. "My first few attempts were kind of stop-start as I'd do a bit but it wasn't quite right so I'd move on. After I finished high school, I had a couple of months off until university, so I realised it was my chance to write a full novel. I sent it off to some publishers and it was rejected very fast. But I was really proud of how I'd written an entire book. I'd done it once so I knew I could do it again, so I just kept going."
Singh submitted several manuscripts to Diane Greco from American publishers Silhouette, who sent her encouraging replies before eventually accepting her first novel, Desert Warrior, in 2003. While her first few books were traditional romances, her big break arrived after she began combining love stories with fantasy elements in 2006's Slave To Sensation. The first instalment in the Psy/Changeling series, it was bought by Berkley Books after a feverish auction.
"I read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy along with romance and thrillers while I was growing up," says Singh. "I liked books that would take you out of this world. Even though I wrote contemporary romances when I first started being published, I was also writing paranormal romances. I just hadn't found a story that was really strong and that sang to me."
Singh is happy to be included in paranormal romance's burgeoning ranks, dominated by authors like Terry Spear and Nora Roberts. "When people ask me what I write, I say I'm a romance writer because I love that whole relationship thread," she says. "But at the same time, people also call me an urban fantasy writer, which is fine because there's a lot of world-building in the books. Labels are good for alerting people to what sort of story it is but at the same time I'm happy for people to find me through either the sci-fi or romance side."
Set in a dystopian near future, the Psy/Changeling series centres around the conflict between the ruling telepaths and the downtrodden shapeshifters.
"I'd read a lot of stories about werewolves and I'd noticed it tends to be quite a painful and unwanted experience," says Singh. "I thought it might be really great to turn into a leopard or a wolf and have this whole other form you can take on. With my characters, there's no separation between their human and animal forms. They're completely happy and whole in themselves."
Despite their similar mix of teenage angst and gothic horror, Singh was not influenced by Stephenie Meyer, whose 2005 début, Twilight, was published a year before Slave To Sensation.
"I'd already written the book by that stage," says Singh, who was equally unaware of Charlaine Harris' series, which HBO later turned into True Blood. "Even though those stories have recently achieved prominence, they've been around for a long time. So the inspiration was always there rather than coming from anything that's already out there."
Kiss Of Snow, her new novel, brings the burgeoning affair between alpha wolf Hawke and precocious Psi Sienna to an explosive head. "In terms of their relationship arc, there's a big age difference, which has kept them apart until now," says Singh.
"There's also a building political tension that's starting to result in violence between the different groups. The series started with the Psis in charge but the Changelings have been growing in power. We're building towards a final confrontation and you're going to get a new balance of power in the world. In this book, a big shift happens and lines are drawn in the sand."
With only another three or four books remaining, Singh is anticipating bringing the whole saga to a dramatic close. "I've always had an end in sight, which has helped me write a stronger series because everything has always been leading towards that," she says.
"I've always said there will be an end to the story arc but then I'd like to write some spin-off stories that wouldn't necessarily fit into the main storyline. So if people want to stop at the end, they will get the satisfaction of that ending but if they want to still explore the world they can pick up the tangent stories."
In the meantime, the ever-prolific Singh will release Archangel's Blade, the fourth Guild Hunter book, in September. "I've always wanted to fly, which I thought would be awesome," she says of the series that pits vampire hunter Elena Deveraux against the Archangel Raphael in modern-day New York. "I didn't intend to start another series but I just started writing it. I had this really powerful idea so I ran with it."
Kiss of Snow (Gollancz $34.99) is out now. Nalini Singh is speaking at the Takapuna Library on Tuesday at 6pm. Tickets $5, ph (09) 486 8469.