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Once upon a career change

06 June 2017 - By Kate Geenty

Former Auckland lawyer Nalini Singh gave up her day job to pursue a writing career – with spectacular results. She’s gone from toiling away on resource management cases to writing international bestsellers about sexy vampires and angels, hitting the New York Times bestsellers list on the way.

Writing was always Nalini’s first love, but she thought it was something that would remain a hobby rather than a full-time career. “For a long time I didn’t actually know anyone who was a writer, so the idea of actually being able to make a living as a writer was not something I thought was possible.”

Head and shoulders photo of Nalini Singh

Instead, she decided to embark on a career in law, thinking it would still give her an outlet to indulge her love of language. “With law, it’s a very different kind of language than in fiction, but it all comes down to understanding words and how they flow together and work together, so it felt very natural.”

After completing a double degree in English and law, Nalini ended up spending two years as a lawyer. She spent her days mired in resource management law, and her evenings writing. “For me, even if the only time I had to write was really late at night I needed to do it. It was really relaxing for me, it didn’t feel like work.”

Writing was squeezed into every spare moment, even the hour-long commute home on the bus was taken as an opportunity to scribble notes.

While Nalini enjoyed the law itself, she says her personality didn’t really suit the adversarial side of practice. So, shortly after her first book was accepted for publication by romance publisher Harlequin, she quit, even though “everyone says don’t quit your day job after selling your first book”.

Avoiding the big city distractions

She decided to go on her OE and devote more time to writing. She travelled to Japan to teach English and asked to be sent to a rural area, so she wouldn’t face the distractions that would come with living in a big city like Tokyo. Nalini stayed in Japan for three years, saving as much money as she could and spending her free time writing.

During this time Nalini Singh moved from traditional romance to the genre she is now so successful in – paranormal romance. She had sold Slave to Sensation, the first book of her ongoing Psy-Changeling series and was contracted to write more. “I’ve always loved science fiction, mystery, romance, thrillers – but what I’m writing now, paranormal romance, lets me combine all of those genres. It just feels really perfect for me.”

The contracts meant that shortly after moving back to New Zealand, Nalini was able to dedicate herself to writing full-time. Being able to fully devote herself to writing, rather than just squeezing it in around other commitments took some time to adjust to. “I was so used to not having time, and having to snatch time, and then suddenly I had the whole day.”

So she did the usual things people with far-ahead deadlines do. She pottered around, doing odd jobs at home, making cups of tea and generally wasting a fair bit of time. “All the writers I know who have turned full-time after working, they all do it. And it makes no sense, because we love writing and we want to do it, and yet you can’t help yourself at the start and you procrastinate.”

That phase didn’t last long however, as Nalini had books to deliver. “In my case I was already contracted, so I had to get the books written and that was when I learned I really don’t like to be stressed out. I learned that very quickly and was like, ‘okay I need to sort myself out and get myself on a schedule’.”

Hitting the big time

By the time Nalini had written the fourth book in the Psy-Changeling series, her popularity was growing, but she was still shocked when she hit the New York Times bestsellers list. “The books had been doing well, obviously, but there was no warning for me. I’m assuming my publishers were probably keeping an eye on the numbers and were hopeful, but they probably didn’t want to get my hopes up.”

Finding out she’d made the list was a dream come true, and a validation. “I couldn’t sit still after I got the news. I literally danced around the house for an hour.”

Cover of Silver Silence by Nalini Singh
The latest book in the Psy-Changeling series,
released 13 June.

Nalini has made the list a few times now, but has a framed copy of that first list hanging in her Auckland home. She says she still gets a buzz to see her name nestled among other internationally renowned authors such as Patricia Cornwell, James Patterson and John Grisham.

Contracted to write two books a year, Nalini usually manages more than this, saying years of squeezing in her writing around work and study have turned her into a quick and efficient writer. As well as the Psy-Changeling series, she writes another ongoing paranormal romance series called The Guild Hunter and has also dipped her toes back into the contemporary romance genre with The Rock Kiss series.

Her latest book, Silver Silence, comes out in June and is also part of the Psy-Changeling series. She’s calling this season two of the series. “The last book in the series kind of closed a story arc and this is beginning a new one. It’s a good starting point for someone who wants to get started but doesn’t want to read the previous 15 books.”

Last updated on the 16th September 2019