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Monday 6 August 2012

Today I have the great pleasure of interviewing Shamini Flint, creator of the wonderful Inspector Singh.
Shamini Flint began her career in law in Malaysia and also worked at an international law firm in Singapore. She travelled extensively around Asia for her work, before resigning to be a stay-at-home mum, writer, part-time lecturer and environmental activist. 
Shamini has sold over 500,000 books since she began writing six years ago.
Her crime fiction series featuring Inspector Singh, have been published by Little Brown and distributed across the world.
Shamini also writes children’s books with cultural and environmental themes including Jungle Book and Turtle takes a Trip and the ‘Sasha’ series which are mainly focused on Asia. Shamini lives in Singapore with her husband and two children

Q         Shamini you have given us five books featuring Inspector Singh, who I have to admit, I totally love.  So where does he come from? Your imagination, or is Inspector Singh based on someone you know?
A         Inspector Singh is a composite character (a lawyer could never admit to anything else.) but he consists largely of my relatives (the annoying ones) and an ex-boss of mine who did enjoy a long lunch but was also prone to putting up his hand in court and volunteering to defend people who couldn’t afford lawyers. Fine for him of course, because he would then delegate the work to me.
Recently I have become concerned that there is a big chunk of me in Singh as well especially when he’s complaining about things like hotel food and Singaporean driving.

Q         It is frequently said ‘write what you know’ so I would have thought that maybe you would have started with a lawyer protagonist, what led you to select a policeman as your protagonist?
A         Curiously, I did begin with a thirty-something female lawyer protagonist when I started writing. However, she was the most annoying creature! One day, I noticed Inspector Singh, who was a bit part character at the time, waiting in the wings for a bigger role. He was so much more fun to write than my original, semi-autobiographical character. The truth is, I’m too boring to be in a book!

Q         You say that you gave up your job in an international law firm in Singapore to be a stay-at-home mum, writer, part-time lecturer and environmental activist, all in an effort to make up for her ‘evil’ past as a corporate lawyer! What exactly is your ‘evil past’?
A         It wasn’t me so much (I like to think) as the company I kept. I was a cross border capital markets and mergers and acquisitions lawyer which meant that I was always advising big business and multi-national corporations, men in suits in other words. Most of the transactions were about raising finance. It was an era of greed and rapacious expansion without much thought for the big issues of our time – particularly the environmental impact of the projects.

Q         I understand that you have two children. Do you manage to have a regular writing day?
A         I do my best and it’s easier now that the kids have a regular school routine so they’re out of the house for a few hours. It’s also why I am somewhat grateful for my previous existence as a corporate lawyer because I never see a deadline without making sure I meet it. If there was an Olympic sport in meeting deadlines, I would be a contender. Usually, I just lie to myself, tell myself something is urgent, and of I go.

Q         When embarking on a new book what area of the book challenges you the most? 
A         Each Inspector Singh novel is set in a different country. That moment when I decide on a destination and confront the sheer volume of research that has to be completed is fairly daunting. Luckily I like finding out stuff and it is great to enhance a fairly superficial understanding of a subject with some in depth study. As I often choose issues with legal elements (like setting the Cambodia book around the war crimes tribunal), it allows me to fall back on subject that interests me namely, law and its impact on society.

Q         What is your favourite part of the writing process?
A         When I am exactly half way through a first draft. It may sound strange but in my experience that is the point where the book starts writing itself. It’s as if the characters have a mind of their own by then and they just “act” out the rest of the book while I take notes. I haven’t reached that point with the book I’m writing now and it’s a painful

Q.        When starting a new book do you always have a clear view of how the book will work, and if so do your books always pan out as originally envisioned, or change during the writing process? 
A         I have a few hooks – but nothing more. I tend to start with Singh, a brand new shiny country and a couple of legal and social issues that I would like to write about. And then I just begin, typing with one hand while the other has its fingers crossed that this not very organised way of writing will work one more time.

Q         Are you in anyway influenced by other writers, I mean favourite authors that you have enjoyed in the past?
A         I must be since I’ve always been an avid reader and love so many books, crime and otherwise. However, I think the process is quite subtle. I suspect that the whole experience of a lifetime of reading distils into that particular style a writer calls his or her own (I have quite an old fashioned style I’m told which is probably because I do love my Jane Austen.)

Q         You say that your big breakthrough came when Little, Brown, UK bought the worldwide rights for the first three titles.  How did that come about?
A         I had self-published the first novel – at the time I saw the book as an experiment and was aware that the process of finding a publisher is quite long drawn out and often impossible. The wheels of publishing work even slower than the wheel of justice. That first book sold quite well so I sent it together with the manuscripts for the second and third to a handful of publishers and agents. I had a couple of publishing offers within three months. It goes to show it really is about luck and timing. At the time, so called “exotic” crime was all the rage, Singh was a colourful character and I was able to offer a multi-book series from the beginning rather than stand alone novel – all of which helped, I think.

Q         I know that you write children’s books, as well as crime do you have a preference? And does one come easier than the other?
A         Being a workaholic, I can’t stop writing. And as they say a change is as good as a rest, I switch genres every book and pretend it’s a holiday. I love writing for children – you feel that you’re really making an impact on young lives; that they may walk away from a book with greater self-confidence or heightened environmental awareness or maybe just a smile. However, as a grown up, I also feel compelled to seek out fellow adults for conversation (through the medium of books) once in a while.

Q         What prompted you catching the environmental bug? One major incident, or just a gradual awareness?
A         Children! They ruin one’s complete indifference to a future that’s further than week away. After having children, I began to pay more attention to the climate change debate and panicked as all parents should really. We do a terrible disservice to our children when we indulge their media-driven desire to own every piece of plastic on the planet. Better to just say “no”!

Q         Is there any possibility we will see you in the UK anytime soon?
A         Living in Singapore, Asia and Australia have been more natural places to travel to promote my books. I haven’t found the same opportunities in the UK for whatever reason. It’s a shame as I would love to attend festivals and other book events in that part of the world. I studied in England for many years and am always on the lookout for opportunities to come back and feel young again.

Thank you Shamini for taking the time out for this interview.  I so hope that you will at sometime visit the UK.

Books in the Inspector Singh series are:
Inspector Singh Investigates: A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder
Inspector Singh Investigates: A Bali Conspiracy Most Foul
Inspector Singh Investigates: The Singapore School of Villainy
Inspector Singh Investigates: A Deadly Cambodian Crime Spree
Inspector Singh Investigates: A Curious Indian Cadaver


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