Dorset plays a starring role in Shalini Boland’s best-selling psychological thrillers, providing a picturesque backdrop for some truly murderous intent. And her husband Peter is a rising star of the ‘cosy crime’ genre.

There’s a perfect and a not-so-perfect location to interview a best-selling author, and sadly Shalini Boland and I choose the latter. Soon after we take our seats outside a bar in Ringwood (the location for her 2023 novel, The Silent Bride), the couple next to us start arguing. Next, what sounds like a year’s worth of empty bottles noisily cascade into a recycling truck, and finally a determined group of wasps make a bid for the jam accompanying the teacake Shalini ordered. ‘Attack of the wasps,’ she grimaces, as I attempt to bat them away with my hand. ‘Your next book?’ I suggest.

The Amazon and USA Today bestselling author of 19 psychological thrillers, has sold over two million copies of her books in 12 years of publishing, and it’s been quite a journey. Shalini Boland started writing for fun when her two children were young, she then spent the next seven years honing her craft before self-publishing in 2011. Success came via the Young Adult (YA) genre with a post-apocalyptic trilogy set in Bournemouth (The Outside), then a vampire trilogy (The Vampires of Marchwood). ‘Although it’s more adults who read them,’ she explains. ‘It’s just that the protagonist is a teenager.’

As an 18-year-old, Shalini came to Bournemouth to do a degree in Business Studies. ‘I actually wanted to be an actress,’ she admits, ‘but at that stage didn’t have the confidence to really go for what I wanted. Also, I knew that being Asian, and it being the 1980s, there just wouldn’t be the parts. So, I didn’t even bother trying.’

Great British Life: Shalini Boland in her late twenties when she was working as a singer. Shalini Boland in her late twenties when she was working as a singer. (Image: Shalini Boland)

However – silver-linings - if she had followed that path, she probably wouldn’t have met her husband, Peter, who gate-crashed a Student Union party she was at in her final week. He had just finished an architecture degree. The couple graduated during a recession when there were few job opportunities, so they set up a VW car show and events company. ‘That’s a whole other story,’ she adds. ‘Very stressful, very full on.’ Then a friend asked if she knew anyone who could sing. Having done some singing in amateur dramatics Shalini put herself forward. This resulted in a single being recorded and meeting the musician Olly Davis. As a duo they signed up to a development deal with Universal Records.

Though they didn’t have any great success, Shalini sang on an album with Basement Jaxx. ‘I was so different then,’ she recalls. ‘In my twenties and thirties, I was doing all these gigs, meeting people, and I loved it. Now I’m much shier. I even get anxious before doing interviews.’ I ask whether being a writer has made her more introverted? ‘It could be that, and Covid, and losing my mum in 2019.’

Her mum was her biggest fan. ‘If she were here now, she’d be pulling me into Waterstones with a copy of my book, introducing me as the writer,’ she smiles. ‘She was embarrassingly proud.’ Shalini’s dad, who died when she was 13, was also an inspiration. ‘I used to read to him, and he instilled in me a love of books.’

Great British Life: Shalini Boland with her husband Peter Boland who is finding success with his 'cosy crime' books.Shalini Boland with her husband Peter Boland who is finding success with his 'cosy crime' books. (Image: Peter Yendell)

Remembering her comments about her own heritage, I ask if she’s careful to include diversity in her novels – the latest, The School Reunion, is out in mid-January – and her answer is fascinating. ‘My mum was Jewish, born in Ireland, and my dad was from Nagpur, in the centre of India. He was adamant that I was going to grow up English. They had problems with their parents when they wanted to get married, so he wanted me and my brother to integrate.’ And this started with the village in Gloucestershire where they grew up. ‘I went to school with only one other person of colour, but I certainly didn’t think of myself as ‘other’. And that’s how I am with my characters. Sometimes they’re blonde, sometimes they’re darker, and yes, they could be Black or Asian, but I deliberately make it ambiguous.’

Self-publishing is as hard as any sector of the business, and yet Shalini achieved incredible success, selling about 50,000 copies of her YA trilogies. But it was when she moved into writing psychological thrillers that her sales went stratospheric. ‘It was 2016, and I’d just finished the final book in my post-apocalyptic series (which had been a bit of a slog, to be honest), when out of the blue I got this idea to write a thriller. I was walking by the river where my son rows, and I thought a rowing club would make a good setting for a murder. Then I thought about a woman waking up by the river, with no memory. I knew then I didn’t want to write another YA. I would write thrillers.’

Shalini’s output is phenomenal. Since switching to thrillers, she’s written three books a year. For each she spends two months plotting, one month writing, then two or three months of editing. ‘The writing month is absolutely one of not even having a shower, being in my pyjamas, don’t ask my anything, don’t call me.’

Great British Life: The Boland family, headed up by two best selling crime writers! The Boland family, headed up by two best selling crime writers! (Image: Shalini Boland)

During that writing month she is also working on edits and plots for the other two books. ‘I work every day of the week. Doing a bit in the morning, some in the afternoon, but mostly after everyone else has gone to bed. The crazy thing is, it’s my own choice!’ she shrugs. ‘So, from now on, I’m only doing two a year.’

Her incredible work ethic has happily paid off. ‘With my thrillers it went crazy, I sold a few 100,000.’ Then publishers came courting. Her next six books were published with Bookouture - a digital imprint of Hachette. Then opportunity came knocking when Shalini was approached by the publishing arm of Amazon, and the summer of 2023 saw her first book published through the on-line behemoth.

We agree that, despite their notoriety, Amazon also has many brilliant aspects. ‘They’ve given me my career, along with thousands of others,’ she says. ‘They’re known for their quality of service. And that applies to how they look after their authors too.’ We also agree that the way her books are published, mostly digital with some print on demand, is much better for the environment.

All her thrillers are based in Dorset – with some having a scattering of other locations too. ‘My latest thriller is partly set in Venice – which was convenient as you can fly there from Bournemouth. And The Family Holiday was set on the Amalfi Coast in Italy.’

Great British Life: The Boland family. The Boland family. (Image: Shalini Boland)

With her phenomenal success surely, she could set her next book somewhere more exotic like the Seychelles. She laughs, shaking her head. ‘I see the location as a character, adding another dimension to the plot.’ Clearly part of her successful formula is sticking to Dorset for the main setting. ‘I know it well as I live here. Although sometimes I’ll make a place cosier, or more picturesque; it’s effective to contrast a beautiful location with an horrific situation.’

Most of her novels are based around women and the family dynamic. Like the locations, this is familiar territory. ‘Well, apart from the murders!’ she interjects. ‘I like to take ordinary situations and put a dark twist on it. You can get ideas from anything (wasps, broken bottles, couples arguing…) Also, when I started writing, there were lots of thrillers with male protagonists, not so many featured women. I find analysing female friendships fascinating. Some women are not nice to other women, whilst others lift them up. I also like writing male points of view. But when you’re with a publisher, and something works, they like you to keep doing the same thing.’

Shalini’s children are now 20 and 16, and while neither of them read her books, they are hugely supportive. As is her husband, Peter, who is also a writer. ‘He became an advertising copywriter, then started writing action thrillers (John Savage) but liked to make them humorous - which wasn’t always what the readers wanted. Now he publishes ‘cosy crime’. His first two books (The Charity Shop Detective Agency and The Beach Hut Murders) have been in the Amazon best-seller list for months.’

I ask whether they would consider writing something together one day? ‘Maybe,’ Shalini says, then stops to consider this. ‘Although would that be a bridge too far? I think just plotting a gruesome murder over breakfast is probably enough for us.’

The School Reunion by Shalini Boland is published in January. Follow on, on X @ShaliniBoland, on Instagram @shaboland, on TikTok @shaliniboland or via her website