Updated: Jun 11, 2021
Shani Struthers is the author of twenty novels, nineteen of which are supernatural thrillers. Her various paranormal series have proved popular, including the Psychic Surveys Series, This Haunted World, Reach for the Dead and Jessamine.
In this interview, Shani shares some insights into her writing process and provides some encouraging advice to aspiring writers.
When did you first decide you wanted to become an author?
I’ve always loved reading and writing – they’ve been twin passions. When I was a kid and a
teenager, I’d read voraciously, loving authors like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Danielle
Steele and Catherine Cookson – a bit of an eclectic mix!
I studied English Literature at Sussex University and then, a couple of years later became a copywriter for the travel industry. I did that until I was around forty, on a freelance basis, and then I sat down and wrote my first novel – a romance called The Runaway Year. I sent that off to no less than ten publishers and eight accepted, so I knew I was on my way. That was in 2013.
I then wrote two more in the Runaway series before switching to my first love, which is the paranormal. I wrote The Haunting of Highdown Hall and that too did very well. Since then I’ve written 18 more paranormals, publishing on average two full-length novels and one novella a year.
Why do you write? What drives you to do it?
Giving free reign to your creative side is wonderful – there is nothing like the buzz of actually
developing a story from scratch, for me, it sort of feeds the soul. Besides this, I’m not
much good at anything else. I can’t cook, sew, hate housework and can’t count for toffee.
Writing is what I’m good at, so I’ve developed that skill over the years.
What initially inspired and now inspires you to write psychological thrillers?
I mentioned that I started off writing romance, but after three books I felt I’d exhausted that
subject – it just required too much imagination, ha ha! Seriously, I didn’t want to keep
repeating the boy meets girl, falls in love thing – there are a lot of romance writers out there
and they do it so well, so it was best left to them if my heart wasn’t in it (although I have an
incredible fondness for those three books and adored writing them!).
The paranormal, well, it’s an endless source of fascination and there are so many ways to treat the subject. I can go full on dark as I do in books such as Blakemort, or I can add just a hint of the supernatural as I do in Jessamine and Comraich.
At the time I started writing The Haunting of Highdown Hall, there just seemed to be a dearth of good ghost stories available. A lot of them focused on blood and gore, which is not my style at all. I prefer the less is more approach, which Shirley Jackson encapsulated so well in one of my all-time favourite books: The Haunting of Hill House. So I added to the genre and today, there seems to be plenty to choose from!
Do you tend to base your settings and characters on real places and people?
I tend to place characters on a mix of people I know, although the very popular Theo in the
Psychic Surveys series, was based almost wholly on my mum, right down to the pink hair!
As for settings, I use real life haunted settings, sometimes I rename them so I can utilise
artistic license, other times I don’t.
Highgate is set in and around North London’s famous cemetery of the same name, The Venetian is set between Venice, the world’s most haunted city and Poveglia, in the Venetian Lagoon, the world’s most haunted island. I’ve used local asylums, landmarks, renowned haunted houses, etc., and scattered them liberally through my work. I love research and weaving fact around fiction.
Do you have a favourite book, place, or character from your own work?
A favourite location to write about is Scotland, it’s just so mystical in the Highlands and
Islands, lending itself perfectly to the ghost story. Re. favourite characters, I love the Psychic
Surveys team in particular – they seem like old friends now.
Which three words would you use to describe your writing?
Dark, light and exciting.
What is your writing schedule like?
I usually try and fit in around four to five hours of writing/editing a day. I’m best in the mornings, so I’m at my desk by 8 A.M. getting stuck in, but have often been known to put in twelve-hour days. At the weekends, I get up early and get around two to three hours in before heading out.
I have my own office at home and I’ve got it just the way I like it now. It overlooks the garden and I make a point of surrounding myself with my favourite things, like crystals, photos, pictures, books and postcards – so it keeps drawing me back, day after day…
Do you have future books planned?
I have plenty of future books planned! My most recent book is Summer of Grace, published a couple of months ago. More of a psychological thriller as opposed to a supernatural thriller, it’s something a little different from me and thankfully has been very well received.
I definitely want to write more psychological thrillers in the future, plus there’s Psychic Surveys Book Eight, due out in August, and a third book to add to the Reach for the Dead series. That will hopefully be available by the end of the year. Oh, and last but not least, I’m working on a Christmas ghost story too, set on an island, off the coast of Anglesey and very dark indeed!
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned as a writer?
That it’s hard work! Seriously, pre-writing books I imagined a far more glamorous lifestyle as
an author than it in reality is! It’s intensive and you have to know about marketing too – you
cannot just simply be a writer.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
It’s easy to procrastinate. If you want to write, just sit down and do it. Practice, practice,
practice. If you think you have a story good enough for publishing, then give it to a trusted
set of readers, see what they think about it. Learn from criticism. If they think it’s good
enough to go into the public domain too, then get an editor – never skip on this or think you
can self-edit, you can’t.
Writing is a process, and contrary to opinion, it’s not a lonely one. There are many, many people involved along the way and the best ones are the honest ones, the one’s not afraid to say get rid of this character, or that plot point was rubbish, see if you can strengthen it. It’ll all help to make you a better writer in the end!
To find out more about Shani, take a look at her website: https://www.shanistruthers.com/