Nalini Singh on how travel inspires fantasy worlds

Shield Of Winter author Nalini Singh on how imagined worlds spring from real places

Nalini Singh Author Photo - MediumDistant Horizons 

As I write this, I’m on a plane to Zurich. The pilot’s just announced that air traffic control has put us in a holding pattern because of incoming traffic, and I can see a field of fluffy white clouds beyond the window.

It’s a sight I adore – because delays and holding patterns aside, I love traveling, love seeing the world. I’ve been crushed in the mass of people in a subway car in Tokyo, ridden with a chicken or two in rural buses here and there, been stuck in the salt flats of Utah when the train broke down, caught a stomach bug in a land far from home, raced to make connections in sprawling airports…and none of it has hindered my joy in travel. All those experiences have given me an insight not only into myself but into the people around me—and people, I’ve learned, no matter where they are, are generally incredibly kind. Smile and it’s the rare person who won’t smile back.

I don’t believe that as a writer, I have to travel to the locations about which I write, not in the current world, with the Internet bringing the world to us. I’ve written very specifically about locations I’ve never been to by using a combination of web cameras trained on certain areas, first-hand information from online friends, and detailed blogs and/or travel magazine entries written by intrepid explorers.

However, there is no question that having physically walked the streets of a city makes it much easier to describe. When I talk about San Francisco’s Chinatown in my Psy-Changeling books, I can describe the narrow streets from my own memories, depict the bustle and energy of people going this way and that, indicate the delicious scents coming from the restaurants that you can find around every corner.

Locations can also be incredibly inspiring. When I first stood in the Forbidden City in Beijing, China, the Guild Hunter series wasn’t even a gleam in my eye, and yet I knew, I knew that I would one day use that majestic location in a book. The potent sense of history that clung to it, along with the physical beauty of the carvings and bridges, the huge cobblestoned courtyard, it struck and stayed with me through the years after that visit, until one day, I wrote a story about archangels…and suddenly, I knew that Lijuan, the Archangel of China, kept her court in the Forbidden City.

Other places have inspired me in more subtle ways; they might not have (yet) appeared directly in my stories, but their grandeur or fun or wildness has set my mind humming. I was in New Zealand’s South Island last year, on a boat in the Milford Sound. There is such a vivid, wild beauty to that area, waterfalls appearing out of nowhere to cascade into the sound and mist hanging low. I was awestruck. Just thinking about it makes my mind race.

I’ve also traveled deliberately to places I didn’t feel I could adequately describe even with all the technology available to us – last year, I went to Morocco, as part of the research for a book I intend to write in the future. I saw places I would’ve never imagined existed in this desert landscape, took myriad notes, and a thousand photos that I’ll refer back to when I write the book.

When I can’t go to a place, I travel via other people’s photos and videos and imagine what it must be like. In Shield Of Winter, we go from the green beauty of Yosemite to the icy chill of Alaska to the electric energy of New York and the winter-draped peace of North Dakota. My hero, Vasic, is a teleporter who can go from one continent to another in the blink of an eye. What a gift! If I had to choose a psychic ability of my own, I think it would be that one—because there are so many more places in the world I want to explore.

How about you? If you could go to any place in the world right at this instant, where would you go?

Shield Of Winter is the latest book in Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series.

Assassin. Soldier. Arrow. That is who Vasic is, who he will always be. His soul drenched in blood, his conscience heavy with the weight of all he’s done, he exists in the shadows, far from the hope his people can almost touch – if only they do not first drown in the murderous insanity of a lethal contagion. To stop the wave of death, Vasic must complete the simplest and most difficult mission of his life.

For if the Psy race is to survive, the empaths must wake…

Having rebuilt her life after medical ‘treatment’ that violated her mind and sought to stifle her abilities, Ivy should have run from the black-clad Arrow with eyes of winter frost. But Ivy Jane has never done what she should. Now, she’ll fight for her people, and for this Arrow who stands as her living shield, yet believes he is beyond redemption.

But as the world turns to screaming crimson, even Ivy’s fierce will may not be enough to save Vasic from the cold darkness…

Shield Of Winter is available now in hardback for £13.59 or as an ebook for £8.49 at