Crime novelist Ian Rankin has topped the bestseller lists for 30 years with stories based around maverick Edinburgh detective Inspector Rebus, and earns more than £1million from each new novel he writes.
Now 60, he spoke to Donna Ferguson from his flat in Edinburgh where he lives with wife Miranda Harvey. His latest book, A Song For The Dark Times, has just been published.
Bestseller: Ian Rankin earns more than £1m from every new Inspector Rebus novel he produces
What did your parents teach you about money?
Not to be wasteful. My parents never earned much money – Dad worked in a shop, Mum in a factory canteen. Money was tight. We lived in a council house.
I vividly remember my parents sitting at the kitchen table opening their pay packets and dividing the money between payments for insurance, rent, the cost of Christmas and a summer holiday.
They never bought anything on credit nor had a cheque book. If they needed a new washing machine, they saved until they had the money to buy it. I learned the value of money quite early on.
Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
Yes. The worst time was in 1990, four years after I got married. Previously, we had been living in London and had felt quite flush. We both had jobs – Miranda a civil servant and me a music journalist – and we ate out and went to the theatre. But then we moved to rural France. Our only income was from my books that were not selling particularly well.
We were living in this fairly dilapidated farmhouse that needed a lot of work and we hadn’t factored in how expensive everything would be. For example, we needed to replace the windows which cost thousands of pounds. We had to borrow some money from my mother-in-law to get us through the first winter.
I remember the only source of heating was an old wood burning stove. But luckily, the floorboards were so rotten with woodworm and full of holes that the heat from the stove would quickly percolate upstairs. We still had to sleep with hot water bottles and two duvets – it was pretty chilly, but an adventure.
Have you ever been paid silly money?
Some people would say I’m paid silly money for the books I write. It takes about six months to write one and they make me a seven-figure sum. I’m in a fortunate position because my agent manages to get me a better deal with every book I write. Of course, if my books stopped selling, that would soon change.
Most expensive thing: Rankin bought a silver Jaguar I-Pace, the new electric model, for £60K
What was the best year of your financial life?
Last year. I am lucky in that my income increases with each new book I publish. But I am slowing down a bit as a writer. I now produce a book in one year and then don’t produce anything the following year, so those off-years are a little bit leaner.
I’ll still earn a six-figure sum from all the sales of my previous books in those years, but the big money comes when I sign a new contract or deliver a new book to the publisher. This year won’t be as good as 2019 because I’m not writing a new novel. I was paid £500 for my first novel in 1986. I’m glad those days are a distant memory.
The most expensive thing you bought for fun?
It was a silver Jaguar I-Pace – the new electric model. It cost me more than £60,000. I’ve been driving a Jaguar for a few years and my wife wanted us to go electric, so it was an obvious choice.
What is your biggest money mistake?
I don’t think I’ve made any serious money mistakes. Twenty five years ago, I did buy a £600 Armani suit for an awards ceremony and when I saw myself in the mirror I thought: ‘You look ridiculous.’ So it got worn once – and once only.
The best money decision you have made?
My best money decisions have probably been buying my writing materials: paper and pens, then electric typewriters, then computers. They’ve never cost a lot and they’ve helped me earn a lot of money. With a pad of A4 paper from my local Sainsbury’s for £3.50 and a £20 printer toner cartridge, I can create a book that’s going to make me a seven-figure sum.
Do you save into a pension or invest in the stock market?
Yes, I do both. I set up my pension in 1996 when money started coming in from my books and I realised I had more than I needed on a day-to-day basis. Suddenly I had an accountant and a financial adviser and they advised me that saving into a pension is a tax-efficient way of storing money away.
I also have an investment portfolio. I am risk-averse and it’s green and I get minimal investment returns. But I’d rather feel good about my investments than have a few extra quid.
Do you own any property?
I own a three-bedroom flat in Edinburgh and a four-bedroom house on the Black Isle in the Scottish Highlands.
I do a lot of writing in that house – there’s no phone, no TV, no distractions. I’d rather not say how much they are worth, but it’s not a ridiculous amount of money.
Little luxury: Ian Rankin is a fan of great French wines
What little luxury do you treat yourself to?
I like an occasional nice dinner at the best restaurant we can find.
Even when we were hard-up and lived in France, we would save for the occasional Michelin blow-out. Ever since we picked grapes in France in 1982, I’ve been a fan of great French wines. Those add to the bill.
For example, last summer we spent £400 on a lunch in the South of France. But that was a one-off and in Edinburgh the bill would be between £100 and £150.
If you were Chancellor what would you do?
I’d crack down on those vast, cash-rich companies that make money in the UK but don’t pay as much tax here as they should. I think it’s about fairness. Huge companies pay little tax on their earnings while small businesses really struggle.
People who can afford to hide behind rafts of lawyers and accountants get away without having to pay their fair share of tax.
Do you donate money to charity?
We run a charitable trust. I don’t like publicising its name as it means we can make donations to various causes while remaining largely anonymous. Around 20 to 30 per cent of my net annual income goes to charity in this way. Basically, a six-figure sum each year.
What is your number one financial priority?
Being comfortably off so that I can help family, friends and charities when and if they need it. Growing up in a family and a neighbourhood where people didn’t have much money, I saw the difference that money can make.
So now that I’ve got some, it’s great to be able to feel I can make a difference.