Jo Spain

Crime writer who learned her trade while still at the cutting-edge of Irish politics

John Rainsford


John Rainsford

Jo Spain

Born and raised in Dublin, it should come as no surprise that I am still living there.

After attending primary and secondary schools, near me, on the Northside, I graduated from Trinity College with a degree in Politics and Philosophy. Everybody in my family read and love books. I was, also, lucky to have had teachers in primary and secondary school, who gave me a lot of encouragement with reading and writing.

That said, I didn’t think that I would ever be a writer.

It seemed like too much of a dream, something that happened to other people, not young ones from Coolock in Dublin. Being from a very working class background, money was always tight, so teachers used to lend me books. They knew that I had read pretty much everything in our local library. They encouraged me to write as well, and not just novels. Any sort of career that involved writing was for me, and my job for a long time, involved writing speeches, legislation and even press statements. I was a political advisor on the economy to Pearse Doherty. It was a fascinating job, especially during the Troika years, and demanding too. You could be in there until midnight some days. I was, also, the Vice-Chair of the ‘Inter-Trade Ireland’ business body. When the book deals came, it was only a matter of time before I had to go full-time on that front. I am starting to write for TV now too, (so I am always busy), especially now that I have four kids.

I was a very early reader and took to Enid Blyton when I was only five. Later, when I was a bit older I started scribbling down little stories. Being a reader first lends itself readily to being an enthusiastic writer. When you love stories so much, if you have an imagination yourself, the progression is to start writing, but it takes real determination to become a full-time published author. Any writer will tell you, that typing ‘The End’, is just the beginning. There follows a gazillion edits, getting a publisher, an agent, working with the industry, proofing, printing, promoting. It is hard work, but very rewarding.

The mystery and investigation in my books are of more interest to me than the crime itself.

I love a book, or a show, that poses a question right at the beginning, in an unexpected situation and you’re left thinking; ‘Who did this?’, ‘Why did they do it?’ and ‘What secrets are being hidden?’ Then, the reader is slowly, provided with some clues until the ‘big reveal’ at the end. That is my favourite kind of read/view and it was only natural that I would want to write that material too. I would encourage people to write what they know and love. Pursue your dream, but be prepared to work very hard. Writing is a job. You will no sooner have your first book accepted than the publishers will ask you for a second.

Anybody who has done it will tell you that writing one book is hard but writing two, or more, is the real test of your skills.

I got my first big break by entering a competition. Richard and Judy were running their ‘Search for a Bestseller’ competition, at the time, and received thousands of entries. My novel was one of seven shortlisted leading to a two-book deal with Quercus publishing. I am on my third contract with Quercus now. Writing is a solitary profession, though. There is no ‘office’ and you do most of your exchanges via email and telephone. Working from home means that you miss all of the camaraderie that a workplace can bring. Together with other writers, I have a bit of an ‘online office’, using social media to connect with authors and to organise events. I, also, do a lot of speaking engagements at libraries, in order to meet readers.

I have just finished my latest, and fourth, Tom Reynold’s crime novel and have a standalone thriller coming out next January, called ‘The Confession’.

It was great fun to write with a completely new set of characters making for a much grittier read. It is causing big ripples in the publishing world right now, so all the omens are good for its success. ‘Sleeping Beauties’, is out next September, and is the third in that Detective Inspector’s series. The latter is the head of the Dublin murder investigation squad. The book begins with the discovery of five bodies buried in a ritualistic grave in scenic Glendalough. It is apparent that they are all women who have gone missing over the past few years. Tom’s team have to track down a serial killer, who keeps his victims captive for months, before sadistically killing them.

Making a career out of writing is extremely difficult.

There are so many books published, meaning that there is a lot of competition to be noticed. The standard is very high, and then, there is the pay. Even if you are lucky enough to get a big deal, the chances are that you will still need your day job. People are always shocked when they discover that authors only get about ten per cent of the royalties on each book sold-the industry standard. Six figure deals make the news because they are the exception- the thousands of book deals done every month are far more modest. I am lucky in that I have managed to sell many books. I wrote two books last year alone, and have done five in total over the past three years. Therefore, if you keep delivering, writing can be a very successful career choice!

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