Jo Spain: ‘It wasn’t a peaceful childhood. I saw a lot of drugs and crime’

The crime novelist talked to Bernice Harrison at The Irish Times Summer Nights Festival

Jo Spain, crime novelist.  Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Jo Spain, crime novelist. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

Crime writer and screenwriter Jo Spain was eager to tell her fans this evening about her latest project, but could only deliciously hint at it. 

In conversation with Irish Times journalist Bernice Harrison during the Summer Nights Festival, Spain revealed that she’s involved in “One of the biggest budget productions that will be coming on British TV. And I have an episode in it.”

She couldn’t say any more, due to confidentiality clauses, but it’s enough to have us all wondering what’s coming next, for the hugely successful writer who grew up in Belcamp in Dublin.  

“It wasn’t a peaceful childhood. I saw a lot of drugs and crime,” she said, matter-of-factly. “Having grown up in a working class community, you know there there are very few secrets.”

Spain paid tribute to her teachers in the interview, who encouraged her to successfully apply to Trinity College. “I was very smart as a child; my teachers saw something in me, and fostered it.”

Harrison and Spain had a frank discussion about something many writers don’t want to talk about: money. “I am not in the position to write as a hobby,” Spain said, who wrote her first novel while working as an adviser at Leinster House. She has now written 11. 

She didn’t have an agent back then in 2015 , when she got a two-book deal for €15,000. “It was 15,000 quid for the first two books, paid out over two, three years.” 

Readers cannot get original work for free, Spain reminded us. “I see people in book clubs saying they only want to spend 99 cent on a book on Kindle.” A coffee costs more, as she pointed out.

While she didn’t tell us how much she gets for each novel now, she did say that fiction is in the shabby corner monetary wise, when it comes to writing for the screen. 

“You have dialogue experts helping you with screenwriting, which you don’t have when you’re writing a novel,” she observed. One of her current projects is a production that is filming in Lapland, with a Finnish production company. “It’s Fargo meets Twin Peaks,” she said. “The streets of screenwriters are paved with gold. I tell screenwriters what authors get paid, and they nearly collapse.”

Why is this, Harrison asked?

“The writer is valued in the screenwriting world. There is no script without a story.”

She also said she had once been paid less than a male counterpart while screenwriting, but that has since changed. 

However, her children are not as impressed with her achievements as her many readers. 

“My oldest is about to turn 16, and I told her she could read one of my books with her blessing. She didn’t;t finish it. So you wouldn’t have any ego in this house.” 

The Irish Times Summer Nights Festival, sponsored by Peugeot, is a series of online talks from June 28th to July 1st, featuring Irish Times journalists in conversation with local and international authorities.