He used to write thrillers on the train to his day job. Now he’s a full-time, million-selling novelist
The bestselling crime writer Mark Dawson says his wisest investment was a £5,000 annual rail ticket — he wrote six novels while sitting on a commuter train from Salisbury to London.
Dawson grew up in Lowestoft, Suffolk, and read law at Manchester University. He became a lawyer specialising in fraud cases before working as a censor for the British Board of Film Classification for 10 years.
His first two books were published at the turn of the millennium, but he grew disillusioned by poor sales and gave up writing for several years.
In 2014 Dawson decided to self-publish his third novel, The Cleaner, through Amazon’s Kindle Direct. It was the first in his series about a disgruntled assassin called John Milton.
Dawson, 42, now writes full-time. He has published more than 20 books and his titles have been downloaded more than 1m times. His latest thriller, The Asset: Act II, comes out this month.
He lives near Salisbury, Wiltshire, with his wife Lucy, 40, who works for a brewer, and their children Freya, 4, and Samuel, 2.
How much cash do you have in your wallet?
About £25. I tend to use debit cards these days. I’ll take money out of a cash machine and it will sit there for weeks .
What credit cards do you use?
I have a Mastercard and a Visa, but I don’t use them very much. I’m not in love with the idea of being in debt, and I use them only if I am buying something quite expensive and I want the security of a guarantee behind it.
Are you a saver or a spender?
A saver. My mother has always been very careful with money, to the extent that she can feel guilty if she overspends. I remember her balancing her chequebook every month when I was a child.
The first expensive thing I bought was a computer while I was at university about 20 years ago. I spent about £1,200 on a big, boxy one. I unpacked it and then got the worst case of buyer’s remorse. I took it back the next day because it was just too expensive.
Are you concerned about the possibility of Brexit?
I suppose so — and I will certainly vote against leaving. I’ve read enough from people I respect to be concerned about what might happen if we were to leave. It wouldn’t affect my business, though — people would still want to read books whether we were in or out of Europe.
How much did you earn last year?
Several times what I was earning as a lawyer. I am an additional-rate taxpayer and earn well over £150,000.
Have you ever been really hard up?
That depends on your frame of reference. My family has never been wealthy; I had a comfortable childhood but I’d never been on an aeroplane until I was 20. We didn’t have expensive holidays, but we were really happy.
Do you own a property?
We have a thatched four-bedroom cottage in a pretty village outside Salisbury. We bought it for £460,000 about five years ago.
What was your first job?
Working in the postroom of a holiday company in Lowestoft when I was 15. My mum used to work there, so she got me a job. After that, I worked in a vegetable canning factory.
What has been your most lucrative work?
Writing the John Milton series. I knew it had big potential when I started to earn more from it than I was earning in my day job. Once you have achieved a certain level of success, every time you release a book it reinvigorates the backlist.
Publishing independently — as opposed to working with a traditional publisher — has paid off. For my first two books, my publisher gave me an advance of about £60,000.
Then I would have got about 12% of the cover price and my agent would have taken off another 10%. But publishing through Kindle I get 70%.
Are you better off than your parents?
Yes. My dad, Bob, was an engineer and my mum, Jean, worked in the travel business.
Do you invest in shares?
Not directly — just through my pension.
What’s better for retirement — property or pension?
I would lean towards property. I don’t have anything apart from this house, but once we have paid off the mortgage, I will look at buying a rental property.
When did you first feel wealthy?
For my wife’s 40th, in March, I surprised her and we flew first class to New York. I’d never turned left when boarding a plane before. It was a nice experience to sit on a very nice seat and be brought glasses of champagne.
What has been your best investment?
I was living in Salisbury and working in London and spent about £5,000 on a season ticket for the train. It not only got me into London, it was also like renting a mobile office. I always got a table, put my headphones on, got my laptop out and I could write for three hours a day with no distractions.
I could probably do between 3,000 and 4,000 words travelling there and back. I published about six novels in 2014 and they were all written on the train.
And the worst?
I took out a couple of endowment policies with my first mortgage 20 years ago and I keep paying into them. I get letters saying “red alert” and “amber alert” — they’re going to miss their target. I think they’ll still be up, but not enough to pay off the mortgage.
What’s the most extravagant thing you have ever bought?
That’s easy — it’s my midlife crisis. I recently ordered a £70,000 Porsche Macan GTS. I had to pay about £2,000 extra to get it in red.
I wanted a sports car, but I need something I can get two children’s seats in, so it is essentially a quite fast, quite expensive SUV. I think it’s coming quite soon.
What’s your money weakness?
I don’t know if I have one. I’ve just bought that very expensive car but, apart from that, I’m not very extravagant. I either work at home if the house is empty, or in cafes and bars around Salisbury, and I can get by on not a great deal of money every day.
What aspect of the tax system would you change?
I am reasonably happy with how it is. I have never had a problem with paying tax and I would be prepared to pay slightly more if it meant more money could go to the NHS.
What’s your financial priority?
To make sure my family is secure and to have enough money to cushion us if the worst happened.
Do you support any charities?
I’ve got a direct debit with the homelessness charity Shelter.
What would you do if you won the lottery jackpot?
We’ve got a lovely house, but we might look at getting something a little bigger. Having kids the age ours are, the house is swamped in colourful plastic things. It would be quite nice to have a playroom we could lock all that into, so it doesn’t swamp the lounge and kitchen.
What is the most important lesson you have learnt about money?
To maintain a sensible balance between being prudent and remembering that you only live once. There is no sin in treating yourself to something nice now and again.