The crime writer, who has sold more than 20 million books in the UK alone, admitted having “panic attacks” before his Inspector Rebus books took off.
The Edinburgh-based author recalled how terrifying he found it to suddenly become the “bread-winner” when he and his wife relocated from London to a remote farmhouse in south-west France.
Speaking at the Fringe, Rankin recalled feeling “a failure,” despite publishing seven Rebus novels, as their publisher was unhappy with how many books and he was struggling to make enough money “to put food on the table” as he and his wife Miranda were bringing up two young sons in the Dordogne.
Rankin, who was appearing during an “in conversation” event at the New Town Theatre, said: “I was 30 when we made the big move to France. My wife said to me: ‘If you want to be a full-time writer we can’t afford to live in London as you’re not going to make much money doing it.’ We had already gone there and really liked the people and culture.
“We found a house in an unfashionable corner of Dordogne in south-west France, which was about three miles from the nearest village. I couldn’t speak a word of French when I arrived. We stayed there for six years and both our kids were born there.
“In some ways it was terrifying. I started having panic attacks. Suddenly I was the bread-winner. The money from the books was all we had. I was writing two books a year to try to earn enough money so we could eat. It was the only thing I really wanted to do.”
Rankin’s career took off in 1997 when the eighth Rebus novel, Black and Blue, won the Crime Writers’ Association’s Golden Dagger award.
He added: “You’re always terrified that the next book is going to be terrible. Black and Blue was published at a time when I was on the verge of being dropped by my publisher.
“The first seven Rebus novels hadn’t sold many copies. They were thinking: ‘we’ve tried with this guy – it just isn’t working’
“Black and Blue was almost written in a rage. I was thinking: ‘I’m a failure, we’re living in France with two kids, one of them has got special needs, the only income we’ve got is my books, and I’m about to be dropped by my publisher. I didn’t know what to do. Writing was all I’d ever lived for. The rage and frustration just got channelled into that book.”