A Q&A with Philip Virgil Jenkinson

Award-winning journalist, editor, author, and photographer, Ken Eastwood, delves into the mind and motivations of Philip Virgil Jenkinson, the author of two hard-hitting contemporary thrillers, ‘Natural Causes’ and ‘Looking for Mr Wrong’. Among Ken’s ten probing questions are a few curve balls that lift the lid on what drives Philip to write and where he feels he’s headed.

Kenny EastwoodKE
Most writers draw on their own experiences when writing. How much of ‘you’ is there in these novels?

Philip JenkinsonPVJ
Well they say that you should always write about what you know. And for all the other bits in a story that is coming together, research the rest. I subscribe to that view.

My first novel entitled ‘Feedback City’ had a lot of me in it, but it is so raw and full-on I think it is basically unpublishable, although I may look over it again some time in the future. It’s almost an autobiography of the five or so years of my life and adventures as a would-be inner city rock star. I didn’t even have to embellish much in the tale as I had wild times that I somehow managed to live through and remember, and a host of crazy people that I met along the way.

I have found that there is less ‘me’ in my subsequent novels and short stories. With a novel the more the story takes hold, the more each of the characters starts to get their own voice and create their own personality as the wordcount rises.

Yes you can start off by saying to yourself, okay this particular bloke likes certain things and dislikes certain things, and you can decide to either have some of one’s own preferences as part of that, or go the other way and take a reverse position. However, I think it’s more fun to just have a little tiny bit here and there in just one or two characters and then create composites of people you have known and then just build on that to create a cast list. That’s one of my favourite parts of the whole prep process before too much of the story gets underway because I prefer to imagine the players fairly early on.

I’m more like the director of a mind movie than trying to place myself in a starring role. As a result, there isn’t much of ‘me’ that seems to go into the characters, and I think that distancing is a natural progression for a writer. Well it certainly has been for me.

 

Kenny EastwoodKE
I’ve known you for over ten years and you are generally a fairly contended and positive person, but there are some very, very dark scenes in your novels. Is there a dark side to you?

Philip JenkinsonPVJ
In a word, yes. Although I think everyone has a dark side. It’s just that not everyone feels particularly comfortable sharing it or has the opportunity to reveal it. My own dark side is mostly just an attraction to the sort of things I hope I could never actually bring myself to do, like having to kill someone to defend my very life, or end up that desperate that I have to take part in a heist, or if I was part of a commando operation. It’s much safer to read a novel, play a video game, or watch a movie.

I find evil abhorrent. I find war abhorrent, although I am fascinated by military history and I rather like tanks and attack aircraft, particularly the advanced German technology from the WWII era. But that doesn’t make me a warmonger, or even a dark knight – it’s part of who I am.

My dark side will always be fairly underwhelming however, compared to my good mate Ric Fleming who was a real rough diamond with a heart of gold but sometimes with an explosive temper of hot molten lava. I met him when I was a young know-it-all in a band, living, gigging and partying in the inner-city, and he was this tough older guy who took over security for the band. None of us had the guts to say ‘no’ to him when he asked. Not that he actually asked as such. Anyway, our friendship lasted over two decades and he was a very loyal mate. Ric got up to all kinds of mischief in his life and also did some pretty horrible things too. And he did prison time for some of his dark deeds.

I drew on my experiences and friendship with Ric to flesh out some of the more horrible and evil incidents that occasionally occur in Natural Causes and Looking for Mr Wrong, as well as for parts of the character make-up of my cast list of villains, knowing just what Ric was capable of getting up to and some of the things that he actually did. I was able to draw and embellish his dark side, which as I eluded to before, was somewhat darker than my own. Pitch black to medium grey, he once told me.

Unfortunately Ric died a few years ago, way before his time… of natural causes, just when he was finding some real peace, clarity and purpose in his life. No conspiracy-edged stuff and I’m fairly certain he didn’t stumble upon an illegal human cloning operation. Just pancreatic cancer and he was dead in two months. Hey, wait a sec… fast-onset cancer out of the blue? I had finished writing Natural Causes a year before he left us, and it is a work of fiction. Still it is a bit of a co-incidence.

 

Kenny EastwoodKE
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? How do you construct your writing time? Are you disciplined, or do you just do it whenever the mood takes you?

Philip JenkinsonPVJ
The biggest writer’s block I suffer from is just not having enough time. That blocks things very effectively at times unfortunately. Having a young daughter, a wife, a demanding day-job, two older sons, fabulous friends and a loving family is all a blessing… but boy does it take up a lot of time.

I try to write when the mood hits me, which is fairly often, as I am motivated to get stuck into it, even if it is only for a short amount of time. I find it difficult to say okay, let’s write for the next five hours straight – plus I don’t get the opportunity to do that much at the moment. On occasion I have done that, but to be honest, when I have done that, the output quality is not usually as good compared to writing when I have a strong urge to do so – where things just seem to work out more easily and with better flow, particularly when I am well into a story.

However, for short story writing it’s much more free-form. I wrote the first draft of Port’s Noise Complaint in one evening – it runs for around 1,000 words. I then edited and smoothed things over during the next week and it was done. Another short story, ‘All thirteen of us’ was inspired by serving on a jury. That runs for about 2,500 words and took about a month to write and edit. I was careful not to include any of the real life names and events, as of course you’re not allowed to do that.

 

Kenny EastwoodKE
Although much of your professional career has involved writing in a commercial sense, it is rarely as creative as writing fiction. Is that frustrating at times?

Philip JenkinsonPVJ
Yes Ken, it can be very frustrating. In the same way as a child wants to have ice cream and chocolate in preference to eating their veggies, the appetite-appeal of fiction writing is intensely different to the more pragmatic and commercially-structured, advertising, brochures, direct marketing, media releases, web copy and marketing comms material that I write in my day job.

The mortgage needs to be paid, the bills need to be sorted, and the wheels need to keep on turning in the Jenkinson household. So when I write fiction it’s really special. Despite the inherent frustration, I’m very fortunate to have a quality-time relationship with my fiction writing.

 

Kenny EastwoodKE
You are a man who discovered Jesus pretty late in life: has your faith influenced your writing at all?

Philip JenkinsonPVJ
Yes, I’m actually a twelve year old… in terms of my faith years. And that means most of my life was spent in dealing with the here and now without too much thought given to tomorrow. When I write fiction, there’s always got to be a rollicking good story at the core of everything, along with interesting characters mapped into the terrain – some I don’t like at all, and others I like very much.

I must stress Ken that I am by no means a ‘Christian author’. But you know that already. However, I am an author who happens to be a Christian…and my stories have a strong sense of right and wrong that is fundamentally based on the commandments I suppose… it’s just that some of my characters often choose repeatedly not just to disobey them, but to simply not care.

However, the battle between good and evil, on this planet, and inside ourselves, has a lot of parallels with how we’re called to live a good, accountable and faithful life. So deep, deep down I suppose it has affected the way I write. One tangible example is a decision that I made just before I locked down and then published Looking for Mr Wrong… and that was to deblasphemize (if that’s a word – well it is a word now) the final draft by removing all swearing involving the words Jesus, Christ and God. Over 200 changes were made as part of the process. It was just lazy writing from me at the time without actually thinking about why I was doing that, as it wasn’t adding to characterisation, and having to think of alternatives in each case led to a better and more powerful result.

 

Kenny EastwoodKE
What is on your own reading pile at the moment?

Philip JenkinsonPVJ
I recently read Matthew Reilly’s The Tournament. It’s a cracker of a tale that revolves around a chess tournament in days long past. I love playing chess and I do love his writing, so it was a natural for me… even though this particular novel is different in style to all his others. I just finished Simon Scarrow’s Under the Eagle which is a deep action adventure story set in Roman times. I’m going to pick one of four Clive Cussler novels (including a couple with co-authors) to devour, plus the latest Jason Bourne thriller, the Bourne Ascendancy from Eric Van Lustbader is on my radar.

 

Kenny EastwoodKE
How do you construct a novel – do you start with detailing characters, mapping out a plot or writing the first scene?

Philip JenkinsonPVJ
With Looking for Mr Wrong, it began with a dream. I woke early up one morning and wrote down what the main characters were like and the major parts of the story. And then over time it changed a little, but fundamentally, the story remained the same. With Natural Causes I mapped a plot based on what I wanted to explore, which was human cloning… and how far some people would go to gain more life and to protect that… and then what happens when a bunch of innocents stumble right into harm’s way. With the book I am writing now, Alpha & Omega, I had a very scary nightmare, which I wrote down and forms the basis of chapter one of the novel. Yet after I wrote that I stopped and worked out a cast list and a rough idea of where the story could go. It’s still early days with this one.

 

Kenny EastwoodKE
You are politically left-leaning, but the themes, characters and plots of your stories often have more in common with more conservatively biased writers. Why is that?

Philip JenkinsonPVJ
Perhaps I was brainwashed as a child. I take your point but can’t explain why… although there are some universal concepts in regards to what goes into a thriller, and whether characters should be likeable and then how likeable, and then there’s the whole good versus evil thing. Not sure really.

 

Kenny EastwoodKE
In Natural Causes the ‘bad guys’ are conducting unauthorised human cloning. Do you personally feel that human cloning is wrong?

Philip JenkinsonPVJ
That’s a tough one Ken. I’d like to believe that there’s a lot of good that can come from human cloning. But mankind being mankind, the greed factor, secrecy, and the thirst for power often corrupts what could be beneficial and turns it into something evil. Cloning human replacement parts could indeed one day be a way to bypass cancer and of course there’d be no rejection issues. But who would organise it all and would everyone involved in the process conduct themselves ethically and transparently? I have grave doubts on that count. So let’s just say I’m a sceptic.

 

Kenny EastwoodKE
How have your own relationships shaped the character of Mr Wrong?

Philip JenkinsonPVJ
Looking for Mr Wrong revolves around the realisation of the main character Roman Jones, that far from being a Mr Right he’s actually a Mr Wrong. He doesn’t feel he’s pulling his weight, he’s unhappy in his skin, life is predictable and boring, and his relationship is falling apart around him.

When I began writing this novel in 2004 it was not a long stretch to tap into my own feelings and I think it’s quite natural to doubt yourself when things are not going well. It was certainly something that went through my mind at the time my first marriage was on the rocks and heading for disaster.

However, I’m not Roman Jones and didn’t get up to any of the shenanigans that he did. Although I did daydream of excitement, new challenges, a new life really. And I’m very grateful for being able to write a story that in many ways has been a real therapeutic experience for me.

 


© 2014 Philip Jenkinson and Ken Eastwood. This article may not be commercially reproduced or published in any way without written permission from the author. You can however post a link to this article, crediting the interviewer, Ken Eastwood, and the author Philip Virgil Jenkinson.

Featured Author

Philip Virgil Jenkinson

Featured Author: Philip Virgil Jenkinson

Philip Virgil Jenkinson has written countless editorials, ads and marketing materials over the years. Philip has also been writing novels on the side, and two are now available in paperback. He hopes to soon write fiction full time.

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