A conversation with British author Kerry Wilkinson, author of SOMETHING WICKED and the Jessica Daniel series of novels
A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of narrating the audiobook version of SOMETHING WICKED, and Kerry and I talked recently about this first book in a new series of novels featuring Andrew Hunter, a character who originally appeared in PLAYING WITH FIRE. (Interview continues below…)
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Your author’s page on the Pan Macmillan website seems to suggest that you began writing fiction by accident – but in a period of just three or four years, you’ve brought out nine books in the Jessica Daniel series, started a new spin-off series with the Andrew Hunter novels, and branched out into YA fantasy with the Silver Blackthorn series. That’s a remarkable output for an “accidental author.” To what do you attribute your success?
I was an accidental author in the sense that I never set out for this to be my career. I was more than happy working as a sports journalist – and writing a novel was something to do on the side. When I turned thirty, I made a list of things I thought I could do if I put some effort in and writing a book was only one of those things.
For the output, well, I work hard. I don’t allow myself to be distracted and simply get on with it. It’s such a cop out to say that writing’s hard, or that you need to be in the right frame of mind. Or that you need a fancy office with a view, or some villa in the South of France. I’ve done night shifts on factory production lines – and THAT’S a tough gig. On his Reddit Q&A, Jerry Seinfeld, one of my heroes, wrote: “Writer’s block is a phony, made up, BS excuse for not doing your work.” I could not agree more.
So aside from your proven discipline of showing up to write on a regular schedule and the Seinfeld philosophy of “don’t break the chain”, what influences do you think have shaped you as a writer?
More than anything, I think it is my upbringing. I grew up in a working-class family on a council estate, where you see the reality of life as it is for many people. I’d hope the sense of family and community is something that comes through in my books, regardless of genre. Not to mention the suspicion of authority.
Writing can be a very middle-class thing in that authors reflect the world in which they grew up. That so often means leafy suburbs – but that’s not life for a lot of people.
Then there’s the fact I was a journalist for plenty of years. Media offices, plus police stations, hospitals and probably most offices are full of humour and running, private jokes. They’re very funny places and I try to reflect that.
Let’s talk a bit about SOMETHING WICKED, the first in the new series of Andrew Hunter novels, currently available as an ebook and an audiobook (narrated by me!) and which is coming out in paperback in the spring of 2015. Andrew Hunter previously appeared in one of the Jessica Daniel stories. What would you like new readers and listeners to know about Andrew – and why did you choose to build a new series around him?
I love America and have spent a lot of time there, but I always struggle with American crime and action fiction – not just books – because of the prevalence of guns. Guns make everything so easy, because a character can shoot his way out of trouble. Either that, or survival relies entirely on the bad guys being appalling shots. There are seemingly no movies or TV shows where enemies can shoot straight. It’s all so distracting.
In that world where the heroes of fiction are big, muscled, fighting, shooting, invincible machines, Andrew is the antithesis. He tries to avoid confrontation, he makes mistakes and he can’t fight his way out of situations that go bad. He has to think his way out and there are genuine consequences to his decisions.
In the Jessica book, PLAYING WITH FIRE, he was much less agreeable in all my plot notes. When I came to write him, he sort of created himself, becoming smarter, quicker and more likeable. He’s a very normal person, surrounded by abnormal things – and I really like that dynamic.
As the narrator, I enjoyed playing the character of Andrew as a hero who is flawed and who evolves as an individual, and his backstory has an important role to play in that development. He doesn’t have all the answers, he has to think – or talk – his way out of some pretty dangerous situations, and I like the fact that he’s much more cautious than his sidekick!
Which brings us to the character of Andrew’s assistant Jenny. She’s much more of an enigma, and in several situations you’re not entirely sure which of them is in charge. Her bravado (or recklessness) makes her a great foil to Andrew – but by the end of this first story does he really understand her any better?
The feedback from readers regarding Jenny is perhaps the biggest thing to come out of Something Wicked. She’s the character everyone wants to ask about. I really like writing her because she’s so unpredictable. Sometimes she’s the smart one with the answers; other times she’s lost and clueless. That gives a good dynamic for plotting in that her reaction to a situation could go either way. Is she an asset to Andrew or a liability?
At the end of Something Wicked, if anything, I think he understands less about her than he did at the beginning. Any facets he has discovered about her history leaves him with more questions. As a promise to readers, I know the answers!
The writing in Something Wicked is shot through with a very distinctive sense of humour, such as in the repartee between Andrew and Jenny, little descriptive asides, even snatches of random overheard conversations in the street. You mentioned Jerry Seinfeld earlier on – who or what else makes Kerry Wilkinson laugh?
My favourite television programme is the UK version of The Office. It’s only 14 episodes, but it’s utter perfection. I watch the whole lot at least twice a year and still find it funny. The jokes are sharp not only because they are – but because you feel like you know the character making you laugh. It’s such a craft and I think could only come from a pair of writers who had lived a life before fame and done ‘real’ jobs. I’m a big fan of Ricky Gervais and Steve Merchant.
Away from that, the shows I always go back to are Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Arrested Development. People-based humour, as opposed to complex, contrived set-ups.
You obviously enjoy keeping your audience on tenterhooks – not just with cliffhangers and unexpected plot twists within a story, but between novels too. At the end of SOMETHING WICKED a character unexpectedly pops up and asks a question that leaves the door open to all sorts of possibilities. So what’s next for Andrew and Jenny?
For Jenny, the reader gets a little more insight into what makes her tick. With Andrew, well, that’d be telling. The next book is finished and should be out in 2015.
Listen to a short extract from a couple of scenes from SOMETHING WICKED.
Visit Kerry Wilkinson’s Facebook page to find out more about the Andrew Hunter novels and his other series.