Interview with Phillip Jordan, author of Code of Silence
Today it gives the Indie Crime Scene great pleasure to interview Phillip Jordan, whose first novel, Code of Silence, has its debut this autumn.
Code of Silence is – or will be – your first published novel. How does that feel, and what aspects of publication are you looking forward to – or dreading?
I think excitement is the overwhelming feeling, that and a sense of achievement. Code of Silence has been a long time coming. I have known I wanted to write for years, decades even but there were many false starts or something that inevitably got in the way. I took some confidence in the knowledge Lee Child and Ian Fleming published Reacher and Bond in their forties so I knew the time to tell my story hadn’t passed me yet. I can honestly say I have enjoyed everything to this point: the research, the writing, soaking up any and all information regarding independent publishing. Even the aspects of cover and web design were great to get involved with. Certainly there are anxieties over marketing, sales and even media but those are all part and parcel and something I’ll get to grips with. I’m just grateful to have gotten to the position to have those worries.
When does the novel appear, and can you tell us more about the trilogy it belongs to?
Code of Silence will arrive in the late part of this year. It is the first book in what I term the Origins Collection.
Code of Silence is a contemporary Crime Thriller; it follows D.I Veronica Taylor as she picks up the pieces of a failed prosecution against her nemesis, Gordon Beattie, who although now free finds himself in a predicament of his own.
Code launches a narrative and set of characters on diverse journeys across the next books, exploring the themes of redemption and retribution against a backdrop of political greed, corruption, exploitation and the meaning of justice in modern day Northern Ireland and the world at large.
Book Two sees Taylor remain in Belfast to continue her investigations into the criminal underworld whilst navigating the tightrope of politics and dealing with the fallout of the first novel's events. Our other protagonist, having uncovered a deeper conspiracy, continues on his path of relentless revenge.
I would hope at some stage to bring all the players back together again, in Belfast or perhaps further afield. I’m mulling the idea of Taylor getting seconded to Interpol for one of her cases.
You come from Belfast, a city (as you say in your bio) famous but also notorious for many things. How would you describe that city to someone who has never visited?
It’s a city holding many dubious honours. Site of Europe’s most bombed hotel, scene of its largest bank robbery and once murder capital of the world. Thankfully we have moved on.
There have always been two Belfasts I think. The one you see on the news, while a long way from its violent past, is still very much a work in progress, and at times I wonder will we ever fully break free of the chains that hold us to the past.
I’m pleased to say the other one is a friendly, vibrant, thriving modern metropolitan city.
It takes a walk the from the warren of ancient Entries - atmospheric and unchanged narrow passages cutting through the modern cityscape, home to old bars and taverns that are now full of life but were also gathering places for violent revolution three hundred years ago - to the soaring new Titanic Museum and Exhibition Centre or the opulence of the Grand Central Hotel to really feel what makes it unique. There’s so many stories packed into such a small space.
It’s a city where you’ll receive a warm welcome. Whether it’s shopping, restaurants, music or theatre everything is nearby, and a long weekend will pack in lots but still be the tip of the iceberg. (If you’ll excuse the Titanic reference.)
With staycations being the main and international travel up in the air for a while I’d hope people who can will take advantage of a visit and experience what the city and its people have to offer.
Your debut novel is set firmly in Belfast, in the present day. What is the unique attraction of writing a novel set in a city you know well?
It was one of the firm pillars for me, that if I was finally writing this novel it had to be set in Belfast.
I believe it is vastly underplayed as a setting, unique in its diversity, conflicts and history and a treasure trove of inspiration and character. I can’t believe it hasn’t been tapped more and that’s what I wanted to explore. The old streets have seen the best and worst of us and there’s a real sense of the struggle as the juggernaut of modernity seeks to co-exist with our precious past.
Living and working there provides its own benefits. I can leave my desk and just immerse myself in the heartbeat of the city. With it being small for a capital city you can one minute be in the grand bustling thoroughfares and the next under derelict railway arches or walking along the fortified peace lines that still segregate communities, the history and perspective of the Troubles vividly depicted on the walls. There’s always a place with a story to tell, a new face to see, voice to hear and a mystery to solve.
Your protagonist, PSNI Detective Inspector Veronica Taylor, starts the novel at a low ebb, having failed to successfully prosecute Gordon Beattie, described as “a corrupt magnate and paramilitary godfather”. What motivates her to try again? What makes her tick?
I was fortunate that Taylor arrived almost fully formed. She’s a career officer. Having worked her way up from the beat to Detective Inspector she has taken a few knocks but ultimately believes in the system and this latest failure threatens that.
Without a doubt her motivation is personal; day one on the job she was faced with Beattie’s handiwork and it never left her. As she has grown so has he and the two have circled over the course of their respective careers. Taylor is also the daughter of a Police Officer and a victim of the violence that plagued the country during the Troubles. Ultimately her motivations lie in bringing the victims and their families justice. Something she never got.
It’s her calling. She knows nothing else. It’s that passion and drive sees her face the most terrible things day in day out and keep coming back.
It sounds as though Beattie, the antagonist, has his own problems – the blurb says he’s “indebted to a shadowy global organisation”. How does this affect his role in the story?
Beattie was a lot of fun to write. Here you have this larger than life character, like Taylor in a way, he came from the bottom and had the ruthless desire to reach the top. Unfortunately for him the consequences of how he got there return to haunt him over the course of the book.
Respected, fantastically successful and wealthy from his illegitimate sources he suddenly finds that wealth and power slipping from his fingers at a crucial moment and he makes a deal with the devil.
Beattie is complex. He’s a terrible person but also has become a slave to the path he has chosen. Ultimately he is a victim of his own success. He makes his money peddling misery but he is also a generous philanthropist and that, while stoking his ego, eases his conscience.
Aiming to secure his legacy and put his relationship with his shadowy benefactors on a more even keel Beattie must also finally confront Taylor and the secret of his past.
The novel is set against an international backdrop. How does it feel to be writing a series of thrillers in circumstances where truth often seems stranger than fiction?
I think as a thriller writer you embrace the uncertainty. Sometimes you only have to take a look at the headlines to find yourself saying ‘You couldn’t make it up.’ which quickly turns to ‘I wish I’d thought of that as a plot.’
Global pandemic aside, world events over the last few years have been strange and frightening. The state of world politics and the rise of organised protest and the threat it poses to Government and the mega-corporations who rely on public subservience certainly seems here to stay. Then there’s a new space race, Big Data and Big Brother, hacking by state-sponsored actors and organised crime and the growing sense a new Cold War is brewing.
With that broad canvas as a backdrop it gives thriller fiction an air of authenticity and urgency. I think it helps me consider those wider topics and offers the opportunity to explore the reasons behind them and the fears, anxieties and drama these circumstances create.
You have the series planned – how easy has it been to write to a deadline and how are you getting on?
I haven’t found it to be a chore at all. I haven’t put too much pressure on myself and I have been fortunate enough to be able to work on it full time over the past few months. Being furloughed from my current employment allowed me to readdress my writing and form a daily habit of getting the words down over several sessions a day. That has stuck. I’m on track for the release of Code of Silence and have both follow-ups planned. They may move slightly but I’m seeing the release schedule as Spring 2021 and then Summer 2021.
According to your bio you have a background in the Security Industry. Is it safe to say that to some extent your writing is inspired by personal experience?
Yes and no to be honest. Yes, my writing is shaped by personal experience - the events I’ve lived through, people I’ve met and places I’ve been - however my professional background was firmly within the technical arena so I was never involved in anything that I could say contributed directly to Investigation, Prosecution or Enforcement.
During the formative years of my career I was fortunate enough to find myself in situations and in locations working with people whose dedication, professionalism and generosity offered me an insight and degree of knowledge in the field about which I write. Several of those are sadly no longer with us and they are still greatly missed.
Many people know more about fictional Dublin than Belfast. How is that changing?
I don’t know that it is. Perhaps that’s something I’m oblivious to and in fact no-one wants to read about it!
There is a large body of work out there but as I mentioned in another answer I think it is such an undervalued location. I don’t just mean in recent history either. I read that writing is one thing but you must write about something happening. Conflict is key! Well, there’s been conflict in this city since it was dredged from the mouth of the Lough.
I hope that perhaps my version of the city and my novels and characters can shine a light on this fantastic place and open it up to a new audience who will love it’s flawed uniqueness as much as I do.
You have competed in Olympic and Ironman Distance Triathlon events. Has this experience contributed to the realism of your novel, for example in understanding more about endurance?
If there’s one thing Triathlon taught me it is the human capacity for suffering. To be at your lowest physically and mentally yet find from somewhere the reserves to battle on.
I can only imagine what it’s like to face Special Forces Selection, be trapped behind enemy lines or face brick wall after brick wall during an investigation into a horrible crime however I would like to think I can empathise with what it takes to keep going when the chips are down and the fight looks lost.
I think the tenacity and sheer-bloody mindedness required to train and compete also helped me commit and eventually write the novel - one page at a time. In the same way I didn’t finish those races any other way than by just focusing on the next breath, the next turn of the pedals or the next step.
According to your website, you have another series in the works, the Tom Shepard Thriller Series, with Book 1, No Going Back, anticipated to appear in Summer 2021. What can you tell us about that series?
The Shepard Series is a set of hi-octane international thrillers following the exploits of an ex-Special Forces Operator.
Shepard is an anti-hero but I think he represents that darker side in all of us. If we were wronged in horrific fashion and we had the skillset to do it, would we wreak revenge on those responsible?
Tom Shepard finds himself in that situation and in the course uncovers a deeper conspiracy that puts his own tragic loss into perspective. With a new purpose he firmly sets his sights on righting those wrongs by fair means and foul and once he starts there is No Going Back for him.
The idea of taking this character's personal grief and turning it into a path of retribution against greed, political corruption and organised crime in both the low dives and prestigious high-end locations around Europe and the World was something I had to explore.
How has the Coronavirus pandemic affected your writing? Has it been positive or negative?
I was in New York in January with my family and the whole pandemic was a world away and a bit of an unknown but then when it hit I think it was a shock. Watching how rapidly it ravaged the city we fell in love with and the rest of the world was awful.
It has been a tragic time for so many and my sympathies go out to those affected by the virus, for those who couldn’t mourn their dead or equally those having found themselves as a result in dire financial despair.
I am incredibly grateful that my family and friends remain safe and healthy and I was furloughed from work so the financial burden was lifted for me. The situation has allowed me to focus on my writing and get Code of Silence to this point. So from that perspective even though it’s still uncertain times the ‘Great Pause of 2020’ was generally positive for me.
What books do you like to read and what are you reading at the moment?
I read a lot and I read every day. I would give anything a try although my collection is packed full of crime and police procedurals, hi-octane thrillers and the odd classic.
The Count of Monte Cristo, Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Complete Sherlock Holmes and Bleak House to name a few.
I’ve recently finished Michael Connelly’s The Black Ice and Abir Mukherjee’s A Rising Man. Now I’ve started into Simon McLeave's The Snowdonia Killings and I’ve just received a signed hard copy edition of Mark Dawson’s bestseller The Cleaner.
Aside from Mark I’m a fan of Ian Rankin, Stuart McBride and the late Vince Flynn. I also read Val McDermid, Ann Cleeves, Michael Connelly and Lee Child amongst others.
What are your future writing plans?
In the immediate future I hope to gather a modest audience eager to find out more about the novels, the characters and the challenges they face and overcome.
Longer term The Crossed Keys and No Going Back are planned for next year and after that I plan to continue the Veronica Taylor and Tom Shepard Series, one book each a year with perhaps a mission and case-file in between to keep appetites whetted.
The big dream would be to have this passion and love of story telling find an audience who are as enthusiastic about reading the books, as I am to write them.
If I’m blessed enough to find that then the daydreams of a little boy scribbling in a notebook in backstreet Belfast will have come to life and that will be success.
About Phillip Jordan:
He had a successful career in the Security Industry for twenty years before transitioning into the Telecommunications Sector.
Aside from writing Phillip has competed in Olympic and Ironman Distance Triathlon events both Nationally and Internationally including a European Age-Group Championship and the World Police and Fire Games.
Taking the opportunity afforded by recent world events to write full-time Phillip is in the process of completing his Debut Crime Thriller, Code of Silence, finding inspiration in the dark and tragic history of Northern Ireland but also in the black humour, relentless tenacity and Craic of the people who call the fabulous but flawed city of his birth home.
Phillip now lives on the County Down coast and is currently writing two novel series.