'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Saturday 5 September 2009

Interview with Action Author Jack Heath

Who is this talented person? Jack Heath

What does he do? Writer

Where can you learn more about him? www.jackheath.com.au

What his story? I've spent most of my life in Canberra, and I hate travel, so I'll probably never leave. I live with my partner Venetia, who's a jeweller – we share the house with our friend, Sam and out cat Onyx. Having a pet makes working from home far less lonely.

How long has he been writing? I've been writing for as long as I can remember – I always knew it was what I wanted to do. But I didn't start my first novel until I was 13, when I was dismayed by the dullness of the books we were being given in school, and I thought I could do better.

Does he remember the first story he ever wrote? I vaguely recall a story about werewolves I wrote when I was five, and another one about a jailbreak in the afterlife from when I was about ten. But most of the things I wrote before starting The Lab are a bit of a blur, now. I don't have copies.

What inspired him to write for young readers? I didn't start out with the intention of writing for teens – I was just writing for myself. That turned out to be a good way of going about it, since most teenagers liked the same things as I did.

How did he get his first book published? I was 17, and I didn't have an agent or anything – I sent the manuscript to just one publisher, and they sent me a list of suggestions. Excited, I used them all, and sent it back. They reread it and made more suggestions. This went on and on until they offered me a contract, and the book came out when I was 19.

I've been working hard ever since. I know how lucky I was, and now it feels like I have to retrospectively earn my big break.

What other genres has he written in? Each of my books is a blend of crime, action, horror and sci-fi. I have plans to expand into every genre except fantasy. That's nothing personal against fantasy readers or writers – I just don't get it.

Why does he write? I write because I love books. They're more versatile than movies, TV shows, music, comics, computer games and any other kind of entertainment I can think of. I think the world will be a better place with more of them.

What pesky obstacles has he experienced on his writing journey? The hardest part is making the time to write. And the more readers I have, the more time I'm expected to spend touring.

How did the idea for his fourth book - Third Transmission - come about? None of my books has a lone idea that drives the story. I usually throw in everything I can think of as I'm writing it, so the theme only emerges retrospectively.

I think Third Transmission is about how people are neither good nor evil, just responding to different stimuli, and yet we are all responsible for our actions – but I could be wrong. I'll have to wait and see what my readers think. This is why it's fun to read reviews. It's great to be able to ask someone else, “What was I trying to say?”

Does he think children’s literature has changed in the past decade? When I was growing up, teen books were saturated with angst – eating disorders, bullying, parental divorce and so on. Now it seems more escapist and I'm proud to be a part of that. Most kids get enough realism in reality, so they need books not so much to understand their situations as to put things in perspective. No matter how hard the lives of my readers might feel, Agent Six's life is harder, so the comparison cheers them up.

What does he love most about writing for teens? When writing for adults, there's this feeling that you won't be taken seriously unless you include sex, drugs, racism or abuse. With books for teens, you're free to do your own thing without having those expectations dumped on you. I also love the enthusiasm of the fan base – you don't get that same intensity with adult readers.

What books did he read as a child? As a kid I read lots of novelizations, occasionally because my parents wouldn't let me watch the movies they were based on, but usually because the special effects were better in my head than on the screen.

I must have read Alien a dozen times, as well as every one of the Doctor Who books. I also liked the Teen Power Inc. series by Emily Rodda and the Animorphs books by K.A. Applegate.

Agent Six of Hearts

If he couldn’t be a writer, what would he be?
My hobbies, or rather my addictions, include music, cooking, magic tricks and marketing (believe it or not), as well as many other things. However, the only things I feel like I could do professionally are the music and the magic tricks.

What children’s books does he love?
Living Hell, by Catherine Jinks
Hover Car Racer, by Matthew Reilly
The Messenger, by Markus Zusak
Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer
Snakehead, by Anthony Horowitz

What five words best describe him? Ambition, fa├žade, repetition, repetition, pragmatism.

What advice does he have on writing for young people? Don't think of it as a 'someday' thing – start right now. Show your work to someone with time and taste, and then listen very carefully to their criticisms. And read lots. The more you read, the better your writing will be.

Read more about Jack and his Agent Six of Hearts series at www.jackheath.com.au. You can also view the Agent Six fan website here. Jack was Young Australian of the Year 2009.