Author Jack grows up to a life of crime

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Canberra author Jack Heath… “It’s cool that I still have the same audience.” Photo: Danielle Nohra

WHEN Canberra author Jack Heath was a kid he decided he wanted to write at least 100 novels.

He was inspired by an Australian science fiction author whose biography said he was the author of more than 100 books.

Now Jack, 32, of Charnwood, is preparing to publish his 30th book in June and he doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon.

Since “300 Minutes of Danger” took off about four years ago, Jack was able to quit his job at Dymocks (where he mostly recommended his own books!) to write full time.

Having to squeeze in writing time in between work and family previously has meant he treats full-time writing as precious.

He started writing his first novel at the age of 13 and six years later, in 2006, “The Lab” was published.

“I started writing my first book in high school because I was bored with the books I was given at school,” he says.

“I thought: ‘How hard could it be?’ Turns out it was really hard.”

Getting published at 19 was surreal for Jack, but he says these days it feels like it happened to someone else.

“I don’t have a connection anymore with that young naive writer,” he says.

But his audience does and although Jack started writing children’s and young adult fiction, he has kept the same audience even now that he’s writing adult fiction.

After the release of Jack’s adult series, with “Hangman” published in 2018 and then “Hunter” this year, he says he’s had adults coming up to him saying they loved his first novel, “The Lab”, when they were a kid.

“It’s cool that I still have the same audience,” he says.

Before writing the “Hangman” series Jack was interested in how a writer can trick a reader into liking a character despite their being a terrible person.

This led him to create the character Timothy Blake, an FBI consultant who also happens to eat people.

“There are some readers who can’t get past that,” he says.

“I wanted people to like him but be unfavourable of liking him.”

Jack says he gets a lot of ideas from reading a lot of other people’s books and asking himself: “How would I do it differently?”

He also gets his ideas from listening to people and says he’s never really had a problem with coming up with ideas but he definitely struggles to choose from all the good ones.

The idea behind “Hangman” came from reading a book by a NZ crime writer called “The Cleaner”.

“One scene was so horrifying, I fainted and vomited on a plane while reading it,” he says.

“It was a really traumatic and embarrassing experience.”

But at the same time, Jack was really impressed by how much power words can have.

After this experience Jack began reading more confronting fiction, but found it hard to empathise with characters who were psychopaths.

“With Timothy Blake, he recognises he’s a bad person and that’s what I think readers respond to,” he says.

He got other ideas for the novels from Schapelle Corby.

“The newspapers were acting like she was going to get executed in a foreign prison,” he says.

“It was the first time I really thought about the death penalty.”

After doing some research Jack found out that Houston in Texas was the place with the most executions and he found himself wondering what they do with all the dead bodies.

In the first book Timothy Blake is given a body for every case he solves but in “Hunter”, he doesn’t work for the FBI anymore and finds himself working for a crime lord.

One of the reasons Jack really enjoys writing fiction is because he can push barriers and explore both sides of the argument.

“Because I started writing about Timothy Blake in 2008 I’ve had him living in my head for a long time,” he says.

“We have this uneasy truce. Whenever I have a nasty thought I’d like to disown I put it into Timothy Blake’s head.

“He’s liberating to write about because when you’re writing for children you don’t want to be a bad influence on the kids.

“With Timothy Blake I don’t have to worry about what the right thing is.”

The inspiration for the character’s names are just as easy as story ideas and Jack says his friends volunteer their own names for each book.

“It’s meant my friends have had to get comfortable with horrible things happening to themselves or they are the horrible person,” he says.

In June, when Jack’s 30th book “Lockdown”, which is part of the “Liars” series, comes out, Jack reckons he will have to do something to celebrate.

For kids 10 and up, he says it’s about the teenage inventor of a lie-detector app (Jarli, from the first three books in the series) getting trapped in a hospital while a bunch of armed mercenaries are searching it for a patient who’s on their hit list.

But for now he’ll be working on the next book and then the book after that until he reaches 100, which by then he will probably still be living in Canberra and still writing at Coffee Guru in Charnwood.

“I can’t imagine ever leaving Canberra. People complain about the weather but that just means it’s a great city for reading,” he says.

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Danielle Nohra
Danielle Nohra is a "CityNews" staff journalist.

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