In the Grip of Crime with Jack Heath

JACK HEATH started writing books at 13 and by the age of 18 he had a publishing contract. Moving from writing for children to thrillers for adults, his latest book, Kill Your Husbands, is a page-turning crime mystery.

ROWENA MORCOM caught up with the author to find out why bumping people off appeals.

 

Not even 40 yet and Jack Heath has over 40 novels published. Quite a feat. Some of those were written while he worked at various jobs, including as a bass guitar tutor, call centre worker, TV salesperson, ghostwriter and a bookseller, before writing full time in 2009. Best known as a writer for children, in 2018 he published his first book for adults, Headcase. It’s a big leap for any author to write for children then make that step to crime thriller fiction but Heath was simply compelled to do so.

‘I’m very law abiding – I don’t even jaywalk, no matter how little traffic there is – but I’m constantly committing crimes in my head. I’m always wondering how I would steal this, or how I would get away with that. I don’t know why I have this compulsion, but I know that if I didn’t write crime fiction, those thoughts would have nowhere to go, which would feel very wasteful.’

After reading Headcase author Benjamin Stevens said, ‘Thrilling, grisly and inventive: Jack Heath has single-handedly increased my carbon footprint through lights left on.’ Three more books would swiftly follow, Hangman, Hideout and Kill Your Brother.

Now Heath has turned his gaze towards more of a mystery style crime rather than a straight thriller, with an idea at its core that had been bubbling away for years.

‘In 2013 I had an idea for a romance novel about three couples who swapped partners, and the surprising emotional consequences. My “outline” was really more like a diagram – “Woman A falls in love with Man B, but he’s fixated on Woman C”, and so on. Think A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but without the donkey. It quickly became clear that I wasn’t much of a romance writer. But years later it occurred to me to throw a murder into the mix, and then I got the tingles. I really wanted to read that book, which meant I had to write it.’

Next came the work to develop the book, peopling the story with characters and working out each of their motivations. A challenge that proved difficult.

‘I wanted to do a deep dive into the perspective of each holidaymaker without revealing which one was the killer. I also needed to make sure they would be interchangeable in the dark, which meant I couldn’t differentiate them physically, which made it incredibly important to differentiate them emotionally – but they each needed to be the kind of person who would do a partner swap and, potentially, kill somebody. It took a lot of drafts to get the balance right.’

‘It had to be somewhere remote, with no phone reception, so the reader would have the sense that no help was coming as the victims were picked off one by one.

Heath decided on a mountain setting. He says he was a bit bored of outback noir, ‘where a lone cop sweats in the scorching sun while looking down at a mangled woman in the dust’. He wanted to get as far away from that as possible.

‘It had to be somewhere remote, with no phone reception, so the reader would have the sense that no help was coming as the victims were picked off one by one. I thought about setting it at the coast, but that’s where I used to holiday with my friends, and the story was already riskily autobiographical.

For our 10-year wedding anniversary my wife and I went to a cottage in the mountains in the middle of winter, and when I got there I thought, Yes. This is it!

The plot is twisty and, unlike some writers who work out the plot as they go, Heath needed to have the mystery planned out before he started writing.

‘I’m not the sort of writer who can make up a plot as I go. I need to know who did it, and how, and especially why before I write the first sentence. I wrote a list of for the other characters, working out when it would be best to reveal their secrets, and keeping track of who the reader would most suspect at any given time.’

As crime readers we find characters who do terrible things incredibly fascinating. This is also borne out in true crime.

Heath says, ‘When thinking about why, I think there are two sides to it. Whenever I read about a truly monstrous person, I get to give myself a very satisfying pat on the back for being so decent by comparison. I forgive myself for my own flaws. The other side of it is: sometimes I have a terrible thought, the kind I’d never reveal to anyone.

Then I’ll be reading a book and a character will have the same thought, and there’ll be this tremendous sense of relief. Like, “Thank God. It’s not just me.”’

Heath says his passion for crime started early. He was part of the ‘Goosebumps’ generation, growing up to love ghost stories.

‘One day I picked up The Ghost of Raven Hill by Emily Rodda. Spoiler warning: there’s no ghost. But by the time I realised I was reading crime fiction, it was too late. I was hooked. I read 20 or 30 more books in that series, and then I moved onto ‘Point Crime’. Soon I was into John Fowles, Paul Cleave and Tara Moss. Most recently I enjoyed The Fall Between by Darcy Tindale.’

Where will Jack Heath turn his writer’s mind to next? He says his publisher has told him she’s always wanted to publish a murder mystery set on a cruise ship. ‘I’ve worked out whodunnit, and how, and why. Now I just need some decoy suspects, some action scenes, and some gruesome twists! I’m already having fun.’

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jack Heath is the #1 bestselling author of 40 novels, published in nine languages. His first crime thriller, Hangman, was voted one of the 100 best books of all time (twice). His mission is to create books that inspire a love of reading in children and adults.

Visit Jack Heath’s website

Author: Jack Heath

Category: Fiction & related items

Book Format: Paperback / softback

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

ISBN: 9781761067587

RRP: $32.99

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