Me My Shelf I – Jack Heath

Article | Feb 2018

Bored with the lacklustre books he was given to read during school, JACK HEATH began to write his own stories that usually included exploding helicopters. He secured a publishing deal before he’d finished high school, and now he’s written 21 action-packed sci-fi and thriller novels for kids and young adults. But his latest novel, Hangman, should be kept out of reach of children – it centres on Timothy Blake, a cannibalistic anti-hero. We asked the 31-year-old author about his reading habits and his most dramatic research adventures.

What are you reading now?
Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic. I loved the violent sequel, And Fire Came Down. I often read series out of order.

What are your favourite books?
I love Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun, in which a plague of insomnia threatens humanity. And Misery by Stephen King is hard to beat. There’s a little homage to it in Hangman, although those who’ve only seen the movie won’t get it.

Which books have moved you the most?
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. Room by Emma Donoghue; it’s a great exaggeration of motherhood, and it’s powerful on every level.

Are there any books that have made you laugh out loud?
I’ve read How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely several times, and it always leaves me giggling helplessly. I often cry at the end, though. I have a soft spot for almost- redemption stories.

What do you think are some of the world’s best thriller novels?
I belatedly discovered Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz, which is now one of my favourite thrillers.The multi-lented Hugh Laurie also wrote a wonderful spy novel called The Gun Seller.

Apart from thrillers and sci-fi, which genre has most influenced your work?
I read a lot of popular science, and the things I learn tend to show up in my work. I keep a copy of And Then You’re Dead: A scientific exploration of the world’s most interesting ways to die by Cody Cassidy and Paul Doherty on my desk most of the time. Would You Eat Your Cat? by Jeremy Stangroom is a philosophy book which made a strong impression.

What’s the most dramatic or dangerous thing you’ve done as research for a book?
My trip to a shooting range was technically the most dangerous research activity, but the most dramatic was probably the trip to a pilot training facility. My co-pilot simulated an engine failure during a rainstorm over LAX and challenged me to land the 747. It was all fake, but it didn’t feel like it.

What makes your latest novel, Hangman, unsuitable for your younger fans?
It has sex, drugs and violence, but that’s not what makes it unsuitable for young readers. Timothy Blake is neither hero nor villain; he’s a protagonist designed to shake the reader’s ethical foundations.This could be dangerous if those foundations are still under construction.

You’ve said of your YA books that you ‘usually start with something preposterous’ and then surround the idea with science to make the premise as convincing as possible. Did Hangman begin in a similar way, or do you have a different approach for your adult books?
Hangman definitely started with a preposterous premise – what if the good guy ate people? – but this time I didn’t use science to try to make it convincing. Instead I used every trick I knew to make him likeable. I let him feel guilt, I made him suffer physically and mentally, I gave him good deeds to perform. Every element of the story grew from that – from the challenge of redeeming the world’s worst person.

What’s Timothy Blake like?
Every great detective has an obsession or an addiction of some kind. Sherlock Holmes has opium, Harry Hole has alcohol, Jack Reacher has vengeance (and coffee). But those vices are easy to forgive, at least on the page.Timothy Blake is secretly addicted to human flesh, a disturbing predilection that has ruined his life – although it has also made him cunning and resourceful.

What motivated you to read books for a year written only by women?
I spent a year reading only books by women simply because I noticed that I had been reading books mostly by men.Whenever you notice a theme in your reading habits – maybe you only read bestsellers, or only fantasy, or only Lee Child – it’s important to branch out, because it means you’re definitely missing out on something. Of all the books I read that year, my favourite was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I was also impressed with Still Life by Joy Fielding, which is a pulse- pounding page-turner, despite the fact that the heroine remains in a hospital bed for 90 per cent of it.

Author: Jack Heath

Category: Crime & mystery

Book Format: Paperback / softback

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

ISBN: 9781760529987

RRP: $22.99

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