Saturday, September 18, 2010

Interview with YA author Jack Heath

Jack Heath is the award-winning* author of five action-adventure books. He started writing The Lab when he was 13 years old and had a publishing contract for it at 18. He's 23 now, but all the older writers still make fun of him.
He is also the founder of New Poe, a website on which writers submit, critique, and win prizes for short stories.
When he's not writing or web-designing, Jack is performing street magic, composing film music, teaching or lecturing at schools and festivals, or playing a variety of instruments including the piano and the bass guitar. He stoically ignores his lack of qualifications or training in any of these areas.
Jack was born in Sydney in 1986, but has resided in Canberra since age 9. He didn't intend to end up there, but he's afraid of big cities, small towns, places where no-one speaks English, and places where he doesn't know anyone - so every passing day makes it harder to leave. He lives with his girlfriend, Venetia Major (head jeweller at Zoisite Designs) and their cat, Onyx.
He's been worried about our world's impending doom through environmental catastrophe since reading Stark by Ben Elton when he was 14. In 2008, Jack's books were the subject of four mini-documentaries by Broken Bush Films, entitled The Jack Heath Chronicles. You can visit him at his website, (where his bio came from) his blog and New Poe facebook

SCR: Hi, Jack and welcome to Strange Candy Reviews. Thank you for joining us for an interview.
JH: It's a pleasure - thanks for having me.

SCR: Since this is a Spotlight on Australian Authors, can you tell us about where you grew up?
JH: As a kid I lived in Wollongong and Melbourne, but I've been in Canberra since I was nine, so I guess you'd say I grew up there. It's a weird city - lots of people work here and live elsewhere, so we have all the amenities of a major metropolis, but sometimes the town seems to be deserted. Walking around in the middle of the night, you feel like Robert Neville from I Am Legend. Plus, almost everyone seems to be either a public servant or an artist of some kind. Someone once told me my book, Money Run, was unrealistic because almost everyone turned out to be a government spy. But I couldn't imagine a world in which that wasn't the case.

SCR: What is your fondest memory from your childhood?

JH: I've always thought people who are nostalgic about childhood are romanticising it. Mostly what I remember is getting pushed around. But when I was twelve, a friend and I used a year's worth of weekends to make a computer game called Butterfly 660. When we were finished, it won Game of the Week and made us slightly internet-famous. That was fun.

SCR: Did your family have a favourite holiday spot?
JH: There was this house on a hill in Malua Bay that we used to rent out for a week each year. Every day my brother and I would run down to the beach, throw ourselves into the surf, read on the sand for a while, and then realise that it was a long, long way back up the hill. I should have said that as my favourite childhood memory, probably. Whoops.

SCR: Can you tell us a little about what your books are about?
JH: My new book, Hit List, is about a pair of teen thieves who stumble across a distress call mid-robbery. They discover that there's a woman trapped inside the headquarters of the largest intelligence agency in the world, and they decide to rescue her - but there are some nasty surprises waiting for them inside.

SCR: What first inspired you to write?
JH: I've always loved books, and I've always been the kind of person who tries to create the things he likes. (Hence the computer game.) As soon as I discovered that there were people who made books for a living, I decided to be one of them.
SCR: What made you choose action-adventure as your genre to write about?
JH: For all my posturing about how I was going to be a writer when I grew up, I didn't do any actual writing until I was thirteen. My English teacher gave me a novel which was all about eating disorders and divorce, and as a thirteen-year old boy, I was only interested in helicopters and explosions, so I decided to write about them. I guess the action-adventure stuff was a rebellion against the angst-fiction that saturated the market when I was growing up. Thanks to Catherine Jinks, Anthony Horowitz, Robert Muchamore, Charlie Higson, et cetera, I think kids today are much luckier when it comes to having access to exciting books.
SCR: How long are characters strolling around your head before they have a proper story?
JH: Not long at all. In fact, often it happens the other way around - I have a story in mind, and I ask myself, "Who's the right guy or girl to solve this problem?" and that's where the hero comes from. I think coming up with the characters and the plot simultaneously in the best way to make sure they're a good fit for each other.

SCR: Is there a message in your books that you want your readers to grasp?
JH: I always include a moral, but I don't necessarily want my readers to grasp it. The Lab was about how no-one can survive without a social support structure, Third Transmission was about free will versus cause and effect, and Hit List is about how no-one can be their own moral legislator. But these meanings are all semi-hidden. I like the idea that the readers who are looking for a message will find one, but everyone else will just have a wild ride.

SCR: Who have been the major influences in your life, writing wise?
JH: When I first started writing The Lab, I was extremely reluctant to read anything that wasn't by Robert Silverberg, whose sci-fi novels of the fifties, sixties and seventies my Dad had been addicted to and subsequently so was I. Then I discovered Matthew Reilly, and I realised that the action scenes in my action-sci-fi book were going to have to be much flashier to compete with him. Not long after that I started reading crime fiction - Peter Corris, Tara Moss, Lee Child - and I started to learn how to plot something with more subtlety. All these people have been very influential.

SCR: If your books were turned into movies, who would you like to play the leads?
JH: The Six of Hearts books were all written with my younger brother, Tom Heath, in mind - but movies take a long time to get off the ground, so he may well be too old to play the part by the time shooting starts. As for the Ashley Arthur books (Money Run and Hit List) I'm not sure who would be best - one of the great things about books is that the characters look different in the heads of each and every reader, and so whoever the actor is, you're going to lose that interactivity. I guess what I'm saying is, I don't mind who plays my characters, as long as there's a role for Milla Jovovich somewhere. She rocks.

SCR: Have you had to do any 'hands on' research for any of your books?
JH: My aforementioned brother, being an actor, has lots of friends who are stunt-men. I had loads of fun doing fire-arms training alongside them, and I think it's really enhanced the gunplay in my books. I've also done some stunt-driving, and toured prisons both here in Canberra and in Texas. But for the most part, I do my research the wrong way around - I don't work out what I need to know and research it, I just keep my eyes and ears open and any time I learn anything, I wonder how I could use it.

SCR: Are there any new authors that have grabbed you interest? If so, who are they?
JH: It's always really hard to tell, based on a first novel, who is going to stick around and who's going to disappear. But I'm keeping a very close eye on Steph Bowe (Girl Saves Boy), Dan Wells (I Am Not A Serial Killer), Angela S. Choi (Hello Kitty Must Die) and William Kostakis (Loathing Lola). I don't think we've heard the last of any of them.

SCR: There are ten seconds left on the clock. Do you cut the blue wire or the yellow wire?
Whichever one links the battery or timer to the detonator - however, that's the one that's most likely to be booby trapped. Damn, I'm running out of time. Yellow, I'll cut yellow. No, wait -

SCR: Thanks again for stopping by.
JH: ...

I still haven't found out if he cut the yellow or the blue....oops.

Answering this question 'Do you cut the yellow wire or the blue wire', will gain you an extra three entries into my Almost 100 Follower Giveaway.
If you haven't entered yet please do. If I reach 150 followers I'll add another winner, which could be you. Unless you've cut the wrong wire of course.....


  1. Mary D
    zenrei57 (at) hotmail (dot) com

    The Yellow Wire :)

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