Jack Heath is the author of the middle-grade novel Money Run, which is just being published here in the UK by Usborne, and as part of his Blog Tour he’s here to answer some questions I had for him which will hopefully be of interest to you too! I didn’t expect too much from Jack- but he’s almost written an essay for each question!
ThirstforFiction: How did you get into writing and subsequently publication at such a young age?
Jack Heath: I’ve always been a gluttonous reader, so I guess I had a head start. At thirteen years of age, I found the books I was being asked to study in school much less exciting than the ones I was reading of my own accord, and I started to wonder why. Once I was examining the differences between an entertaining book and a boring one, it wasn’t long before I started trying to write my ideal novel.
As for publication, I was very lucky. I finished the book when I was seventeen, and the first publisher I submitted to happened to be looking for someone to crack the teenage boy market. The action-packed manuscript I had sent them was exactly what they had in mind. It was published as The Lab when I was nineteen, and I’ve been writing one book per year since then.
T4F: You write primarily childrens’/middle-grade novels. Why did you choose this age-range? Have you ever considered writing for an older market?
Jack: I got into writing for young adults via a happy accident. The Lab was written with an adult audience in mind, but since I was a teenager at the time, what came out was YA. For the first year or two of my career I had ambitions of becoming a writer for adults. But soon I realised what I’d be giving up – such as the freedom to blend action with crime, sci-fi and horror without alienating my audience, and the occasional opportunity to ignite a love of books within a reader, rather than simply sheltering an existing flame. Writing for adults is something that I will do, but I don’t think it’ll ever become my main gig.
T4F: What’s your typical writing day like?
Jack: I’m not sure there’s any such thing. Ideally I’d finish breakfast, write for a couple of hours, and then do chores – washing clothes, grocery shopping, answering emails – between lunch and dinner, after which I’d write for another hour or two before going to bed and reading. But life is rarely so predictable. Sometimes I have to teach creative writing at a school or a festival, sometimes I have to show up for an interview on the radio or TV, and sometimes I just end up at the movies with my mates. Fortunately, I can do my job from anywhere; I always keep my laptop with me so I can write on the go. Some of my best work was done on the three-hour bus ride from Canberra to Sydney.
T4F: How do you try and keep the young character’s voices authentic? Do you ever ask younger friends/relatives for advice?
Jack: Personally, I think trying to write teenage slang is a trap. By the time you’ve researched it, written it, edited it and published it, it’ll already be out of date. Instead, I prefer to focus on the emotional content at the core of teenage discussions. Desire for independence, anxiety about the future, the need to fit in or to stand out – these issues never go out of fashion. I guess my teen characters talk like adults, but they feel like teenagers. Having said that, I was in my teens only five years ago. Maybe as I get older, relating to my audience will become a problem.
T4F: Money Run isn’t set in a specific country- was this an attempt to diversify the novel or just something you thought was unimportant?
Jack: Both. I’ve tried to keep the location ambiguous in all my published novels, mostly because I want the reader to feel like it could be happening in his or her own back yard, but partly because it’s risky to write about a place without going there, and I hate travel. Of course, I could just set all my novels in Canberra, but the same things which make it a nice place to live would also make it a lousy setting for a novel. Low crime rate, predictable weather, hardly ever attacked by aliens, etc.
I do make exceptions, though. In the sequel to Money Run, the two teenage thieves fly to California to rescue a girl who’s being held prisoner by the world’s biggest intelligence agency. I’ve never been to the building they break into, but I was able to find enough information online to make it work.
T4F: Anything you can tell us about your future novels/what you’re working on right now?
Jack: I’ve almost finished writing a fairly gruesome crime novel set in Houston, Texas. It’s a first for me in lots of ways – it’s a book for adults, it has a clearly defined setting the whole way through, and it’s written in first person and present tense. It also features a fairly monstrous protagonist, which is something that I’ve often loved in other people’s books but never tried myself. Hopefully my older readers will like it. But if not, I’ve got plenty more explosive teen adventures in the pipeline.
I’d like to say a thank you to Jack for participating in this interview!