(Photo: Ash Peak)
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Canberra based author, Jack Heath. We met for a tangent filled conversation in which we both got off-track several times (although, I now have a whole list of interesting things to research and books to read), but one which ultimately strengthened my idea that writers are very interesting people—always aware of what is going on around them, rather than being slightly oblivious as many people are.
Why did he start writing in the first place? When asked this question, Jack smiled and told me that there was a girl in high school whom he had a crush on. The girl liked reading and so he thought he would impress her by claiming to be a writer. This only lasted until the girl asked, ‘What have you written?’ to which he responded, ‘Nothing, but I’ll start today.’ While I’m sure many people have fallen into careers in an attempt to impress people, I think there is usually something more to it. So I pressed further.
Jack’s response was that he always loved books as a child; indeed, he was the child who was told that it is rude to bring a book to the dinner table. This is a reader’s problem that I am sure still faces many of us today. But more than this, Jack always had a need to understand how things worked and so the best way to work out how books worked was to start writing himself.
His ‘break’ in the publishing business
Jack wouldn’t recommend his method to authors now, stating that there are much better avenues to take. But his approach was to Google ‘how to publish a book’ to which he found a whole list of self-publishing sites. As a teenager (yes, he was ready to approach publishers as a teenager), he didn’t have the money to self-publish and so instead, checked the spines of his favourite books. Armed with his list of publishing companies, he checked their websites and only Pan McMillian were accepting unsolicited manuscripts at the time, so that’s who he sent his manuscript to.
Thoughts on his first book, The Lab (Published 2006 by Pan McMillan)
Jack admitted that there are things in The Lab which he wouldn’t do now, such as the scenery and character descriptions. His focus now is on what is happening within the character in terms of their thoughts etc, and he lets the reader develop their own version of what they look like. He said that he thought the ending was a bit preachy, but that there are also really gutsy pieces of writing that he wouldn’t do now because they are too risky and he have a reputation to protect, whereas before, there was more freedom. He’s still proud of The Lab, but states that if he were to write it now, it may turn out differently.
The enjoyment of writing
Does he still enjoy it, or has it become more of a job? Jack explained that the difference between a job and a hobby is that a job is something you do, even when you don’t want to. So he works even on the days he doesn’t feel like it and finds that usually, he keeps writing and gets a lot done. The tricky part is to not let the Instant Gratification Monkey get his way. The monkey must be scared away so you can continue working.
Story seeds and kernels
Where do his stories come from? This question stumped Jack for a short time while he tried to figure out ‘the least pretentious way to say, “Stories are all around us.”’ But he did follow up by saying that we can train ourselves to see the world through a lens. This allows us to view what’s around us and find interesting things. The next step it to figure out not only who ‘it’ (whatever you happen to be seeing) could be useful for, but who ‘it’ would be unhelpful to, and how that can create conflict.
Advice for aspiring authors
As this is an age old question, Jack said there was probably nothing that hadn’t already been said, and better than he could say it. Larry L. King once said, ‘Write. Rewrite. When you’re not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.’ To this Jack wanted to add; join a Writers Centre, because that will expose you to all the great advice which has come before, but also gives you time to focus on your writing and people who know about writing. So, write, rewrite, read and join a Writers Centre.
Jack’s latest book, The Human Flytrap (part of his Scream series) is due to be released on May 1 2015.
Jenni Curry has a Masters in Creative Writing and is a 2014 HARDCOPY alumni. She writes fiction novels and short stories, many of which have been seen in Australian and UK anthologies including Time to Write and How Higher Education Feels. She finds fiction simpler than reality and continues to search for the perfect world to live in.