An Interview with Jack Heath.
QRC: My previous Q&A with you was not long after the publication of Kill Your Brother. I asked you then about Timothy Blake, the protagonist of the Hangman series, and you said his next book may be the final one. Now that Headcase is out, have we really seen the last of Timothy?
JH: I’m not sure! I never hold anything back, writing every book as though it’s my last. (Someday it will be.) I think this is part of what readers like about this series – treating Timothy as disposable allows me to include twists that I would avoid if I wanted to write more sequels (losing an arm, for example). I have lots more ideas for Blake books, but it might be smart to quit while I’m ahead.
The plot of Headcase is quite a complex one – with three strands to the narrative [‘Now’, ‘Two Weeks Ago’, and ‘Seven Years Ago’]. Was it a challenge to manage that level of complexity and at the same time ensure a logical and coherent outcome?
You bet. The ‘seven years ago’ strand wasn’t in the first draft, which had a ‘one month ago’ thread that I ultimately cut. (That was probably what I was doing when I told you Headcase would be the final book in the series. I was tearing my hair out.) The plot is certainly more ambitious than any of my previous books, so I was very glad to have so much help, both from professional editors and very generous friends. I think we pulled it off.
One element of Headcase I found particularly interesting was Timothy’s sessions with Dr Renee Diaz. At first, it appears that he is simply seeking treatment but later of course we find out why he is in the Behavioural Health Unit. Were the sessions designed to allow the reader to hear and understand a different side to Timothy?
When I start thinking about a book, I always have a few key scenes in mind, and then I fill in the gaps between them as I write. Often they are murders, but Headcase was unusual—my waypoint scenes were all about Diaz. First there’s the introduction, where she doesn’t believe a word he’s saying, which causes him to be uncharacteristically honest. Second, there’s the scene about halfway through where she calls him out to his face—not for cannibalism, but for his laziness. Third, there’s the last time Blake sees her, from a distance. (I won’t spoil any more than that.) I’m a bit proud to have written a book where all the important beats were character-based rather than murderous. But I don’t actually think these scenes showed readers a different side of Timothy. I think they showed Timothy a different side of himself—a side that readers have been aware of all along.
Despite his predilection for human flesh, Timothy is quite likeable. He has suffered a great deal across the four novels but has still retained his sense of humour and his self-deprecating manner; and his love for Reese Thistle has not diminished. Is there anything of you in Timothy?
In some ways he’s my alter-ego. I quit my day job, so he quit his. I had a son, so he had a son. I was getting treated for a mental health condition, and soon so was he. We share (more or less) a political worldview, a certain cynicism, and an unhealthy tendency towards self-contempt. In some ways I’m the better person—I’m a vegetarian, he’s a cannibal—but in other ways, he is. Timothy is smarter than I am, and braver. (I faint at the sight of blood.)
As with the previous books, each chapter begins with a riddle. Are they devised by you and – more importantly – are there answers?
Hangman featured mostly traditional riddles, but for Headcase (and Hideout) I made them all up. You can find the answers at jackheathwriter.com/riddles. I refuse to put them in the back of the book, because readers would check the answers instead of thinking (or getting on with the story).
Finally, what books are you reading now?
I just finished reading a friend’s manuscript: Godwater by Damon Young, which was great. Now I’m laughing and spilling tea over another friend’s comedic fantasy novel: Tarquin the Honest by Gareth Ward. Next I’ll be reading Flying Solo by Linda Holmes, and I just bought a copy of Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. Everyone’s always asking me about Hannibal Lecter, so I figure I should give the guy a chance.
Our thanks to Jack Heath for his very thoughtful and comprehensive answers to our questions.
To read QRC’s previous interview with Jack, click here.