Jack Heath

Scout Conjures Up Best Seller In The Lab

Jack signing copies of The Lab.The lab cover

ACT Venturer Scout Jack Heath has written a best selling action adventure novel called The Lab.

The story is about a teenage boy called Agent Six of Hearts who has been genetically engineered, grown rather than born.  He is trying to keep his past hidden from the organisation he works for but when the organisation starts investigating the company that designed him, his life spins out of control.

Within a month of its release, The Lab made the Pan Macmillan Australia Top Ten Children’s/Young Adult Bestseller list. It is currently being sold only in Australia and New Zealand but there has been an expression of interest from Pan’s US equivalent. Jack is pretty sure it will break into the overseas market but is not sure how long it will take.

Scouts played a significant part in his inspiration along with the age-old human trait of his mind going astray. “A lot of my work is daydreaming - and the very first scene that appeared in my head for The Lab came to me during a Scout hike at Baroomba Rocks. Something about the loneliness of the location and the bold shape of the cliffs was really inspiring - the exercise helped my imagination along too,” says Jack.

Jack abseilingHe started the novel at 13, finished the first draft at 17 and it was published when he was 19.  “I wrote mostly in the school holidays but often after school and on weekends too. Because I wasn’t working to a deadline I had the freedom to only write when I felt like it - I don’t have that luxury anymore! I went through phases too. My writing style changed based on what I had been reading lately. I read a lot of books between the ages of 13 and 19, which explains the wide variety of different styles and ideas that were fused into the finished product.

”When I finished the first draft I was caught by surprise - it had seemed like an eternal project to me. I was disheartened by the fact that so few publishers were prepared to accept unsolicited manuscripts, but I sent out some sample chapters anyway - and Pan responded with cautious interest. They suggested some very vague changes, which I made to the best of my ability, and then I sent them the complete manuscript. They responded with growing enthusiasm, and suggested some more changes (for example a reduction in length, and a change of the main character’s age) which I also made.  After that they said they were prepared to offer me a contract. There was still a long and gruelling editing process to go but it was worth every minute.”

The Lab’s success was a classic case of overcoming the odds: “In the end, so few publishers were accepting submissions that Pan Macmillan was the only company I sent it to - I’ve been extraordinarily lucky because most writers will tell you that your first manuscript is always rejected by the first place you send it.”

Jack’s achievements have had a great flow-on effect. He is now a full time writer conjuring up an average of 1500 words (7 pages) a day. Jack’s currently in the process of editing a sequel to The Lab which was suggested earlier this year by his editor and slated for release in 2007. “Writing The Lab was more like a hobby than an occupation, which was why it took me six years to do - writing a novel in less than seven months has been an incredible experience because I was so much more focused and motivated. I plan to write one book per year from now until I die, if I can.”

Jack at a camp breakfastGiving an insight into his writing techniques and thought processes, Jack says: “I always plan my work out in advance but I rarely follow that plan - it’s more like a safety net. My best ideas tend to be spur of the moment ones. I never try to attach personality attributes to my characters in advance. Instead I try to put myself in their shoes, imagine that I’ve lived their lives, and determine their actions from there. I think it’s important to give characters free will - if they’re not doing what I want them to do, I change their circumstances until they behave differently. I almost never edit as I go because if I stop to change things I lose momentum and the words stop coming easily. I start at the beginning and finish at the end before worrying about which bits are working and which aren’t. I write mostly in the mornings and at night-time - for some reason it feels hard to muster up the energy in the afternoons. On a good day I’ll write 3000 words, on a bad day I might only manage 1000.”

Jack was in Cub Scouts, Scouts and Venturer Scouts with 13th Canberra and hopes to join a Rover Crew. “I’ve had a lot of good experiences with Scouting, and I don’t plan on letting it go just yet. I enjoy the social benefits most - many of my closest friends are the ones I made through Scouting. If I hadn’t become involved with it, my list of ambitions for the future would be much longer - I wouldn’t have had nearly as many great experiences. I’ve been abseiling, rock-climbing, camping, caving, orienteering, hiking, cross-country cycling, kayaking, and participated in the Sri-Chin-Moy Triple Triathlon.

I’ve performed in front of crowds, run dozens of kilometres, toasted marshmallows, crawled through pipes filled with mud, seen live concerts, been lost, been found, and best of all, just hung around with a bunch of great people. Do I have to choose individual aspects from all that, or is it enough to say that I’ve had the time of my life?” What more can one say about what Scouting has to offer?

Jacks gives a talk to school kidsJack and a friend of his joined Cub Scouts together when he lived in Melbourne, mainly because his parents thought it would be good for some life experience and to help kids build social lives outside of school. “They were absolutely right,” Jack says with real a conviction.

On the subject of Scout Leaders, Jack says: “Thank goodness for people like you. I never cease to be amazed by the unfailing generosity of those who heed that particular calling - it seems to draw out the most loyal and learned members of the community. The really great thing is that those qualities are so often passed on to the kids when a good example is set for them. To anyone who’s considering volunteering, best of luck.  I hope you have just as much fun as the kids in your care.”

In between writing, he plays the bass guitar professionally, the piano recreationally, and plays the guitar and sings for fun. He’s in two rock bands, one jazz band and one orchestra, and composes soundtracks for films made by his friends on a casual basis. Between writing and music he doesn’t have a lot of room for anything else but plans to write a movie script for filming with his brother (who’s an actor) in 2008. He also offers bass guitar tuition, mainly to high-school aged kids. “It’s fun work (the writing and guitar tuition), and pays better than my old job in a fish and chip shop”, he says with a laugh. He loves films and television shows, jogging, fashion design, and clubbing with friends.

Despite his heavy extraordinary achievements at a young age, Jack wants Scouting to still play a key part in his life: “I’m very lucky because I’ve already achieved many of my dreams - having a book published was always my greatest ambition, and I’ve already managed it! So now the plan is to build a career out of writing, and I think I can do it. As for Scouting, I’m hoping to help 13th Canberra form a Rover Crew, so I can stay with the Group. I think there’s still more I can offer Scouting and vice versa.”

Jack playing guitar on stage with one of his rrock bands.On the benefits of what Scouting has to offer young people, Jack says: “The exact same ones as school but with less homework! It’s a great way to make friends, learn things, and do activities you’d never get the chance to do anywhere else. You get out what you put in, and then some - but it’s not the sort of thing that’s easy to explain. You have to see it to believe it!”

He has the following brief words for children, their parents and adults who are considering joining the Scouts: “What are you waiting for? You’ll never know if you don’t go!”

On the subject of this story, Jack says with real modesty: “Thank you very much for taking an interest in what I have to say. I hope you all enjoyed the experience!”

The Lab's target age group is 12 years and up with people of all ages enjoying its story.  It is available from all good book stores and the RRP is $16.95.

Thank you to the ACT Woggle News for alerting the National Office to Jack's literary achievement.


The Lab on a book shelf