This is not a children's book: Jack Heath delivers a warning

Next time you're at Tilley's in Lyneham, or even at the Charnwood Coffee Guru, have a look around at your fellow customers. If you see a tall, rather nice-looking young man earnestly tapping away on a keyboard he could be thinking about what it would be like to eat you.

Jack Heath, author of several best-selling children's and young adult novels, has just written his first adult crime thriller, Hangman. The hero is a genius who helps the FBI solve missing persons cases. The hero is also a cannibal.

It's a dark book, but one with plenty of humour, and a twisty plot that keeps you guessing to the very end.

It's also been picked up by the producers of Homeland and How to Get Away with Murder, with Hollywood keen to see where he might take a second series.

It's taken him the best part of 10 years to write Hangman.

"I started writing this book in 2008, the concept was largely there, the plot was largely there, it hasn't changed that much, I just didn't have enough skill as a writer to pull it off," Heath says.

"Writing it was like walking a tightrope, mainly because of the main character. I couldn't have him do anything so heroic that people would no longer believe the evil things he had done nor could I have him do something so repulsive that the reader would say I'm out and give up on him.

"I wanted to walk him straight down the middle and see how much I could get the reader to forgive him for. What I'm realising now is readers respond to emotional contrast, you need to flip them back and forth between one thing and another to keep them interested."

Heath said it was liberating to write a book where he didn't have to think too much about readers might respond

"When I'm writing a book for kids I always thinking about how a kid might interpret what's happening. I don't know about you but I built my moral compass by reading books. The main character of the book has to be, to some extent, a role model. They can't do anything too bad but if they do, they have to be punished appropriately for it.

"With Hangman every decision I made was based on what would make a good story.

"I don't worry too much that my readers are going to go out and start eating people because the book has made that ok."

About that cannibalism thing. Heath says one publisher asked him why he had written about such a topic. His own mother had a great reaction too.

"My mother said something along the lines of 'I like the book but I don't like the idea that people know my son wrote it'," Heath says.

Indeed I had run into his mother Barbara, who just happens to live around the corner, at a community tennis event the week before, and she did purse her lips and raise her eyebrows when I asked her about it. His father Ian just shook his head.

The last time I interviewed Heath in 2006 was at his family home. He was just 19, talking about Milla Jovovich and worried about his hair. Now he's 31, married to Venetia, whose jewellry making studio shares a shed with his writing office, they have a son Red, who's three and a half.

Heath heads to Tilleys - the fact there's no wifi there keeps him focussed, he says - once a week to write just to get out of the back shed. He's grateful he's able to write full-time now, dropping Red at preschool, then at the desk from nine til four.

It's almost like he's a grown-up.

"I remember being on a writers' panel in 2007 and someone referred to me as a role model for young people and I remember thinking I didn't have any right to be a role model because I hadn't decided who I wanted to be yet," he says.

"I couldn't tell someone they should be like me because I wasn't even sure I was finished working that out.

"Maybe every stage of life is like that. Now I feel like I've settled or solidified or something in the sense I've kind of worked out what I'm good at.

"One of them is fast-paced action adventures for 10 to 14 year olds and if the other is cannibal detective novels then I'm happy with that."

Hangman will be published by Allen & Unwin in January 2018 but if you head to Dymocks Belconnen, where Heath used to work, there are a few copies already on the shelves.

This story This is not a children's book: Jack Heath delivers a warning first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.