(Just a heads up—this email turned into a long one. The short version is: Headcase is now available from bookstores all over Australia and online.)
I KNOW, I KNOW.
"Subscribe to my newsletter," he said. "You'll be the first to know," he said. So why, you must be wondering, am I emailing you today to say that Headcase came out yesterday? Why did all my social media followers hear about it before you did?
The truth is that yesterday, when I sat down to write this newsletter, I got *takes deep breath* writer's block. I just sat there, staring at the screen. The words wouldn't come. I tried copy-pasting parts of the blurb and my launch speech, but the results didn't feel readable. It was terrifying.
I used to say that writer's block was just a cover story for laziness. How would you react if a lawyer said they had "lawyer's block" and didn't stand up to give their closing argument? Even from plumbers, who deal with literal blockages, you wouldn't accept "I have plumber's block" as an excuse for not fixing your toilet.
Now that I'm a little older, I'm willing to accept that writer's block exists. But it's not a fearsome supernatural curse. It's just the fact that writing is cognitively draining, which means certain factors can make it impossible. Lack of sleep is a big one. Pressure is another (either too little or too much). My brain also wears out over the course of the day, so the later I get to my desk, the more difficult the writing is. I'm typing up this newsletter having just rolled out of bed, and it's going great. But I spent yesterday driving from one bookstore to another to autograph copies of Headcase (I've done eleven shops so far) and by the time I sat down to write this newsletter, there was just no mental energy left.
I started been getting up at 5:30 am, so I can write before the chaos of the day—but now I'm bumping into the lack of sleep issue. (And no, caffeine isn't the solution. After a cup of coffee, I'm still tired, the caffeine just stops me from feeling it. In Stolen Focus by Johann Hari, one doctor said it was like hiding your fuel gauge with a post-it note.)
I've actually had writer's block a lot lately. (If you're reading this and you happen to be my publisher or my agent, don't panic—I'm still managing to scrape together about 1,100 words per day. But the process is both slow and painful.) I think the problem is not so much a lack of mental energy as mental space. I usually go about my business in a fairly distracted manner. I may look like I'm brushing my teeth or hanging out the washing, but actually, I'm rehearsing dialogue and coming up with plot twists. (This is very annoying to people who try to talk to me—I say "uh-huh" a lot, but they can tell that my mind is elsewhere.) By the time I get to my desk each day, I have a huge backlog of events that I'm desperate to get out of my head and onto the page.
At the moment, my life is a bit busy. I had to plan a book launch, and order the brain-shaped cake pops from the wizards at Sugar Plum Fairy Cakes for it:
Lately, while I'm brushing my teeth or mowing the lawn, I find myself wondering about personal things, like whether I have a decent outfit for my old friend's wedding in January, whether I need to go to the physio about my neck or if the pain will go away on its own, whether I can find the contact details for the driver who reversed into my car a year ago or whether I should just pay for the damage myself, and whether I have gifts for everyone in my family for Christmas. (I can't give them copies of Headcase, because they all bought it yesterday.) I'm also worrying about global things, like climate change, Elon Musk and Ukraine. And I'm thinking about professional things, like all the events and interviews about Headcase lined up over the next few weeks. It's hard to write one book while promoting another, because you have to switch gears constantly. You start each day as an introvert, then push yourself out of your shell to do an interview, then you have to stuff yourself back in so you can write some more. Some authors sensibly take a month or two off from writing whenever one of their books is published—but that's not an option for me, because I publish three or four books per year.
(I know, I know. "Boo-hoo, I'm so successful." Forgive me.)
I can't blame all these external distractions for my writer's block, though. I'm my own worst enemy. If I'm given any mental space, I rush to fill it. I listen to podcasts while I'm driving, walking and washing the dishes. If I'm waiting for a lift, I get out my phone and check my email. How am I supposed to come up with ideas if I can't even hear myself think? Boredom is a crucial part of the creative process, and it's one I've been neglecting.
Anyway. The point is, I'm sorry this email is a day late. But I'm determined to write it and send it out, because Headcase is my 40th book, and it's the best darn book I've ever written, so it deserves to be announced. Here we go:
BLAKE IS BACK.
After two long years, Headcase is finally in bookshops (and ebookstores) all over Australia!
This time around, Timothy "Hangman" Blake has been sent to investigate the body of a Chinese astronaut, found in a NASA training environment in Houston, Texas. No one can explain how the dead man got there. Amid fears of a diplomatic catastrophe, Blake focuses on a convicted kidnapper who works in the facility – someone Blake put away, seven years ago.
Blake is deeply insane, afflicted by terrible urges he can barely control - but he's also brilliant. Zara, his beautiful and deadly CIA handler, suspects a secret Chinese spacecraft is surveilling the United States, but Blake can see something much more sinister is going on. Something connected to the kidnapping seven years ago, to the technologies being developed at NASA, and to the serial killer known as the Texas Reaper.
Will Blake survive long enough to uncover the truth? And if he does, will anyone even believe him?
As always, I encourage you to support your local bookseller. (They might even have a signed copy, if you're in Canberra!) But if you can't get to one, the book is also available online, via the tasty button below:
The other day I found an email synopsis dated 11 June 2020, so it's been at least two years, which is much longer than usual for me. I work hard on all my books, but some are more personal than others. In interviews I often joke that the Hangman series is autobiographical, and in this case, it's at least a little bit true. A few years ago I had occasion to visit a psychologist. As I was sitting on a couch in a little windowless office with a box of tissues, answering uncomfortable questions from a stranger, I had a thought. It's a thought that I've often had over the last twelve years. That thought was, What would Blake do? How would he react to this?
Well, Blake's brilliant, but he's also nihilistic, and a bit lazy. He'd probably tell the truth for once in his life, knowing the doctor was bound by confidentiality. And then I thought, how would the doctor respond? If she had a patient who resolutely insisted that he was a cannibal who had been recruited by the CIA and sent to NASA to investigate the death of an astronaut? Well, she'd assume he was delusional, and try her best to cure him.
This thought made me laugh. And because of that, I knew I had a story. Readers talk about how frightening these books are, but for me, it's the humour that makes them work. The more I thought about this particular doctor-patient relationship, the funnier it seemed, and the more I wanted to write the book.
I'm immensely grateful to Allen & Unwin for sharing my enthusiasm. (Special thanks to publishing powerhouse Jane Palfreyman, who said something like, "You had me at "dead astronaut," and to Angela Handley, who burned a lot of midnight oil to make sure the manuscript was polished to perfection.) A little fact about the Australian publishing industry—the biggest marketing budgets tend to go to the least controversial books. It's kind of the opposite of social media, where the most outrageous content is prioritised while nuance and thoughtfulness sink into the depths. Blake doesn't steer clear of social or political landmines—in fact, he goes out of his way to step on them. And yet Allen & Unwin are treating Headcase like a potential number 1 bestseller, with a big print run and a great publicity campaign, including interviews and reviews in all the major newspapers. I'm thrilled to have them in my corner.
I'm also very grateful to my literary agency, Curtis Brown Australia, not only for negotiating the contracts but for shaping the book itself. Clare Forster was one of the first people to believe in Blake, and her input on this manuscript was typically insightful. Benjamin Stevenson, also at CB, had particularly detailed feedback on an early draft of Headcase that made it much better, though it would be a spoiler to reveal how. (I can, however, tell you that Ben's own book, Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone, is excellent.)
I'd like to thank the various experts who shared feedback of the non-literary variety. Former Australian of the Year Dr Richard Harris invented a fictitious technology to help me solve a plot problem. There were also a couple of people in the intelligence community who helped me make the CIA stuff more authentic. I'd like to thank you, but your names appear to be redacted from my notes.
I want to thank all the other authors who gave Headcase the best chance of finding an audience with their brilliant quotes for the cover (particularly Shelley Burr, who also launched it. Her book, Wake, is a stunner, so it's a huge honour to get her endorsement.)
I want to thank all the booksellers who got behind this series. A bookshop is powered by humans, not algorithms, and customers are dependent on staff recommendations. Without hardworking booksellers suggesting Jack Heath books to readers, slowly building a fanbase, there's no way a guy like Blake would have made it to book four, and there's no way a guy like me would have made it to book forty.
Special thanks to author and bookseller Charlotte Blackwell. Every now and then I lose my confidence, and worry that I don't know how to be a writer anymore. I find myself staring at the wall in a state of existential dread. So I've printed out some of Charlotte's tweets and stuck them to that wall for the next time it happens:
Lastly, I want to thank all of you. The people who have spent two years asking when there would be a new Blake book. The people who subscribe to my newsletter, even knowing that 90% of it is just fluff about the life of an author and only 10% is "the book you wanted is finally out". The people who are willing to buy a book even if there are no reviews yet and it hasn't been made into a Netflix series. You're taking a leap of faith. I want you to know that I'm grateful, and that I don't take my responsibility to you lightly. (If that Netflix series ever happens, by the way, this is absolutely not the end of Blake's journey.)
If you're not in Australia...
Don't worry! Shipping containers full of copies of Headcase are crossing the Tasman towards New Zealand as we speak, and I'm also excited to announce that I've signed a deal to have the book published in the UK and the USA next year.
It's an honour, by the way, to have so many readers overseas who are eager to read this book. I'm sorry that you have to endure so much Australia-centric stuff in my newsletters.
But what about the audiobook?
That's coming, too! The contracts have been signed, the microphone is hot, and the narrator is... on holiday with his family in Tennessee, but he'll be back soon.
And what about all those other books you said you were working on?!
Is that you, publisher and/or agent? Don't sweat it, they're on their way. 2023 is going to be a big year, with a sequel to Kill Your Brother, another Minutes of Mystery book, a YA crime novel, a tween spy thriller, and other things that I can't talk about yet. Stay subscribed!
If you and your friends play Dungeons & Dragons, by the way, can I recommend giving them homebrew items as holiday gifts? This is a rare example of something you can give which is:
delightful to receive,
enormous fun to use,
easy to store, and
has no environmental impact beyond the paper and ink you use to write it.
You don't even have to wrap it—just describe the wrapping paper and ribbons that your character used. (It's from them, not you, after all.) Just make sure you get your DM's consent, and don't make the item too powerful. (One year I gave a friend The Mirror of Nutrition, which could be pointed at a creature to reveal what they've eaten. I thought it would be entertaining but useless—instead it's come up in every single adventure we've done since.)
Well, that's all from me.
I hope you have a relaxing break with the people you love. Thank you for making my 2022 so special. I can't wait to share some more words with you in 2023.