05 May 2008

Evil Genius & Genius Squad

Interview - Catherine Jinks

Allen & Unwin. Young Adult fiction, Australian. Paperbackrrp $18.95 each

After talking to Catherine Jinks, author of the sinister, technology based Evil Genius and its sequel Genius Squad, it’s soon obvious she’s not a computer geek and there’s certainly nothing evil about her. My office phone died mid interview and when I finally located my mobile 15 mins later she generously extended the interview despite her busy schedule.

So where did the idea for Evil Genius come from? Being open to ideas, having a wonderful imagination, a journalist’s skill for research – it all came together with a little family help. Her nephew’s hideous looking Professor Gangrene doll (arch enemy of Action Man) prompted Catherine’s husband to ask: ‘Where did he get his degree from?’ Her brother replied: ‘From the University of Evil’. Catherine began to wonder about the Professor’s branch of study – was it Pure Evil or perhaps a doctorate in Applied Evil. The idea for the Axis Institute was forming.

Catherine spoke of her interest in cutting edge technology such as computer science and genetics. She also gave credit to a friend who teaches cryptography (enciphering and ‘hiding’ information from plain view) and computer security at University. ‘I suck information from people. You don’t need to be an expert. I have a journalist’s instinct,’ Catherine told me.

Evil Genius begins the story of Cadel Piggott, genius and (suspected) son of the evil mastermind Prosper English. Cadel is anarchistic, destructive and not nice at all. But try as they might (I tried) the reader can’t dislike Cadel. He would never agree, but, he is an innocent child victim. Catherine Jink’s skill in creating this character is even more evident when in Genius Squad we find Cadel trying to ‘be good’ and use his skills to help bring down a corrupt corporation. The cards have been cleverly switched and finally the reader is ‘allowed’ to like Cadel.

Catherine also spoke about her new adult novel Dark Mountain (to be released by Allen & Unwin in June 2008). Set on an estate near Sutton Forest in the NSW Southern Highlands and based on historical fact, it was an enormous research project which came together as a story that includes Australia’s first notorious serial killer and our first female novelist, as well as madness, mystery and bushrangers. Watch future issues of The Reading Stack for a review.

A prolific and versatile author, Catherine’s work includes picture books, junior fiction and adult fiction. Her novels span across many different genres such as murder mysteries, historical fiction, horror and science fiction. I asked her if she had a favourite type of writing - perhaps children’s and young adult fiction? After all she has won the Children Book Council of Australia Children's Book of the Year Award three times. ‘It’s not up to me,’ she explained, ‘The idea dictates the story.’ And perhaps this is why there is such a wonderful range of stories, the author is full of ideas.

And finally, I couldn’t help it, I asked that question many authors of series dread and all fans are desperate to know, ‘Will there be another Cadel Piggot story?’ I breathed a sigh of relief. Genius Wars is on its way.


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