In 2005, action thriller author Matthew Reilly introduced intellectual soldier Jack West Jr to readers in Seven Ancient Wonders and followed up his blockbuster debut with 2007's Six Sacred Stones and 2009's Five Greatest Warriors.
But for seven years, his readers were left to wonder what happened to the popular and charming hero. "I knew a lot of people were waiting for a new edition to this series since 2009," Reilly, 42, tells WHO, "but I didn't know it was that many people."
From the moment The Four Legendary Kingdoms was published in October, it rocketed to the top of Australia's bestseller lists. As Reilly says about the fourth West novel, "I'm thrilled that's been a success so quickly."
WHO takes a deep dive into the West's world with Reilly.
Q: Why did it take seven years before you revisited the Jack West Jr series?
A: When I wrote those first three books, Seven Wonders, Six Stones and Five Warriors, I was just on a roll. I did them in 2005, 2007, 2009, and then I was just exhausted. They require so much historical research that I just needed a break, and that's why I did some stand-alone books, The Great Zoo of China, The Tournament, even Troll Mountain, the kids' book. So it was really nice to have a break, and I think I really came back energised, and you see the response from fans now instantly on Facebook, and the fans have really appreciated it, which is really satisfying.
Q: We have to ask — where did the inspiration for the Simpsons shirt come from? It was amusing to picture Jack in it for the length of the tale.
A: I live in Los Angeles these days and I've been to Universal Studios, and they've actually got a section, which is like Simpsons World. It's Springfield. So you can actually go to the Kwik-E Mart, there's Moe's Tavern, and there is a Krusty Burger. So when I was writing it, I had taken some visitors to Universal Studios, and I just love the Simpsons, and I was just surrounded by all this Simpsons paraphernalia, and just to show how galactically unprepared Jack is for the Great Games, I thought, 'I've got to really just put a T-shirt on him.' It's one of those T-shirts that we all have that you just wear at home. You never expect anyone else to see it. And in it's own way, like all the best little moments, it's a gift from Lily and it says World's Greatest Dad, but Jack's her adoptive father, and it was just a nice thing that was a double-banger — he's unprepared but it's also one of those gifts that your daughter gives you.
Q: You've said that the heart of Jack's story lies in his daughter Lily. Could you see her in her own adventure?
A: I think as I prepare to write the Three, the Two and the One, three more books in the series, I think while Jack would be the hero, I think there is now room for Lily to take charge in certain places.
Q: You've been fascinated by the labours of Hercules since childhood. What was it like to modernise them for this book?
A: I just always thought they were so inventive. The notion of Hercules defeating the Nemean Lion, which had this impenetrable pelt, and then taking the pelt and then using it as armour so that he could defeat the next monster — I just thought, 'That is what authors would call creating a twist.' You are using stuff that you find. I mean, MacGyver wasn't the first one to do that. But then I hit upon the notion, which in present day is more part of the zeitgeist, which is, what were these 12 labours? Maybe it wasn't an angry king sending Hercules to go do these things. Maybe they were games or something actually real, a test. And once I came upon that, I had my story.
Q: Royalty plays a big part in Four Legendary Kingdoms, and you met the Duchess of Cambridge in 2014. Was that encounter a bit of research?
A: That's exactly what it was, a golden piece of research for me to experience. I literally look at them and think, 'What are they thinking right now?' Everybody else there is going, 'Wow, I'm in the presence of Prince William and Princess Katherine.' What are they thinking? That's stuff I ponder.
Q: What makes Jack such a special character?
A: There's a nice part in [the new book] where he gets two new dogs and he just says, 'Everybody owns me these days.' I've always liked that Jack can save the world but when he gets home, nobody seems to care!
To hear more from Matthew Reilly about his novel and moving from Sydney to Los Angeles, pick up the latest issue of WHO on newsstands today.