Working with Words: Amy Middleton
Amy Middleton is the editor of Archer Magazine, the Australian journal of sexual diversity. She has written and edited for a host of magazines, including Australian Geographic, Rolling Stone, Meanjin, The Big Issue and The Bulletin. Amy is also a presenter on 3CR community radio.
We spoke to Amy about talking sex in the Archer office, building up the confidence/arrogance to start her own publication, and why human interaction is the best way to get anywhere.
What was the first piece of writing you had published?
My writing was first published when I was about eight years old in The Moopaper Weekly, the newspaper I distributed to my soft toys. The articles were mostly reportage on the royal teddies, as well as a marketing campaign to convince my parents I needed a pet ferret.
My first published piece distributed to the wider public appeared in The Bulletin, ACP’s news and current affairs mag that was sadly axed about six months after I started there (nothing to do with me, I’ll have you know). I really branched out here – I wrote about Silverchair for The Bulletin’s website, and the South Sydney Rabbitohs for the print edition.
What’s the best part of your job?
The conversations we have in the Archer office make me feel very proud to be doing what I’m doing. We discuss common names for sexual positions; whether cock-and-ball play has hyphens or not, etc. They’re important editorial considerations when publishing a mag about sexuality, but sometimes I’m glad we aren’t in a traditional office environment …
What’s the worst part of your job?
Having to think about GST all the time. I’m still pretty confused about what that is.
What’s been the most significant moment in your writing and editing career so far?
Definitely launching Archer. I think I’ve always had a publication in me – lots of journalists do – but it took a long time to build up the confidence (or, as one of my designers calls it, a healthy amount of arrogance) to give it a go. It’s indescribably rewarding to look at the finished product.
What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing or editing?
The worst writing advice I ever received was from the mother of one of my mates when I was about ten, who told me I couldn’t be a writer because I didn’t read widely and constantly. (Instead of reading, I was having life experiences and writing about them. Go figure.)
Some great editing advice I received was from my editor at Australian Geographic, who told me you can never make a piece of writing too easy to understand.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself or your work?
That I ‘should have been more conservative’ with the cover of Archer’s second edition. (The cover depicts two 18-year-old boys sitting on a couch, looking into the camera with tender expressions. Warning: they may or may not be gay or bisexual; they may or may not have had sex, or thought about sex … very racy stuff.)
If you weren’t making your living by working with words, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
I’ve always thought I could write great pop songs. Or is that still working with words?
There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?
I reckon there are definitely skills that can help you hone your craft. I studied creative writing at university and it was an inspiring and productive time … but I was also drinking a lot and forging friendships during those years. Socialising, travel, being in the world – these are important teachings for a writer, too. As with anything, you can pick up some very insightful tips from the greats. I say take the ones that work for you, and leave the rest.
What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer or editor?
Go talk to people you admire (or email them if you’re scared), and be completely yourself. I’ve always found human interaction is the best way to get anywhere. (Twitter and YouTube celebrities might disagree with that.)
Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?
Both. I prefer to own tangible copies of my favourite books, because I like to underline the best bits and write the page numbers in the front cover for reference. But I did read 1984 online years ago, while I held down a really boring office job in London.
If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why?
The kids from Sonya Hartnett’s Sleeping Dogs. What a family. I’d like to give them some food and hear them chat to each other – they had adorable and odd dynamics, and I’d love to see them in action.
What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?
The works of J. D. Salinger outside of Catcher in the Rye … the stories of the Glass family, and Franny and Zooey, in particular. He wrote pretty unrealistic stories about a bunch of precocious kids and the various hardships they encountered in mid-twentieth-century America. He abandoned traditional form (this was my introduction to the novella, and the fact that you don’t have to write books the way everyone else does) and indulged in a series of stories about characters he loved, because he loved them.
This concept spoke to me pretty deeply. It gave me a sense of freedom in my own work, and it emphasised that you should publish what you LIKE, because someone else is probably going to like it, too – a theory I put into practice with Archer Magazine.